Discussion of product stewardship is welcome
6 July 2005
Discussion about the role of businesses in product stewardship is welcome says the Business Council
The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development (the Business Council) today welcomed the Government’s discussion paper which considers its options to encourage producers and consumers to accept responsibility for the full life cycle of products from design to disposal.
Peter Neilson, Chief Executive said: “The paper highlights the willingness of many manufacturers to take responsibility by re-designing their products, re-considering packaging and/or developing end-of-life uses which reduce waste, create value instead of just disposal and enhance the bottom line. It is vital that manufacturers and retailers take on their responsibilities in product stewardship and factor in the full life cycle of products, which they use, design and sell.
“We believe that voluntary approaches are the best way to encourage industry to find innovative solutions to often complex problems. Compliance costs for business and the taxpayer are usually substantially less than those within a regulatory environment, which would not necessarily deliver better outcomes. Forward looking companies see product stewardship as a means of achieving competitive advantage which in turn will galvanise competitors into action.”
“The voluntary Packaging Accord and the various industry take-back systems for mobile phones, white-ware, computers, paint and used oil show that companies do want to do the right thing because it makes good commercial sense.”
The Business Council’s “Guide to a Sustainable Supply Chain” highlights the responsibilities of manufacturers and retailers in product stewardship. All products have the potential to cause environmental degradation either from their manufacturing, use or disposal.
Business Council members have been showing leadership in extended producer responsibility. Vodafone and Telecom provide take back facilities for mobiles; Toyota and Honda have designed new hybrid technologies which reduce vehicle emissions and petrol consumption; Holcim is using recovered used oil as a substitute fuel and Coca Cola is pioneering public “out and about” recycling.
However whilst Neilson believes that this combined activity will help change the dynamics of the market place, ultimately the onus is on the consumer to start making responsible purchasing and disposal decisions and the discussion needs to factor in what will motivate behavioural change.
“This paper will help continue to take New Zealand forward in a manner that is in line with international development on waste reduction and resource efficiency. It encourages manufacturers to rethink the design of their products and the type of packaging around them and retailers to select and promote the products they sell on the basis of their environmental impact. Ultimately if the consumer does not buy such products in preference to others and then recycle them, then legislation such as we see in Europe is likely to become inevitable. We often forget the role of consumers in product stewardship. It is the consumer that makes the choice between competing products and who must use and dispose of products responsibly. The Government must show leadership in this area by committing to a public procurement policy which recognises extended producer responsibility within its own departments and ministries.”
Part of the problem however is that the true cost of disposal is not charged to consumers and they have no incentive to change their behaviour. To address this, the Business Council supports a national waste levy, provided that the revenue is hypothecated within the recycling industry.”
The Business Council believes that providing economic incentives to business and consumers should be a key component of any business-friendly route to sustainable development. The questions raised in the paper are timely and the Business Council and its members will continue their current work in this area to contribute to the discussion and help provide the most appropriate outcome for all New Zealanders.
The Business Council’s starting position is that a business needs to be profitable in order to be sustainable. Sustainable business also needs to be sensitive to the needs of their employees and to the communities in which they operate and to minimise their impact on natural resources. Business Council members employ over 50,000 New Zealanders across the North and South Islands. Based on the average family size of 3, this means it is directly responsible for the livelihoods of almost 150,000 people or 4% of the population. However, its real impact is much bigger as many businesses are reliant on member companies as trading partners in local communities.