UK panel charged with ‘greening’ consumer products

Recommending measures that will reduce the environmental impact of consumer products will be the aim of a new panel announced by UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher.

The Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment will be chaired by Dr Alan Knight, environmental policy controller for the DIY superstore chain B&Q.

The committee will operate for three years and will advise the Government on:

  • how to lower the environmental impacts of products across their entire lifecycle, from production to disposal
  • how to provide consumers with better environmental information
  • measures to stimulate the demand for ‘green’ products, including new labelling schemes or awards
  • long-term strategies for environmental improvement in particular product markets.

Meacher emphasised that the panel will not investigate measures to reduce consumer purchasing, but rather measures to reduce the overall environmental impacts of current consumption levels. “The present trend is not sustainable – over one tonne of material is consumed each year for every person in the country, and another 10 tonnes of material are used in order to produce it,” said Meacher. “There are choices we can make about what we buy; about the way we choose to use things; about how we reuse things or finally dispose of them. And these choices do not mean sacrificing the quality of everyday life.”

Meacher promised that the committee’s work on ‘green’ labelling and awards schemes would “cut out the vague or meaningless ‘green’ claims which consumers are often confronted with – the ‘green’ smokescreen.”

Membership of the Committee is:

  • Alan Knight of B&Q
  • Julia Hailes, environmental consultant and Liberal Democrat councillor in South Somerset
  • Mark Barthel, head of Sustainability Group at the British Standards Institution
  • Tim Brown, deputy secretary of the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection
  • John Lawrence, head of Trading Standards for Cambridgeshire County Council
  • John Longworth, director at Tesco
  • Jan Lewis, director general of the Soap & Detergent Industry Association
  • William McCartney, European director of environment for Motorola
  • Kenneth Miles, former chair of the UK Ecolabelling Board and director of the advertising industry’s professional institute
  • Teresa Smallbone, academic and consultant to the National Consumer Council
  • Francis Sullivan, director of programmes for the World Wildlife Fund UK chapter
  • David Wheeler, academic and consultant

The panel is expected to explore specific product sectors. Asked by edie whether her inclusion on the panel is a suggestion that the soap and detergent sector will be targeted for ‘greening’, Jan Lewis, director of the Soap & Detergent Industry Association, said she didn’t know. “I would assume that the decision to include me is based on the fact of having reduced environmental impact over many years,” Lewis said.

But some believe that soap and detergent manufacturers could do much more to reduce the negative environmental effects of their products. “The campaign that they began last year, the ‘Clean Up’ campaign, was bland. The measures were very simple,” Chris Beasley of Beasley & Christopher told edie. Beasley markets Ecover – an environmentally-friendly range of cleaning products – in the UK.

“There’s certainly a lot more that could be done in the sector,” says Beasley, who is pleased to hear that B&Q’s Knight is the panel’s chair. “I’ve been impressed by B&Q. They analyse every single product and they’ve got some tight environmental targets.”

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