Brand leaders back ‘product footprint’ action

The lifecycle impact of making and selling everything from dairy products to DIY items is to be focus of a major research and communication drive led by the Product Sustainability Forum (PSF).

The initiative, announced today, is already backed by more than 80 major retailers, product suppliers, environmental charities, academics and all UK governments. 

“The scale of the challenge is enormous,” said PSF chief executive, Dr Liz Goodwin, whose organisation was set up by WRAP in response to discussions with industry and governments. “The British Retail Consortium (BRC) estimates that the retail sector alone accounts for around 3.5% of the UK’s carbon emissions, and the retail supply chain, for more than 30%.” 

While many companies already measure the environmental impact of their products, the PSF said this had always been done in isolation with no sharing of methodology or results. 

Forum officials are already assessing the evidence and identifying grocery and DIY products where there’s most opportunity to improve environmental performance. The next step will be the publication of a report this autumn, identifying priorities for action, along with plans developed by member organisations to tackle these. 

“It’s pretty unusual, if not unique, to see so many major organisations and brands working alongside one another and sharing best practice in order to find ways of making better use of all our resources,” said Dr Goodwin. “This demonstrates just how seriously organisations are taking the issue of sustainability and the impact of their manufacturing and retail processes.” 

Environment Minister, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, said the initiative was ‘an excellent example of collaboration between businesses’ while the BRC’s head of environment, Bob Gordon, said it would help businesses find the best ways to manufacture, transport, store, display and dispose of a wide range of products so they had the smallest possible impact on the planet. 

PSF, quoting Biffa, added that for every tonne of products consumed, 10 tonnes of fuel and materials are used, rising to 100 tonnes if water is included. In addition, for the last 30 years, the amount of basic resources (fossil fuels, metals, minerals, timber and other crops) extracted from the environment has increased by 50% and is projected to rise by a further 40% in the next 20 years. 

“With the current focus on the challenges of sustainability being discussed at Rio+20 and with the UK’s own carbon targets very much in mind, our new group will play a critical role in both driving down CO2 emissions and reducing other environmental impacts of the way we resource, manufacture and sell goods,” said Dr Goodwin.

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