Product stewardship is the practice of taking responsibility for the environmental, health, and safety impacts of a product throughout its life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to production, use, and disposal. This includes considering the impacts of the product’s packaging, distribution, and the use of hazardous chemicals. Product stewardship can encompass a range of activities, such as:
- Designing products with fewer hazardous materials
- Promoting reuse and repair of products
- Establishing take-back programs to facilitate the recovery and proper disposal of products
- Offering incentives for customers to bring in used products
- Developing recycling programs
- Creating packaging that is easier to recycle
These activities are intended to minimize the environmental, health, and safety impacts of a product, and to promote sustainability. Product stewardship can be a proactive way for companies to take responsibility for the impacts of their products and build customer and community trust.
Example of Product stewardship
The company Patagonia is a great example of product stewardship. Not only do they design their products with fewer hazardous materials, but they also offer a repair service and take-back program. Patagonia offers free repairs for all their products, which means that customers can keep their products for longer rather than throwing them away and buying new ones, reducing their environmental impact. Patagonia also offers a “Common Threads” program, which encourages customers to bring their used Patagonia clothing to the store for recycling. In addition, Patagonia has adopted a policy of only using recycled and recyclable packaging for their products. Through initiatives like these, Patagonia is taking responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products and building customer trust.
When to use Product stewardship
Product stewardship is most commonly used when a product poses a potential risk to human health or the environment. For example, if a product contains potentially hazardous materials, the company may opt to use product stewardship practices to ensure that the product is handled responsibly. Companies may also use product stewardship when they are looking to reduce their environmental footprint or to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. Product stewardship can be used by companies of any size, from small start-ups to large corporations.
Types of Product stewardship
Product stewardship can be done in a variety of ways, such as through voluntary programs, extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws, and producer responsibility organizations (PROs).
- Voluntary Programs: Voluntary programs are when companies take the initiative to take responsibility for their products and develop their own product stewardship initiatives. These programs can be as simple as offering a take-back program or as complex as changing the entire design of a product to reduce its environmental impacts.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Laws: EPR laws are laws passed by governments that require companies to take responsibility for the disposal of their products. The laws can include requirements for companies to set up take-back programs, recovery and recycling systems, and other product stewardship activities.
- Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs): PROs are organizations formed by companies or governments to manage product stewardship activities, such as take-back programs, recycling, and proper disposal of products. PROs are often responsible for setting up and managing take-back programs and recycling systems.
Steps of Product stewardship
Product stewardship starts with the design stage, when product designers consider the sustainability and safety of their products. Designers can evaluate the performance, safety, and environmental impacts of the materials they choose, and optimize the design of the product to reduce the amount and toxicity of the materials used.
Manufacturers can also take steps to reduce the environmental and safety impacts of their products, such as reducing emissions from the manufacturing process and providing safety training for workers.
When a product is sold, companies can offer incentives for customers to return their used products for reuse or proper disposal. Companies can also offer repair services or take back programs to facilitate the recovery and proper disposal of used products.
Finally, companies can develop recycling programs or create packaging that is easier to recycle.
Advantages of Product stewardship
Product stewardship offers several advantages to companies, including:
- Increase in product quality by reducing the number of hazardous materials used in the product and its packaging
- Cost savings by reducing waste and producing more sustainable products
- Improved customer retention by demonstrating commitment to environmental and social responsibility
- Improved corporate reputation by engaging with customers and the community
Limitations of Product stewardship
Despite the advantages of product stewardship, there are several limitations to consider. Firstly, product stewardship initiatives can be costly, especially for companies that do not have the resources to invest in them. Additionally, product stewardship initiatives often require cooperation from multiple partners and stakeholders, which can be difficult to achieve. Lastly, since product stewardship involves managing the end-of-life of a product, there is a risk that companies may prioritize disposal over reuse, repair, or recycling. For product stewardship initiatives to be successful, companies must be willing to invest in them, and to prioritize sustainability over the disposal of products.
In addition to the activities listed above, product stewardship can also involve providing customers with educational materials, such as instructions on how to use the product in a sustainable fashion. Companies can also adopt the principles of green chemistry and design products that use non-toxic, renewable materials. They can also use life cycle assessments (LCA) to quantify the impacts of their products and make informed decisions about product design.
Overall, product stewardship is an important approach to sustainability that can help companies reduce their environmental, health, and safety impacts, while also building trust with customers and stakeholders.
- Jensen, J. P., & Remmen, A. (2017). Enabling circular economy through product stewardship. Procedia Manufacturing, 8, 377-384.
- Lane, R., & Watson, M. (2012). Stewardship of things: The radical potential of product stewardship for re-framing responsibilities and relationships to products and materials. Geoforum, 43(6), 1254-1265.