How to be responsible for your products

By James Griffin

Wheat over water
We’re making it easier for businesses that want to start taking responsibility for products throughout their life cycle. Known as product stewardship, this shift in thinking is vital to creating a more circular economy.

Last year the Sustainable Business Network ran a series of six workshops across the country to help businesses establish product stewardship initiatives.

This project was made possible by our partners 3R Group, Abilities Group, Fuji Xerox and INZIDE Commercial plus financial support from the Waste Minimisation Fund, administered by the Ministry for the Environment.

The workshops shared best practice and provided practical tips and approaches. The key findings are included in a new resource sheet that you can download for free here. Use it as a starting point for establishing a product stewardship initiative.

Product stewardship is a foundation for enabling businesses to play their role in a move from a linear to a circular economy. In a circular economy resources are never abandoned to become waste. Products are designed to be safe and easy to manage in cycles of production and reproduction. They flow safely and easily in and out of our homes and businesses.

The expectations from customers and governments, both here and around the world, are that businesses need to take greater responsibility for managing the environmental impacts of the products they manufacture, distribute and sell throughout their entire lifecycle (from design, through to end of life)

Consumer NZ’s annual survey has rated environmental concerns at the top of the list of consumer issues over the past two years. Growing concerns around water quality, packaging and climate change are perhaps not surprising. Concerns about issues linked to product responsibility, such as electronic waste from old appliances and other electronic gadgets, are also growing.

Furthermore, over 80% of respondents agreed that products do not last as long as they used to and more consumers were getting goods repaired rather than replacing them – 47% “always” or “usually” opted for repair, compared with 43% in the previous survey.

Worryingly for businesses, nearly 70% felt that companies were not doing enough to reduce their environmental impacts.

This environmental concern is likely to be backed by government action. The Ministry for the Environment has clearly signalled its intention to make product stewardship mandatory for several product areas. We await to hear the outcome of the consultation process.

Overseas the EU has included a sustainable product policy initiative in its updated Circular Economy Action Plan. It will cover all products introduced to the EU market including such elements as:

  • Improving product reusability, upgradability and reparability.
  • Restricting single-use and countering premature obsolescence.
  • Introducing a ban on the destruction of unsold durable goods.

At SBN, we are helping businesses adapt to these trends and impending legislation. We’re also dedicated to raising awareness of current product stewardship schemes in New Zealand.

The next phase of our product stewardship work is a communications campaign to raise the demand for product stewardship schemes. We’re encouraging businesses to ask ‘what do I do with this at the end of its life?’ when procuring products. The campaign will then highlight those companies that have product stewardship scheme initiatives underway.

Let us know if you have taken measures to mitigate the environmental impacts of your products across their lifecycle, from decisions about the materials you use and measures to increase a product’s useful life (e.g. enabling repair or the provision of spare parts), to providing an end of life return scheme.

The days of giving up responsibility for products once they leave the factory gates are well and truly numbered. If you’re not already on the product stewardship journey, then download our resource sheet and follow this advice from our Partner, 3R Group:

“Our recommendation is to just get started! Find a partner to help you run a small take back trial which allows you to review whether the product or its materials can be reused, repurposed or recycled. Like a first-time marathon runner, get some good advice, make a plan and start with small steps.”

To share your product stewardship stories email james@sustainable.org.nz or holly@sustainable.org.nz

Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels