Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director
Explore how to increase impact on climate, pollution and nature ,through a combination of coherent SCP and circular policy packages, and....
.... design practices of products and services which minimize harmful environmental impacts of products over their lifecycle.
Global trends on the current uptake of coherent SCP or circular policy frameworks and sustainable design practices of products and services
While there is progress in the development of policies, tangible changes in practices and measurable impacts remain limited
Countries mostly use a combination of instruments (incentives, information tools, voluntary schemes and legal restrictions)
Most policy interventions are sectoral or stand-alone SCP plans
SCP and circular economy strategies offer the right environment for coordinated policy packages
Very few policies cover upstream solutions
Quantifying impact of SCP policies remain a challenge
Regulatory mechanisms can trigger innovation and provide clear political orientation
SCP agenda is mostly driven within environmental portfolios; inter-ministerial cooperation is key to overcome silos
In decentralized countries, the uptake of sustainable design practices relies on voluntary commitments
Sustainable products cannot compete with conventional alternatives, as they are often more expensive
Innovation focus mostly on improving resource efficiency and waste reduction and recovery
Lack of transparency in globalized supply chains is a barrier
Access to capital to implement, replicate and scale up design innovations is a challenge
Lack of technical capacity in eco-design, in SMEs in particular, hinders the adoption of innovative product design
Benefits of cooperation (public-private partnerships, financial institutions, etc.) are often overlooked
Building on current trends & practices as well as broad consultations, opportunities for more impact of coherent and circular policies and design practices
High-level political leadership is essential to ensure that product policy frameworks become a priority on national political agendas and sufficient resources are allocated accordingly.
An inclusive consultation process is also required during the formulation, implementation and monitoring of product policy frameworks in order to foster interministerial cooperation, synergies among policies, public-private partnerships (including with financial and research institutions) and broader acceptability.
The uptake of product policy packages also requires a robust governance process, including a clear transition plan, measurable progress indicators and agile decision processes. A balance between regulatory, voluntary and information-based policy instruments can support a profound, sustainable transformation. The framework should be regularly reviewed to adjust policy responses to the progress made, and changes in international regulations and technology. Recognizing the importance and role of the informal sector in advancing product policy efforts is also critical.
Most current policy efforts focus on providing downstream regulation. Greater coherence between waste policies, cleaner production policies and life-cycle-based approaches allows a transition towards a development model that not strives to minimize waste but also incorporates upstream and midstream solutions to increase impact. Considering the global nature of supply chains, product policies need to promote a value chain or sectoral approach. Policies related to material efficiency and chemicals and waste can have a positive impact on product design and reduce pollution at all stages of the value chain if they are developed and implemented in a coordinated manner.
Uptake of methodologies for the life-cycle assessment of products and access to open life-cycle data, including regional and country-specific data, are pivotal for policymakers and businesses, including SMEs, to create enabling product policy frameworks and guide the design of products and services that minimize harmful environmental impacts.
Transforming societies by raising “sustainability awareness” and emphasizing the critical role of consumption decisions is fundamental to profoundly changing consumption and production patterns. Empowering citizens through enhanced consumer information about environmental footprints allows them to take informed decisions. As consumer awareness of the issue of sustainability increases, businesses have more leeway to offer sustainable alternatives and build a relationship of trust with consumers, which in turn facilitates access to finance (e.g., through crowdfunding). Direct and trustful relationships with customers can also facilitate the uptake of innovative business models such as product-service systems and sharing platforms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the interconnectedness of countries and the fragility of global value chains. Many global leaders have announced stimulus packages. Countries have a unique opportunity to incentivize the shift towards more sustainable consumption and production through coherent product policies that foster innovative product/service design and encourage sustainable consumption behaviours.
Replicating good practices of product policies that build on the national adoption of multilateral environmental agreements, such as the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which led to national legislation on mercury in products, can further support and amplify coordination and alignment at the national level.
Leveraging public and private purchasing power through buying more sustainable goods and services can help create a market and drive down the cost of sustainable alternatives. Clear, reliable information on products, materials and companies themselves and enhanced transparency in supply chains can strengthen the competitiveness of sustainable products and services by empowering consumers to make informed choices.
As upfront investment costs are often dissuasive for businesses, notably for SMEs, economic and fiscal incentives are instrumental in encouraging businesses to adopt innovative design practices. Bias remain against investments in resource productivity, such as taxes on labour that are typically higher than taxes on resources and energy, favouring resource consumption over increased employment, as labour and resources are often alternative inputs for economic growth.
Digital technologies offer promising opportunities to improve resource efficiency in products; for example, 3D printing enables production on demand and replacement of product components and spare parts and tagging solutions enhance traceability of products, materials and resources, improving transparency throughout the supply chain. Research on the potential impact of digital solutions is required to avoid trade-offs and to ensure that the digital sector reduces its footprint and becomes more material- and energy-efficient.
Internal engagement within private-sector actors, combined with strong leadership by management and capacity-building of staff towards development of new design solutions and assessment of the impact of such solutions, has proven instrumental in creating a motivating environment and overcoming internal resistance to change. Purpose-led rather than solely profit-led innovation can ultimately help achieve positive economic outcomes.
Literature review, online consultations and interviews which were conducted between 2020 and 2021 allowed to identify global trends, opportunities and barriers as well as recommendations on the design and implementation of coherent SCP or circular policy packages that contribute to boost resource efficiency and decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and foster good practices related to sustainable design of products and services. These key findings are documented in UNEA-5 working document UNEP/EA.5/4 – Progress in the implementation of resolution 4/1 on innovative pathways to achieve sustainable consumption and production: Report of the Executive Director.
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