Product policy essential to sustainable development

Integrated product policy (IPP) is a relatively new and difficult to implement side of environmental policy, but will there is a widely held perception that it will be necessary, since current environmental policies tend to be ineffective as they are insufficiently product-focussed, according to a recent report prepared for the EU.

IPP is a new and emerging area of environmental policy, which addresses the whole life-cycle of a product, avoiding shifting burdens from one medium to another. While industrial and energy production remains an important source of pollution and waste, the relative importance of consumption-related emissions and waste has been rising over the last two decades, according to the report, prepared by Ernst and Young and the Science Policy Research Unit. For example, in the Netherlands in the late ’80s, around three-quarters of VOC emissions were found to be consumption-related.

Product policies and product management strategies are emerging in various countries across Europe, but these activities are very patchy across the EU. EC intervention is advisable, says the report, to avoid this resulting in trade barriers, market distortions and disparities between different countries. “A way forward for sustainable development that does not incorporate actions related to products is likely, in itself, to be unsustainable in environmental, economic and political terms“.

A consistent and harmonised IPP framework compatible with the single market in Europe is not possible in the short-term, but should be pursued in the medium- to long-term. Product policy represents a new challenge for regulators, with new problems and possibilities, hence it cannot be devised and implemented in the same way as traditional process-oriented policies, says the report. “The policy process needs to become more transparent, open and co-operative, placing greater stress on voluntary actions and market instruments, with public authorities taking the role more of facilitators and arbitrators, rather than merely enforcers of rules laid down in legislation“.

The report defines IPP as “Public policy which explicitly aims to modify and improve the environmental performance of product systems” It identifies five IPP building blocks:

  measures aimed at reducing and managing wastes generated by the consumption of products;

  measures targeted at the innovation of more environmentally-sound products;

  measures to create markets for more environmentally-sound products;

  measures for transmitting information up and down the product chain; and

  measures which allocate responsibility for managing the environmental burdens of product systems.

It goes on to recommend actions for the European Commission in both the short term and the medium/long term. This starts with establishing a clear understanding of product policy, and articulating this in a “product policy vision”.

The executive summary can be viewed from the Commission’s website in pdf format (requires Acrobat Reader), by following the link below.

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