Safer products through institutional commitments
The first pillar of leadership: making an institutional commitment
Successful business outcomes require strong and continuous commitment and support from company leaders. As with any change initiative, modifying how a manufacturer selects the ingredients it uses or how a retailer selects products requires time and resources, and infrastructural and behavioral adjustments.
The first pillar of our framework, Institutional Commitment, is essential in ensuring leadership support on safer chemicals for business transformation.
What does an Institutional Commitment to safer chemicals do?
An Institutional Commitment to safer chemicals is an organization-wide commitment that:
- frames a company’s journey.
- builds internal champions.
- sets accountability for the journey at every level of the organization.
In a committed company, action ripples throughout the organization; company executives set top-level goals that are reinforced by middle management in a way that empowers employees in every business function to make the transformation successful through their own daily operations. It’s about true integration of the new safer chemistry philosophy into everyday business.
The importance of a corporate chemicals policy
The most effective tool in jump-starting and sustaining Institutional Commitment for safer chemicals is a written corporate chemicals policy. A strong chemicals policy begins with an overarching vision of the transformations the company wants to achieve in its chemicals management and ultimately its product portfolio. A vision statement is aspirational and conveys the company’s desire to take a leadership stance, for example Seventh Generation’s statement, “To Inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations.” The scope of the policy, i.e. whether the policy will apply to all products made (or sold) or to a subset of such products, should also be made clear.
The company’s specific objectives for attaining leadership on safer chemicals are the meat of a corporate chemicals policy. In our introduction to Behind the Label, we identified supply chain transparency, informing consumers, and safer product design as the most critical leadership initiatives for a company to undertake. The written chemicals policy lays out the top goals for these initiatives.
Thus, a chemicals policy institutionalizes a company’s commitment to lead on safer chemicals while also articulating what the company wants to achieve. The policy is also powerful in helping suppliers understand where the company wants to go and how the supply chain will be involved. We have created EDF’s model chemicals policies (for retailers of food and formulated products) to represent our vision for leadership commitments.
Ingredients for Crafting a Corporate Chemicals Policy
At a high level, the crafting of a strong policy is an iterative process, perhaps shepherded by a company’s sustainability team, and involves gaining input from key business functions, understanding current business processes and resources, and revising ideas of what is typical, attainable and aspirational. In a retail company, merchandising, sourcing, compliance and legalare among the strategic functions to include in policy development. In a brand or product manufacturing firm, input is necessary from all business functions impacted by the policy — including R&D, product design, materials procurement and technical support staff (including those who review material performance and those who review health impact), as well as legal and compliance.
Consulting the advocacy community is also useful when crafting a chemicals policy, whether through direct engagement or through landscape research. Some organizations may provide additional subject matter expertise, others greater insight into consumer needs.
Ultimately, for the policy to gain traction in the organization, it needs to be endorsed by the corporate executives who oversee the business functions that will be directly involved in applying the policy. Their management teams will be crucial in communicating to employees and suppliers how the policy will impact existing business processes and what will be expected from them in making the policy successful.
Hurdles on the Path to Leadership
Sparking and sustaining Institutional Commitment is not easy. It can be difficult to catalyze change in a corporation, particularly a large, established company that has been profitable in its existing way of doing business.
The first step in sparking commitment is belief from those behind the transformation. If they believe what they’re doing is right for the company and will bring value, that belief reverberates to upper management and increases the likelihood of gaining their support and commitment to altering business processes.
One of the most useful strategies in fostering alignment is to see the topic through the eyes of a particular business function. How would the new goals affect primary objectives? Where are synergies? What aspects resonate best with their daily operations?
Another potential hurdle is allowing perfect to be the enemy of good. The first draft of a policy is not going to look like the final version, and that’s okay. Iterative conversations with stakeholders will flesh it out. Likewise, over time as the policy is implemented and insights are gained, new aspirational goals can be identified and integrated into the policy.
Institutional Commitment is an essential step towards attaining leadership on safer chemicals. It promotes goal embedment and alignment, boosts employee empowerment, sets internal accountability and articulates a vision to both the company and its suppliers.