Taking responsibility for what you sell – top 5 things we learned from our product stewardship roadshow

By James Griffin

Product stewardship is when producers, brand owners, importers, retailers and/or consumers accept responsibility for reducing a product’s environmental impact throughout the whole life cycle.

The Sustainable Business Network, along with partners 3R Group, Abilities Group, Fuji Xerox and INZIDE Commercial (with funding support from the Waste Minimisation Fund, administered by the Ministry for the Environment), is on a on a mission to increase the number of product stewardship schemes being offered in New Zealand. As a starting point, we ran a series of workshops around the country to help businesses start or augment their product stewardship activity. Key learnings were as follows:-

  1. There’s already high awareness of the need to take responsibility for managing environmental impacts.

The fact that more than 200 people registered to attend the events is clear evidence that businesses are increasingly recognising the need to take responsibility for their products throughout their life cycle, including what happens to them at the end of life. The Government’s intention to make product stewardship mandatory across six product categories is certainly stimulating interest, but increasing demands from customers about end of life solutions for the products they procure are providing a greater and immediate need to consider product stewardship. This, coupled with increasing awareness of the issues associated with waste escaping into our environment, mean taking responsibility for products throughout the lifecycle is increasingly being viewed as a license to operate.

  1. It’s an opportunity to solve a customer problem.

Businesses not providing an end of life solution for the products they sell are, in effect, providing their customers with a waste problem as well as contributing to NZ’s waste landfill volumes. A product stewardship take-back scheme is, of course, a way of solving this customer pain point as well as an opportunity to develop ongoing relationships with customers.

  1. Product stewardship unlocks a circular economy approach.

Taking a product stewardship lens across a product provides a tangible basis from which to build increasingly circular aspects into the design of products. A circular economy has three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep materials in use for as long as possible, and regenerate natural systems. It was evident from the workshops that businesses were considering the design of their products as a basis for product stewardship schemes. This included material choices and ensuring products could be kept in effective use for as long as possible. The workshops also identified associated cost savings from a more circular approach.

  1. Multiple forms of product stewardship are already being offered.

Many companies that attended the workshops already offer forms of product stewardship, such as making material choices based on reducing environmental impacts or extending the life of a product by offering spare parts or a repair service. An end of life solution should be part of a suite of offerings to reduce negative environmental impacts.

  1. There’s no need to do it alone.

Product stewardship involves all parts of the value chain, so there are opportunities to collaborate with other organisations. Partners such as Abilities can help with processing of products, 3R can advise on how best to establish a scheme, and companies already running Ministry for the Environment accredited schemes, such as Fuji Xerox and INZIDE Commercial, are happy to share their knowledge and experience.

If you are a manufacturer or supplier of a product and interested in establishing a product stewardship scheme get in touch with me at James@sustainable.org.nz 021 686 155 or Holly@sustainable.org.nz 027 390 7480.

Further, you can download the Fuji Xerox Product Stewardship Roadmap resource or view examples of Ministry for the Environment accredited schemes.

In 2020 the Sustainable Business Network will be running a communications campaign aimed at getting businesses to consider a product’s end of life at the procurement stage, and directing them to product stewardship schemes.

Thank you to the support from our Partners 3R Group, Abilities Group, Fuji Xerox and INZIDE Commercial.