Govt calls to reduce impact of consumer products

The government will move towards an integrated approach to reducing the environmental impact of consumer products, according to a Department of Environment and Transport published this week.

The report, Consumer Products and the Environment, says that consumer choice and behaviour will have an increasing influence on the environmental impact of consumer goods. The report says that while advances can be made by reducing energy used during manufacture and by minimising products’ impact in use and manufacture, better ways must be found to motivate consumers to choose more environmentally-friendly products.

An EC framework of actions was proposed earlier this year to develop an integrated product policy (IPP). (Executive summary).

The IPP approach looks at the relationship between products and their burden on the environment throughout the product’s lifecycle. The report anticipates that increasingly there will be areas where the environmental benefit will be much greater from consumption-related rather than process-related initiatives.

IPP thinking is driven by these potential benefits. It entails looking at government policy as it applies to each product sector, and selecting the priorities and measure to be taken.

In the past, debate about stimulating consumer choice has tended to focus on labelling. The government now believes environmental gain being sought should drive policy, with the most suitable mechanisms to activate consumer choice following on from that.

The report recognises markets inability to reflect environmental costs and recommends activities be set up to compensate. These measures would be designed to raise the proportion of better goods available while encouraging the disappearance of the worst.

Such measures are already being used to reduce the energy used by electrical appliances in the home. They include:

– mandatory information labels

– negotiated agreements with industry to improve performance

– regulated minimum standards

– incentive schemes to replace old appliances

– procurement initiatives to bring in new technologies

The UK and other members of the European Union are also applying fiscal and promotional programmes to address the issue of car pollutants, supplemented by negotiations bet the EC and manufacturers for improvements.

Green labelling is no longer seen as the main driver for transforming the market. It now appears an integrated approach is needed, working with each product market and complementing policies which promote competitive business in the UK.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie