In the world of corporate sustainability, ESG frameworks are becoming increasingly crucial to managing new regulatory challenges like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). To explore this idea further, we spoke with Jonathan Harris, ESG Lead at Corsair, and Cally Edgren, Vice President of Sustainability at Assent. They shared their insights on how an ESG program can help companies get ready for PFAS regulations and what this means for corporate responsibility.

How does an ESG program help companies proactively address challenges like PFAS?

Jonathan Harris: A proactive approach demonstrates to regulatory bodies, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that your company is serious. It’s not just about compliance, but also about building a reputation of being committed and transparent. This can be beneficial when you need their understanding and patience later on.

And it’s not just about regulators, either. There are four key audiences to consider: your customers, your investors, your company leadership and board, and your employees. Customers want to know they’re buying from a responsible company. Increasingly, this is a part of the public understanding of a “quality” product. Investors look at whether the company is making ethical decisions and avoiding negative publicity. The leadership and board track ESG progress and expenses and look for returns on these investments. Employees want to work for a company that does the right thing for the environment and does not cut corners. A strong sustainability and ESG program should be delivering for all of these stakeholder groups.

Many companies voluntarily make claims of “sustainability” in their corporate sustainability reports. How does this relate to PFAS and potential legal challenges?

Cally Edgren: This is a critical point. Companies that claim to be “sustainable” or “environmentally friendly” or “green” can find themselves in legal hot water if consumers or NGOs discover PFAS in their products. This is increasingly leading to litigation and charges of “greenwashing” since PFAS are considered persistent synthetic chemicals. Companies must ensure that their sustainability claims are backed by concrete actions and thorough product assessments to avoid such pitfalls.

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Why should PFAS be integrated into an ESG program?

Jonathan Harris: Right now, we’re in a discovery phase for PFAS, which is an important goal. Not all PFAS are harmful. The PFAS regulation process, especially in the U.S., involves figuring out which chemicals on the EPA list are potentially harmful and at what levels, and which are inert. For manufacturers, an ESG program is important because it’s essential to know what you’re putting into the market and the environment. Understanding the impacts of these substances is part of responsible corporate behavior. As at Corsair, any environmentally responsible company today is proactive in this lane. We want to know all we can, and as early as we can, about what materials in our products are potentially introduced into people’s bodies. The old adage, “Know more than anyone else about your product,” has never been more true.

How does PFAS contamination tie into the broader ESG framework, particularly concerning industrial activities and community impact?

Cally Edgren: PFAS contamination is often tied to industrial activities, especially in fenceline communities. It’s not just about whether our products contain PFAS; it’s also about how and where we manufacture these products. Companies have an obligation to maintain clean, safe manufacturing processes and waste disposal methods to protect the communities where they operate. Regulations like the Drinking Water Regulation and CERCLA (Superfund) focus on remediating contamination, highlighting the need for responsible environmental practices.

Can you explain how worker safety relates to PFAS within the ESG framework?

Cally Edgren: Worker safety is a significant aspect of the “S” in ESG. Many manufacturing processes and materials contain PFAS, which can expose workers to toxic chemicals. For instance, PFAS are sometimes used in the chrome electroplating process to protect against other hazardous chemicals, which inadvertently exposes workers to PFAS daily. Even the PPE that employees use to keep them safe may be exposing them to PFAS. The long-term health effects of these exposures are still unknown, and there are already lawsuits from firefighters’ unions due to overexposure to PFAS in their PPE and fire extinguishing agents. Ensuring worker safety by minimizing exposure to harmful chemicals should be top of mind for any responsible company.

Proactive Solutions for PFAS & ESG Challenges

Dealing with environmental impact reporting, worker safety, and regulatory compliance can be overwhelming. That’s where a solid ESG framework comes in, giving you a strategic edge. It helps you stay transparent, responsible, and sustainable in the long run.

Want to see how Assent can make this easier for you? Book a demo.

Cally Edgren
Vice President, Sustainability

Cally is a proven compliance program leader with experience developing, communicating, and executing company goals and strategies. She is a subject matter expert on product  Read More

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