Product stewardship refers to the responsibility incumbent on everyone involved in the life cycle of a product to ensure adequate management of risk and improvement of product performance to reduce its environmental, safety and health impact on the society. It focuses on ensuring that products do not leave the society worse off or irreparable.
It may involve the reinvention of a product by a manufacturer so that there are less harmful substances used in the production, it becomes safer for the environment and is recyclable and reusable. For middlemen and consumers, it involves participation and actual role play in the proper disposal and recycling of a product at the end of its lifespan.
Product stewardship proponents voice the fears of inadequate actions to manage the risk a product poses at the end of its life cycle. They are concerned about what steps were taken by everyone involve from production to consumption of the product to ensure any negative impacts it has on the environment, health and safety of the society are at its barest minimum.
Product stewardship should be distinguished from extended producer responsibility though both concepts are a bit similar. Extended producer responsibility advocates for adequate steps for the manufacturer to take to discharge the responsibility for producing an environmentally safe and healthier product during its lifespan but product stewardship encapsulates every person involved with the product during its life cycle.
For example: a product stewardship will involve the responsibility of a car manufacturer to use materials that will ensure it does not damage the environment such as upgrade engines to reduce dangerous exhaust smoke and provide means to accept used cars for recycling; the car dealer to ensure it is properly stored and kept in the best conditions and the car user to dispose properly or return to the car manufacturer for recycling. The same responsibility extends to can drinks, paints etc. Consumers or other people who return products for recycling are usually compensated.
In some countries, legislations are made to ensure products are of high quality and conformable with acceptable environmental standards and to ensure proper disposal and recycling by end users.
There are some steps required for product stewardship to be effective:
- Life cycle planning
- Shared responsibility
- Supply chain communication
- Product knowledge