Last month, I shared some perspectives about the current state of the hazardous-substance-free movement and trends that are propelling its influence. This month I’d like to discuss what I think these trends mean to industry and the potential usefulness of QC 080000 IECQ HSPM.
The European RoHS and WEEE directives were the first to impose new accountabilities, and they did so without providing directions or methods for compliance. The overall response around the world often resulted in the misdirected, wasteful expenditure of resources—losses incurred by all humankind.
It was in response to such costly chaos that wise representatives from Asia asked for the creation of an international standard to bring order to global commerce and hazardous-substance management. Stan Salot, Dennis Bradley, and Gwen Wade drafted the predecessor to the QC 080000 IECQ HSPM document. Shortly after that document was crafted, the company I lead, the Salot Bradley Group International, known as SBGi, was founded to help promote and deploy the standard worldwide through training, consulting, and software tools.
QC 080000 is important because industry needs a centering point for its response to the global patchwork of hazardous-substance regulations. Different regulatory requirements in different geographical markets create an intolerable burden for affected companies.
Many businesses are direct participants in the global marketplace, either by choice or because their goods cannot be contained to one geography. QC 080000 is being adopted by a number of countries as the basic framework of their expectations of business. The sooner the world can agree upon and implement a universal approach, the smaller the burden and loss to business and society from the chaos that will continue without such a framework.
Two years ago I fully expected that industry would quickly see QC 080000 as an obvious, common-sense approach and rush to adopt it. Being based on familiar conventions from ISO standards and process management, how hard could it be to just do it? Sure, it would take an investment to prepare for and get certification, but the benefits seemed pretty clear to me. Obviously, I underestimated how many companies would choose to wait until the regulatory hammer comes down on those found not to be in compliance.
I also didn’t fully acknowledge how significant the opposing forces to adoption of a new specification can be, for example, governments not wanting to accept a standard originated elsewhere, managers on the production line that just don’t want to change their routines, companies that resent not participating in drafting the specification, and other global standards organizations wanting to create competing documents and take credit for the ideas in QC 080000. At the end of the day, companies are human organizations, and resistance to change is a factor with which they must deal.
Another unmet expectation of mine was that large, sophisticated multinational electronics and computer companies would be the early adopters of QC 080000, and they would pressure companies in their supply chain to embrace it—in other words, a top-down process. Actually, implementation of QC 080000 has largely been growing from the bottom up, led by component manufacturers in Asia—my compliments to Asian industry and its leaders for showing the way for the rest of the world. I’m pleased to report that there are a number of conversations underway with global original equipment manufacturers to champion IECQ HSPM as part of their supply-chain management requirements.
Perhaps the burdens put upon suppliers for RoHS compliance is what has driven the growth of QC 080000 in Asia. I don’t think so. It seems to me that Asian companies have simply looked ahead and realized this is a good thing to do, even before their customers have asked them to do it. The excessive questionnaires and product tests to address regulatory compliance that have become the normal practices over the last few years should be replaced by thoughtful, comprehensive process management from product conception and design to environmentally appropriate reclamation and disposal.
The European Union’s RoHS and WEEE regulations have set the world’s electronic and electrical industries upon a dramatic and demanding new course as regards hazardous substances.In spite of how foggy my crystal ball has been in the past, let me cautiously share some of my perspectives and expectations for the next few years.
The central idea of QC 080000 is absolutely what is needed—industry must move from a product focus to an integrated, comprehensive process-management approach. That’s a simple statement and a simple thought with great implication.
My friend and SBGi co-worker Dennis Bradley is fond of proclaiming that reducing and eliminating hazardous substances in products and processes is perhaps the most massive undertaking in the history of humankind. It sounds a bit over the top to say that, but I have come to believe that he’s correct.
Consider what must happen to accomplish this. To truly eliminate or manage hazardous substances requires no less than a worldwide increase in the competency and efficiency of industry. Producers and the global supply chain must move to higher levels of consistency, continuity, and ongoing, cooperative learning. This movement will include, but not be limited to, information flow, decision making, public disclosure, engineering, testing, marketing, sales, manufacturing, and public relations. If you think the last few years have been a challenge, I suggest you prepare for an even wilder experience.