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Re: [GreenYes] 'Producer Responsibility' and Consumer Cost
Roger and Readers,

Thanks for some well reasoned thoughts.  I think that the use of terms is more along the lines of the policy discussions that I am familiar with hearing.  It would be great if some people from the Extended Producer Responsibility or Industrial Ecology communities were able to clock in on this discussion.

I know that there are a growing number of "model companies" that have EPR like-goals or vision/mission. Without naming names, there are sectors of manufacturing that can be looked at for a benchmark of what has been done so far and where do we continue to move towards:
carpet, computers / consumer electronics, automobiles, furniture, green building and construction, come to mind.  There are a handful of commodity products that are employing responsible packaging, materials, and source reduction techniques although it seems for every one glimmer of light, there appears to be two or three trends / fads / "new innovations" in packaging of consumables that take consumers and society several steps back.

Who bears the cost, consumers on the front end through purchase price, or back end through taxes, or some other configuration of government contribution / incentive to manufacturers and industrial sectors to seek solutions along these lines.  The ultimate source reduction, pre-cycling, if you will, is a market statement that maybe we, as the shepards of the community, should be working towards getting out to our various publics. This level of education should be an underlying goal in the front of our minds.

The purchasing cooperatives mentioned in point 4 below make sense- an idea that is far ahead of conventional thinking. Or is it?

The notion exists in the purchase of recycled products.  Generally, it grew as follows:  Instead of one department in an agency purchasing a carton of recycled paper, why not the whole agency?  Instead of one agency, why not the whole state or national government?  The cooperative purchasing power of government demonstrates a commitment to a particular commodity, defines standards for the specifications of the product and expresses an idea that a recycled product is desirable - certainly all of these combine to be encouragement for the manufacturer / sector and hopefully, translate into profitability for the vendor/sector (the benchmark for whether something is working in the business community).  On the consumer side, there are cooperative groups that could and do mobilize their legions of supporters to take the message to the manufacturers and the governments.

Several years back, when America Recycles Day, was just getting off the ground (1997 or 1998), there was a push to educate the "captains of industry" and heads of business communities through an "article" or "discussion" within the Harvard Business Review.  I think that the idea kicked around for about 15 minutes and then dissipated.  That was one issue campaign, performed one time, to one audience, never to be repeated again.  Kind of like a commercial that runs once and is never seen again.  Where was the impact? We discuss amongst our community what the issues are but where is the commitment to bring others to the table and introduce the issues to them.  And where is the commitment to continue to build upon the message on a regular basis.  I understand that some people are frustrated with the choice of messengers in the community.  Let's work to bring new messengers to the table, to get them involved, in a committed and thoughtful way.  Let's work to get these discussions honed and fine-tuned so these can be the messages on a national scale like an America Recycles Day platform.

When I was involved in policy discussions of recycling at the state level in Maryland, the push with the most new interest, that brought the most new people to the table, that offered the most potential for growth, were the linkages between businesses and recycling. Recycled building materials led to a green building discussion which brought architects and new state agency voices and financial people to the table.  When I was involved in the green building policy discussion at EcoSmart in New York, the attempts were to reach architects, designers, developers, and real estate professionals who could carry the message to their publics, clients, and associates.  There was an attempt to make inroads in the hospitality (hotels), medical (hospitals), residential (homes), and education (schools) areas of green development.  The bottom line point was that the importance lay in the education of the new publics who were hearing a message for only the first time, or for the second or third time (so it had not yet stuck in their brains yet).  Keeping an idea exposed and presented regularly is a good thing.  It is how one creates consensus and acceptance.  This is why advertising is effective.

The buy recycled movement grew in acceptance through the efforts of a few trailblazing leaders (Richard Keller of greatest notability), an excellent Buy Recycled Manual coming out of Maryland (often imitated, never duplicated), and a legion of "foot-soldiers" who were trained statewide and nationwide.  This led to a discussion on implementation and execution and a program on procurement and contracting was developed to reach the same audience.  Now they had the tools to accomplish their goals.

Roger's point about the national solicitation to a company is a step in the right direction.  It is a definite goal and here could be some interim benchmarks to reach along the way.  In much the same way that Buy Recycled grew, I would suggest that development of an Extended Producer Responsibility manual.  One organization, INFORM, has blazed a trail in the realm of developing a report and leading in our community.  This is not to suggest that others have not been involved, only that my view is limited from my location of space and place at present.  There are probably several leaders in this area coming from the diverse backgrounds of government, non-profit, corporate, and education / policy.   Truly knowledgeable folks who could lead and develop a system for training (in much the same way that Buy Recycled Trainings grew). Then we train new leaders to carry the message -- be fruitful and get the message out to others.  The national solicitation could get its beginnings in drafting a solicitation to a company on EPR principles.  After going through the practice motions of drafting, you will have a cadre of people who are ready to take it to the next level.  Can you see this is a module of an EPR training workshop?  Are we moving towards a consensus?

Okay, my minute is up - it turned into an hour - and I have to leave for my exam now.  Happy holidays to all and keep the message going.


Ben Marks
1st year law student at Pace

Roger Guttentag wrote:

Greetings: I am going to add my three cents to this discussion.  My discussion takes into consideration other recent messages to this list and, in some ways, perhaps even restates some of their points differently in terms I prefer. 1.  I some ways, I feel somewhat dissatisfied with the term "producer responsibility."  Producers do have a responsibility, both legally and morally, not to harm the larger community they are part of in pursuit of their commercial interests.  Some interpret this to mean that the producers should have total crade to grave responsibility.  I disagree in the sense that this ignores the issue of why products are made to begin with.  In general, it is because we, the consumer, want them. (I know some on this list believe that companies make products and somehow hoodwink and bamboozle people into thinking they need them when they really don't.  Perhaps there is a segment of our society that is so weak-minded that this may be true but I prefer to believe that most of us are fairly mentally competent and make purchasing decisions for reasons other than what we told through advertising.  But I digress here...) So, consumers also have an obligation (mostly moral) to be responsible consumers.  So, in a fundamental way, when we talk about product end-of-life management I believe the issue will only be decided in the way we all want it to be if most consumers believe in the concept of "consumer responsibility." 2. Consumers, in the end, pay for everything either through taxes or their consumer purchasers.  John Waddell therefore asks "What is the difference between subsizing disposal/recycling/reuse through our tax dollars OR paying for disposal/recycling/reuse up front when we purchase the product?"  This is like asking what is the difference between a man and woman cohabitating inside or outside a state of matrimony since, from an external perspective, the two states appear alike (please - no e-mails about this to me, it's just an analogy).  There is, in my view, a great deal of difference.  By making product end-of-life (PEOLM) a taxpayer responsibility, you get the situation you have now.  Some communities will step up to the plate and many won't.  You will get endless arguments over whether you want to pay for proper PEOLM or schools and police.  The debate will be distorted by the intrusion of special interests and the money that trails in their wake.  And finally, if you want to have an a real influence on the political debate over how taxpapyer money should or shouldn't be spent on PEOLM you will need to become a policy wonk on this issue which I assure you most people will not want to do. 3.  The private sector (of which I am a member) argues that privatization of public services is a wise choice because the private sector is motivated to deliver services efficiently because of the discipline imposed through open market competition.  Let's accept this statement as true if, in fact, you really have an open, competitive market environment.  Then it strikes me as strange that the private sector is fighting so hard against POEM as a business requirement.  Most describe PEOLM as internalizing an external cost.  I prefer to view it as "privatizing" a service that is primarily delivered now through the use of tax dollars.  The manufacturers argue that it will raise the cost of the final product and hurt the consumer.  Maybe.  Certainly, if producers are required to take on PEOLM, they will probably make stupid mistakes in the beginning as they try to figure out what works and what doesn't.  But if PEOLM is "privatized", it too will now be subject to the full force of the marketplace that seeks to relentlessly grind down the prices that producers in fact can charge.  Maybe some producers will pass on the full cost of PEOLM to the consumer, but maybe some other companies won't in the hope of gaining market share.  And, as time goes on, the producers will be motivated to find the most efficient way to fulfill PEOLM requirements as they do for a myriad as they are able to do for a host of other business environment obligations relating to labor, product safety, labeling, public reporting practices (if they are a public company), etc.  Further advantages to the consumer is that, if PEOLM requirements are Federal, then you have uniform national standards for a "level" playing field, the consumer doesn't have to know a thing about PEOLM just as most of us don't know about any of other things producers have to do just as long as they conform to requirements that, we as an electorate, approved through our legislative process and finally, by placing PEOLM into the marketplace, the consumer has the ability to exercise "consumer responsibility" by choosing products made by companies that seek a competitive advantage by doing something extra in the hope of winning over that segement of the marketplace that cares about these issues. 4.  There is also a third way between just continuing to pay for PEOLM through tax dollars and making businesses take on PEOLM through regulation and that way is through purchasing cooperatives.  Why can't some of national environmental organizations get together and put out a solicitation saying "we want to buy X (let's say computers) that includes environmentally responsible PEOLM.  Give us your best offer, a time limit on how long this offer is valid, how many years we have to commit to you and how many people we have to sign up to get the deal you offer.  We will then select the best deal and do the work of signing up the necessary number of people that are needed for the deal to happen within the specified time period."  This is a perfect test to see if everyone is willing to put their money where their mouths are: for producers who say that the market and not government should determine how PEOLM should be handled and for the consumers who say they want to be responsible and are willing to pay for PEOLM as part of this responsibility.  If the right deal comes along I'd sign up in a heartbeat. Sincerely, Roger M.

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