Sustainable Materials Management: Product Stewardship: European Union Integrated Product Policy
The European Union (EU) Integrated Product Policy (IPP) 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." )
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 on IPP. In June 2003, a non-binding IPP "Communication" 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.
- The Communication establishes a European Platform on Life Cycle Assessment to study life-cycle analysis and materials flow accounting.
- Voluntary pilots on cell phones and teak garden chairs were established in 2004 in order to demonstrate how IPP could work.
- In August 2006, the EU released a report identifying food and drink, transport, and housing as the three product groups consumed in the EU that carry the heaviest environmental burden.
No plans for a regulatory strategy to implement IPP have been announced.
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.
- Canada. Canada promotes product stewardship through "the 3 R’s" - Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. See also Canada’s sustainable development strategy: A Guide to Green Government
- Netherlands. The first of five international "Green Goods" conferences took place in 1993 in The Hague, The Netherlands. In 1994, the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment (VROM) published "Policy Document on Products and the Environment." Since that time, VROM has focused attention on sustainability and the environmental consequences of consumption through pilot studies and policy dialogue.
- Japan. Japan proposed the 3Rs Initiative – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle - which was identified as a new initiative for the G8 Sea Island Summit in June 2004. Subsequently, in 2005, Japan established an action plan to establish a sound material cycle society. With a goal of becoming a zero-waste society, the action plan includes quantitative targets for 2010 that balance environmental and economic goals.
- Sweden, The Swedish 'Eco-Cycle' Commission, established in 1993, delivered its final report titled A Strategy for Sustainable Materials and Products in 1997. In 2001, the Swedish EPA was charged with a developing a basis for use of integrated product policy by Sweden , in cooperation with other countries. The Swedish Ministry of the Environment has established an informal IPP network to collaborate and exchange national experiences among authorities, representatives from the environment and the business sector, scientists, and consumer representatives. The network, a driving force in the development of IPP in Europe, runs parallel to the EU Commission's IPP work.
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.
- product stewardship. Product stewardship calls on those in the product lifecycle—manufacturers, retailers, users, and disposers—to share responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of products. The product stewardship Web site highlights recent developments in product stewardship and provides numerous links to other sources of information.
- Beyond RCRA: Prospects for Waste and Materials Management in the Year 2020. This document identifies general strategies and tools that might be used to build a new vision for the future of the EPA RCRA program based on resource recovery. The growing consensus that wastes when possible should be reused shifts the historic "cradle-to-grave" paradigm in RCRA to a "cradle-to-cradle" model that emphasizes sustainable materials management.
- Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC). The RCC emphasizes natural resource conservation and efficient materials management.
- pollution prevention. As defined under the Pollution Prevention Act, pollution prevention means "source reduction" and other practices that reduce or eliminate the creation of pollutants through increased efficiency in the use of raw materials, energy, water, or other resources, or protection of natural resources by conservation.
- Design for the Environment (DfE). DfE assists industry through a variety of tools (such as EPA’s “PBT Profiler” for persistent bioaccumulative toxics and EPA’s Risk Screening Environmental Indicators model) to screen and assess toxics and help develop “greener” products .
- Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). TRI is a community-right-to-know program that provides information to the public regarding toxic chemical releases.
- eCycling. The page describes a number of initiatives for the reuse (e-cycling) of electronic wastes
- municipal solid waste initiatives. EPA has a number of programs and initiatives to foster source reduction and recycling activities for municipal solid wastes.
- WasteWise. WasteWise is a voluntary EPA program through which organizations eliminate costly municipal solid waste and select industrial wastes.
- Energy Star. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy to help save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.
- Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP). EPP is a program to encourage and assist Federal Executive agencies purchase environmentally preferable products and services.
- life cycle analysis (LCA). LCA helps policy makers to make more informed decisions through a better understanding of the human health and environmental impacts of products, processes, and activities.