Product Sustainability Information

Product Sustainability Information

State of Play and Way Forward You do not have access to this content

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09 Feb 2016
9789210602266 (PDF)

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This report analyses information and communication about PSI. It provides an overview of the current state in the area of PSI, analyses the key trends, drivers and challenges in this field, and draws policy recommendations on how to facilitate better decision-making on the sustainability aspects of products.

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  • Mark Click to Access
  • Acknowledgements
  • Terminology
  • Executive summary

    Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production threaten global development and environmental well-being. Ensuring sustainable consumption and production should take a life cycle approach, and central to this is the development of product sustainability information (PSI).

  • Introduction

    The increasing level of interest in sustainable consumption between 1970 and now can be visualised in four waves (Elkington and Müller, 2002) after awareness of the issue was created by, for example, the Limits to Growth report in 1972 (Meadows et al., 1972). The 1980s saw the first wave, with conversations around consumption and recycling, and the emergence of voluntary labelling systems (Big Room and WRI, 2011). The 1990s introduced the emergence of the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) market segment and Fair Trade labelling. The third wave occurred in 2007-2008, partly due to increased climate change advocacy and the combined effect of the Internet, and related focus on product quality and energy efficiency, which resulted in the proliferation of ecolabels and claims. The fourth wave is now emerging, with sustainability becoming mainstream and business looking for improvement opportunities and retailers influencing consumers and supply chains, while the widespread use of smart phones allows greater access to information.

  • The complexities of product sustainability information

    The sustainability attributes of a product are often invisible. If this report is printed, the reader would not see any environmental impact while reading it. Only upon reflecting on the life cycle of the report would she or he realise that the authors used computers, the Internet and electricity, that paper was needed, that a printer used ink and energy, and that there are impacts from recycling the report. Given this, the need to determine the impact of the millions of different products demonstrates that the ambitions of any sustainability metric or tool are high. Namely, we try to define a way to understand the emissions and resource use, and sometimes the social impacts along the life cycle of everything we make and do; and we try to understand the impact on everything we care about: for example, the impact on our health and ecosystems, and the availability of resources for future generations. This means that we are dealing with a complex problem. How do we objectively understand each and every supply, use and end-of-life chain? How do we understand the environmental mechanisms that can explain how an emission impacts on the things about which we care?

  • Stakeholders
  • The drivers of and barriers to sustainability information

    Insights into consumer and organisation purchasing behaviour indicate a growing interest in buying products that are considerate of the environment and/or social concerns (National Geographic and GlobeScan, 2012; Deloitte and GMA, 2009). At the level of largescale institutional purchasers, an increasing number of countries, local authorities, businesses and organisations are gradually embarking on sustainable procurement and translating their purchasing power into active sustainability policies. In 2010, Brazil enacted a federal law to make the promotion of SPP by all public entities mandatory (UNEP, 2013a), while Malaysia has set a target of 50% of select product and services procured by government agencies to be greener by the year 2020 (UNEP, 2013a). Having tools (discussed in the next chapter) that manage information on the sustainability of products can benefit not only producers, but also users of information who can determine how their choices affect sustainability.

  • The landscape of tools and initiatives

    The growing complexity and inter-relationship between the drivers for tools and initiatives has led to the creation of a wide variety of tools that provide information on the sustainability of products.

  • Discussion and recommendations

    Charting the vast array of stakeholders, their initiatives and the multitude of tools they have developed is not a trivial task, and a short report cannot capture all details. We should not be surprised about the complexity; at the start of the second chapter, we tried to summarise the fundamental complexity around sustainability information based on LCA, as mentioned in the introduction. When we add a description of stakeholders and actual tools, we add additional complexity, as stakeholders generally have a tendency to work for their own interests and the tools frequently have a deliberate focus and, thus, reduced scope. Very few actors have a complete overview, and creating one is what we tried to do in this report.

  • References and bibliography
  • Appendices
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