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. In our previous blog in this series, we identified five 'pillars' that are critical to attaining industry leadership on safer chemicals.
The first pillar, Institutional Commitment, is essential in ensuring leadership support for business transformation.
Institutional Commitment to safer chemicals frames a company’s journey, builds internal champions, and 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.
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 previous blog, we identified supply chain transparency, informed consumers, and a safer chemicals action plan 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. In the upcoming weeks, we will share EDF’s model chemicals policy, our vision for leadership commitments.
Who and what should be involved in the crafting of 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 legal are 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.
It is also useful when crafting a chemicals policy to consult the advocacy community, whether through direct engagement or through landscape research. Some organizations may provide additional subject matter expertise, others greater insight into consumer needs. In a later publication, EDF will dig more deeply into this topic.
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. The next piece in our Pillars of Leadership blog series will tackle the value, hurdles, and mechanisms of action for attaining leadership on Supply Chain Transparency. Stay tuned!
Get new posts by email
We'll deliver new blog posts to your inbox.