Background: Mandate of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)
At the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly, held in March 2019, the resolution on Innovative pathways to achieve sustainable consumption and production (UNEP/EA.4/Res.1) recognizes the importance of advancing sustainable consumption and production patterns, through the circular economy and other sustainable economic models. Current trends of natural resource exploitation and their impact on the environment set out in the Global Resources Outlook 2019 were noted, and the need to achieve sustainable consumption and production patterns for the SDGs, the environment and climate objectives.
More specifically, the Resolution 1 on Innovative pathways to achieve sustainable consumption and production, and its operative paragraph 15, requested ‘’the Executive Director to submit a report providing an overview of best practices, including their impact on the design of products and services, minimizing harmful environmental impacts, and coherent product policies to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation through sustainable consumption and production, and providing recommendations for consideration by the Environment Assembly at its fifth session’’.
Resolution 4/1, paragraph 15, refers to “product policies”, which are considered to be policies that aim to drive both the demand and supply sides of the market towards more sustainability and circularity through a policy mix that minimizes the negative impacts of a product throughout its life cycle while maintaining acceptable performance and safety standards. Product policies therefore cover a range of subjects, from the tracking of natural resource extraction to the uptake of green technology, use of chemicals, promotion of industrial symbiosis, eco-labelling, sustainable public procurement, integrated waste management and promotion of public-private collaboration. Product policies encompass both voluntary and mandatory instruments.
To conduct the analysis of existing product policies and design practices, UNEP worked with partner organizations that supported the research at the regional and national levels, namely Grupo GEA (Latin America and the Caribbean region), the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) (Europe and Northern America regions), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) (Africa and Western Asia regions) and the Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (Asia and the Pacific region). The SCP national focal points were engaged throughout the research phase.
Research, consultations and interviews took place between March 2020 and December 2021. Findings and conclusions are also derived from the more than 900 activities reported in 2019 across the One Planet network under Sustainable Development Goal indicator 12.1.1.
The research work focused on the identification and dissemination of policy instruments and business models in place at the local, national and regional levels that contribute to decoupling economic growth from environment degradation and environmental impacts, as well as case studies that illustrate best practices and their impact on sustainable design of products and services to minimize harmful environmental impacts.
UNEP also engaged with the private sector, international organizations and other relevant stakeholders, including through national business and industry and trade associations, chambers of commerce, the Global Network for Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECPnet). These engagement efforts led to the collection of examples of design practices and information on the opportunities and challenges identified by the private sector.
Building on literature research and the research outcomes, opportunities for more impact and recommendations were formulated and submitted to Member States.
Online consultation sessions with a total of more than 300 participants were organized in 2020 and 2021 to further engage the SCP focal points at the regional level around three main issues:
(a) the current impact of product policies and the enabling conditions for higher impact and further coherence;
(b) the identification, implementation and scaling up of product/service design practices that minimize harmful environmental impacts; and
(c) the role of UNEP, the United Nations system and the wider international community in addressing the identified gaps and challenges.
Additional details on the the consultation process and the input from Member States and other stakeholders is available below:
The module ”Circularity in action” was developed by the United Nations Environment Programme with the financial support of the European Commission.