Scaling up circularity and SCP to address the three planetary crisis

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“Scaling up circularity and sustainable consumption and production is essential to address the three planetary crises we are facing: the climate crisis, the biodiversity and nature crisis, and pollution and waste crisis.”

Inger Andersen – Executive Director, UN Environment Programme

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Two approaches to scale up of circularity and SCP:

Coherent product policies (or integrated SCP or circular policy package) implemented by policy makers, in collaboration with all value chain actors.

Design products and services in a sustainable manner to minimize harmful environmental impacts of products throughout their lifecycle. Sustainable design practices must be adopted by businesses, and are best developed in cooperation with all value chain actors. 

How to develop coherent and impactful SCP policy packages

Recommended actions for successful implementation

[Recommendations from multi-stakeholder consultations conducted by UNEP based methodology described below.]

High level political leadership

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.

Learn how France adopted a top down driven approach and how the president of Costa Rica did a nice thing 

Inclusive approach

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.  

Robust governance, clear transition plan, success indicators

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.

Adopt a value chain or sectoral approach

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. 

Adopting a value chain approach in product/service design is critical for avoiding siloed interventions. Creating a pre-competitive space where industry, academia and consumers engage can help overcome technological barriers and create innovative cross-sectoral synergies.

Lifecycle thinking

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.

Leverage consumers’ role

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.

Additional opportunities

Stimulus packages in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic 

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. 

Build on the adoption of multilateral environment agreements 

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. 

Sustainable procurement, combined with reliable consumer information 

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.1 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. 

Areas requiring further attention and research: Trade dimension of product policies

The development of product policies such as eco-design, reusability and recyclability standards can be impeded when products are part of global value chains and are subject to different regulations and standards. This indicates the need to include a focus on the trade dimension of product policies.

Global trends on the current uptake of coherent SCP policy packages

While there is progress in the development of policies, tangible changes in practices and measurable impacts remain limited

Reporting across the One Planet network identified evident progress in the development of policies, knowledge resources and technical tools supporting the shift to sustainable consumption and production, although their application to foster tangible changes in practices and measurable impacts remains limited. The majority of the relevant policies were adopted between 2012 and 2019, with 2016 and 2019 being the peak adoption years.

Learn how France adopted a top down driven approach and how the president of Costa Rica did a nice thing 

Most policy interventions are sectoral or stand-alone SCP plans

Overarching policy frameworks, such as national sustainable development strategies, represent only 14 per cent of all policies reported under indicator 12.1.1. Most policy interventions are either sectoral or stand-alone plans for sustainable consumption and production, hindering the potential for overcoming sectoral silos and aligning existing policies and regulations. The development of integrated product policy frameworks using a life-cycle perspective remains rare.

SCP and circular economy strategies offer the right environment for coordinated policy packages

Product policies are often hosted under broader development policy umbrellas such as sustainable development, sustainable consumption and production or circular economy strategies or actions plans, as such umbrellas can offer the right environment for implementing coordinated policy packages and supporting the systemic change needed to transform economies and societies.

Quantifying impact of SCP policies remain a challenge

Monitoring of the implementation of concrete product policy instruments and assessment of their impact remain challenging across regions. Data trends on Sustainable Development Goal indicator 12.1.1 show that countries have difficulty quantifying the impact of their current SCP policies; only 26 per cent of all reported policies had quantifiable targets or measured impacts.

Adopting a value chain approach in product/service design is critical for avoiding siloed interventions. Creating a pre-competitive space where industry, academia and consumers engage can help overcome technological barriers and create innovative cross-sectoral synergies.

SCP agenda is mostly driven within environmental portfolios; inter-ministerial cooperation is key to overcome silos

While some 70 per cent of policies reported under indicator 12.1.1 are considered relevant to other Sustainable Development Goals (such as Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure and Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth), only 10 per cent are led by a ministry of economic development, finance, planning or trade and industry or by a high-level political body. This signals a siloed approach of an agenda which is mostly driven by national environment authorities.

One factor that characterizes the frontrunners in the adoption of coherent product policy packages is inter-ministerial cooperation. A shift towards sustainable production and consumption patterns requires closer collaboration.

Regulatory mechanisms can trigger innovation and provide clear political orientation

Regulatory mechanisms, such as chemical substance bans required under multilateral environmental agreements, can both trigger innovation and provide clear orientation across the entire government.

Very few policies cover upstream solutions

At the global level, end-of-life treatment of products, solid waste reduction and recycling are the thematic areas that receive the most policy attention. Very few policies cover upstream solutions such as product design and consumer patterns.

In most cases, countries use a combination of instruments (incentives, information tools, voluntary schemes and legal restrictions

In most cases, countries leverage a combination of instruments, including incentives, information tools, voluntary schemes (e.g., voluntary cleaner production policies), standards and legal restrictions (e.g., regulations restricting the use of single-use plastic products).

Regional trends on the current uptake of coherent SCP policy packages

Africa | Asia and the Pacific | Europe | Latin America and the Caribbean | | North America | West Asia

DESIGN SECTION

Recommendations

Inclusive and value chain approaches are indispensable for coherent and impactful policy packages, conducive to the adoption of more sustainable practices – including through design, which is the most impactful trigger as it has impact throughout the lifecycle of products

UNEA 5 recommendation

The United Nations Environment Assembly may wish to encourage UNEP and Member States to create an exchange space that allows identification and filling in of the knowledge and governance gaps hindering the uptake of coherent product policies and sustainable design practices at the global level; to share and disseminate lessons learned and successful policies and practices; and to enhance dialogue and cooperation at the global and regional levels. Securing the engagement of all relevant stakeholders in this initiative would enhance the coordination of efforts and ensure greater impact. 

Support in the formulation of coherent product policies, and methodology to assess their potential benefits 
The Environment Assembly may also wish to encourage UNEP to provide technical support to policymakers for the formulation of coherent product policies and to develop a robust methodology for assessing the potential benefits of product policies for the environment and other sustainability dimensions. 

Value chain approach

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Background and Methodology

Mandate of the UNEA-4 Resolution on SCP, methodology to conduct research and engage Member States, businesses and other key stakeholders

Mandate of the UNEA-4 resolution on SCP

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, and the importance of implementing the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, as specifically addressed in Sustainable Development Goal 12 of Agenda 2030. 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. Member States recognized that while achieving sustainable consumption and production requires the active support of all stakeholders, governments must take the lead on policies to empower consumers in making informed choices and can transform markets through sustainable public procurement.

In paragraph 15 of resolution 4/1, the Environment Assembly 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.

Methodology to develop the global stocktaking of existing product policies and design practices

The implementation of resolution 4/1, paragraph 15, is supported by the project on “mainstreaming coherent and effective sustainable consumption and production policies, including through circular economy models: best practices and recommendations”. 

Project implementation began in March 2020, 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. Recommendations were also formulated, building on this overview.

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 global analysis of existing product policies and design practices, UNEP worked with partner organizations that supported the research at the regional level, 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.

Introductory webinars provided an opportunity to introduce the resolution, following which nine online consultation sessions with a total of more than 300 participants were organized to further engage the SCP focal points at the regional level around three main issues: (i) the current impact of product policies and the enabling conditions for higher impact and further coherence; (ii) the identification, implementation and scaling up of product/service design practices that minimize harmful environmental impacts; and (iii) the role of UNEP, the United Nations system and the wider international community in addressing the identified gaps and challenges. A detailed outline of the methodology used, the consultation process and the inputs from Member States and other stakeholders is available on the One Planet network website

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[2]), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, development banks, the United Nations Global Compact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. These engagement efforts led to the collection of examples of design practices and information on the opportunities and challenges identified by the private sector.

The findings and conclusions are also derived from the research conducted between March and October 2020 and the more than 900 activities reported in 2019 across the One Planet network under Sustainable Development Goal indicator 12.1.1.

[1] https://www.oneplanetnetwork.org/Mainstreaming-SCP-policies-best-practices-recommendations

[2] RECPnet is a network of over 70 organizations active in more than 60 countries, contributing to the effective and efficient development, application, adaptation, scaling up and mainstreaming of resource efficient and cleaner production concepts, methods, policies, practices and technologies in developing and transition economies.
https://www.recpnet.org/.

ALL BELOW ARE SAMPLES AND DRAFTS

Asia-Pacific

Text linking to case

Lessons learned: Enabling conditions for the implementation of coherent product policies + wider uptake of more sustainable design practices

In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing. An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his income.

The rest of it went in a doublet of fine cloth and velvet breeches and shoes to match for holidays, while on week-days he made a brave figure in his best homespun. He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece under twenty, and a lad for the field and market-place, who used to saddle the hack as well as handle the bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on fifty; he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and a great sportsman.

Circularity is nice

Very nice

Recommended actions (or enabling conditions) for the implementation of impactful coherent product policies + wider uptake of more sustainable design practices – these recommendations emerge from multi-stakeholder consultations conducted by UNEP.

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.

Learn how France adopted a top down driven approach and how the president of Costa Rica did a nice thing  

Inclusive approach. 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.  

Robust governance, clear transition plan, success indicators. 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. 

Adopt a value chain or sectoral approach. 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. 

Adopting a value chain approach in product/service design is critical for avoiding siloed interventions. Creating a pre-competitive space where industry, academia and consumers engage can help overcome technological barriers and create innovative cross-sectoral synergies. 

Lifecycle thinking. 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. 

Leverage consumers’ role. 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. 

Africa

Text linking to case

Stimulus packages in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic 

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. 

Build on the adoption of multilateral environment agreements 

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. 

Sustainable procurement, combined with reliable consumer information 

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.1 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. 

Sustainable design practices | Specific levers/opportunities for a wider uptake

Economic and fiscal incentives, in particular for SMEs 
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. 

Move from profit-led to purpose-led innovation 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. 

Digital solutions  
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.

Areas requiring further attention and research

The role of financial institutions in stimulating economic growth by investing in SCP