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January 15, 2001
Volume 79, Number 3
CENEAR 79 3 pp.32
ISSN 0009-2347
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SDA reorganizes for the future

On 75th anniversary, science and education remain at the heart of its mission

Michael McCoy

The Soap & Detergent Association (SDA), the main trade association for the cleaning products industry, is entering its 75th year as healthy as ever, yet very much changed from just one year ago.

SDA, like many trade groups, can be set in its ways. Its annual meeting, after all, has been held in January at the same Boca Raton, Fla., resort for more than 25 years.

But over the past 15 months the group has chosen a new president, moved its headquarters from New York City to Washington, D.C., and has revamped the way it approaches its mandates of advancing public understanding of cleaning products and protecting the ability of its members to best formulate these products.

Managing the association through this period of change is Ernie Rosenberg, who became president in October 1999. Rosenberg, a former Washington-based executive with Occidental Petroleum, was hired following an in-depth study conducted by several SDA directors on the way the association carries out its mandates.

"The organization wasn't dysfunctional, but we felt we could get more bang for the buck if we removed the overlaps."
was probing, looking even at the possibility of merging SDA with another association, the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, a Washington-based group that recently renamed itself the Consumer Specialty Products Association.

In the end, Rosenberg says, the directors decided against the merger, in part due to feedback from government regulators, congressional staffers, and other trade association people who didn't want to lose SDA's unique voice on cleaning product issues. But the directors did opt to move the group to Washington to "be in the flow of information and looked to for participation when something important comes up that affects us," Rosenberg explains.

Once they decided to move, the directors approached Rosenberg rather than an experienced trade association manager because they felt SDA needed someone who had good relations with the government, with nongovernmental organizations, and with the industrial community. "They wanted a Washington wonk rather than a generic manager," Rosenberg says.

Rosenberg had to hit the ground running, coordinating the move last spring and then orchestrating the hiring of new staff to replace those who didn't make the move.

Next came reorganization. Historically, SDA members joined one or more of four end-market divisions. Two of these, oleochemicals and technical/materials, were raw material oriented, while the other two, household and industrial/institutional, were end-product related.

However, according to Rosenberg, the directors found that committees formed under these divisions increasingly overlapped, causing redundancies. The structure "tended to drive activities into silos that weren't interacting very well," he says. "The organization wasn't dysfunctional, but we felt we could get more bang for the buck if we removed the overlaps."

Now, SDA is organized around issues and areas of expertise, rather than end markets. New standing committees include regulations and technical affairs, consumer education, public relations, government affairs, legal, and oleochemicals. Rosenberg emphasizes that two oversight committees still exist to make sure that SDA's two major business groups—cleaning product formulators and raw material suppliers—get the attention they deserve.

DESPITE THE REORGANIZATION, Rosenberg says the basic focus of SDA hasn't changed: The association is intent on preserving a history of education and technical work that's largely separate from any kind of member company advocacy. And when it does advocate, Rosenberg says, SDA tries to approach issues technically rather than politically. "I don't want the association to become just a lobbying shop," he says.

Top among issues for SDA currently is characterizing the environmental impact of the major constituents of cleaning products. Rosenberg notes that SDA is one of four industry associations whose members have the most chemicals in the high-production-volume chemical program—400 of the first 1,000 have some relation to cleaning products.

SDA'S AGENDA includes dealing with what Rosenberg calls the hygiene hypothesis—the idea that maybe people are too clean and that children's immune systems are not challenged enough as a result. "The hypothesis is just that," he says. "But we're not the kind of group that puts a political type in front of the camera who says, 'It's not proven, so go away.' We're the kind of group that asks if there's any technical validity to the hypothesis and engages scientifically with the issue."

On the education front, SDA teamed up earlier this year with ZAP Asthma, an Atlanta-based coalition that focuses on pest control and effective household cleaning to reduce preventable deaths from asthma in poor communities. Rosenberg, who grew up asthmatic in a low-income area, says SDA will next roll out the program in Washington. "I want SDA to be a part of this community," he says.

As SDA enters its diamond jubilee year, Rosenberg is optimistic about its future. Other association heads, he says, are envious of the senior-level participation SDA enjoys on its board of directors—presidents and other top executives from leading companies like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Dow Chemical. And despite consolidation in the industry, he says dues income from SDA's 130 members is steady or rising.

Rosenberg learned during his first year that SDA is unique in the world of industry groups. "Science and education driving all the other work of the association, as opposed to defense being the initial motivator, is the big difference between us and a lot of other associations," he says. "We're as strong as ever and as committed as ever to science and education, but we are looking at ways to deliver that science and bring it to bear better."—

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