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Sustainable Materials Management: Product Stewardship: European Union Integrated Product Policy

Updated: April 2007

The European Union (EU) Integrated Product Policy (IPP) Exit EPA Disclaimer developed by the European Commission takes a "holistic" approach to stewardship in the development, use, and disposition of products and services. Its goal is to help policy makers identify when and how to take actions in integrated ways that most effectively achieve sustainability goals. As described by the EU, the IPP is based on five environmental management principles: 1) life-cycle thinking; 2) working with the market; 3) stakeholder involvement; 4) continuous improvement; and 5) flexibility in the use of a variety of policy instruments. This fact sheet is not comprehensive; rather is provides a starting point for readers interested in investigating the topic.

IPP Background and Status

Through IPP, European policy makers have chosen to take an integrated conceptual approach to address the production, use, disposal and reuse of products and services in order to reduce their environmental impacts and improve their ecological properties across the entire life cycle. The life-cycle of a product is often long and complicated. It includes the extraction of natural resources, product design, manufacture, assembly, marketing, distribution, sale, and use, as well as eventual disposal or reuse of the product’s constituent parts. A product’s life cycle involves parties with many different needs and interests, including designers, industry, marketers, retailers, and consumers.

IPP employs both voluntary and mandatory policy tools, including economic instruments, substance bans, voluntary agreements, environmental labeling, environmental management systems, and product design guidelines, to minimize impacts on the environment associated with the product life cycle. IPP would use these policy tools in an integrated manner, based on an evaluation of the life-cycle product impacts, to maximize environmental improvements. Product-focused strategies that may be used to implement IPP include eco-labeling, green procurement, design for the environment, life cycle management, life cycle engineering, and extended producer responsibility. (More information on the "IPP Toolbox." Exit EPA Disclaimer)

IPP evolved in the 1990's, consistent with the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, when the EU sought to develop a broader environmental policy framework for products. EU policymakers were concerned about potential barriers to trade that could emerge if fragmented product-focused environmental policy approaches developed in individual member countries. Furthermore, an EU role in product policy was advocated to recognize more fully the diverse needs of stakeholder groups and markets in the complex life cycles of goods and services across Europe. Some policymakers also reasoned that promoting environmentally superior products could enhance economic competitiveness internationally. Finally, support for IPP principles reflected a growing belief that development without product policy would be inherently unsustainable in economic, environmental, and political terms.

IPP was discussed formally with stakeholders in a 1998 conference. Following a study commissioned by the European Commission, in February 2001, the Commission adopted a Green Paper Exit EPA Disclaimer on IPP. In June 2003, a non-binding IPP "Communication" Exit EPA Disclaimer was adopted by the European Commission. The Communication identifies IPP as an integral part of the EU sustainable development strategy and states the importance of a product dimension to environmental policy at a time when the overall quantity, variety, and complexity of products and services are growing and their trade is increasingly global. The communication highlights the use of voluntary approaches to coordinate the use of existing and future environment-related product policy instruments. It outlines steps that the EU will take to: (1) establish a framework for continuous environmental improvement of products throughout their life cycle, and (2) focus on products with the greatest potential for environmental improvement.

No plans for a regulatory strategy to implement IPP have been announced.

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Country Examples

An environmental policy focus on products in some EU-member nations and other countries around the world is reflected in a range of activities related to IPP and other product stewardship strategies.

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Some U.S. Activities and Additional Resources

Environmental policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have paid increased attention to the policies associated with the life cycle of products that would reduce adverse environmental impacts. Summary descriptions and links that reflect some of these policy directions are identified below.

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