Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sustainability and Bisphenol A (BPA)

Viewing the recent statement by the National Toxicology Program regarding potential health risks associated with BPA , and the controversy regarding BPA in a variety of consumer products, such as water bottles, made me think of these questions:

If Nalgene and Playtex had corporate sustainbility programs in place, could this issue have been avoided (or mitigated)? and,

If they do have CSR programs, do they need to amend them to 'anticipate' (if possible) and manage potential health and resouce management risks?

It does not appear that Nalgene is using sustainability management tools. I am assuming that they have an environmental management system in place (EMS), but an EMS will not necessarily help in brand management, as well as product stewardship, which is where the problems lie.

I was speaking to Kari Birdseye, VP of Sustainability at CSRware (, a sustainability technology company located in the SF Bay Area, about the BPA issue and what it means to other companies, especially ones in the consumer markets.

Kari thought that "it takes a crisis to look inward and begin the self-evaluation, which would have raised awareness not only related to their environmental practices but in the socially equitable areas as well". Nalgene has marketed its products to a 'green' audience (i.e. water bottles for hikers, runners, etc), so one would assume that they would be especially aware of the opportunities (and challenges) in developing and maintaining their brand.

So, could have this situation been avoided or managed better? Some thoughts:

- Stakeholder Analysis: if a broad group of stakeholders were being polled on critical issues (resource mgt, social equity, materials mgt, emissions mgt), perhaps this issue might have been identified as a potential concern early on, and the company could have evaluated alternative materials and manufacturing processes. This process could provide a 'real time' feedback loop to executives on emerging issues & opportunities

- Product Stewardship: This type of program has been advanced & utilized by the chemical companies; not only to mitigate risks associated with use (or misuse) of their products, but also to provide competitive advantages in commodity markets (i.e. content & services designed to help customers maximize their investment in procuring / buying, using, and ultimately disposing or recycling the product). I am not sure if Nalgene has such a program, but again: it could serve as an additional process for 'anticipating' what problems could occur with product use.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

It's crazy to think that all this time we have been exposed to BPA but until this recent spur in interest over it, it was brushed under the rug. Our lives are consumed by BPA. It is in fillings in our teeth, it lines the metal in our canned foods, and in our plastic food containers. It is scary to know that BPA is found in most baby bottles and sippy cups. There are many new companies coming out with BPA free bottles though. As far as plastic drinking bottles for adults go, Camelbak has always been BPA free and Nalgene and REI are coming out with BPA-free lines, too.