Lindhqvist&Lifset-1997 - I EXTENDED PRODUCER...

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Unformatted text preview: I EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY What’s in a Name: Producer or Product Responsibility? Thomas Lindhqvist International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics Lund, Sweden Reid Lifset Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies New Haven, CT, USA Academics urge clarity and politicians relish ambiguity. In making policy, analysts and re— searchers frequently call for transparency in goals. Yet government officials and lobbyists of all sorts face ubiquitous impulses to vagueness about policy definitions, timetables, and objectives. This ten— sion is playing out in US. discussions about ex— tended producer responsibility (EPR). The US. President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD) has recently altered the definition of EPR—from extended pro! ducer responsibility to ex; tended product responsibility. Although the motivations are clear, the implications of the change are both subtle and far’reaching. The label “EPR” was coined in the early 19905 to give a generic name to policy strategies such as product take— back. The German Packaging Ordinance had burst on the scene, creating controversy and ex— citement, and reshaping out conceptions of avail— able environmental policy instruments. EPR in this view is the notion that producers bear some responsibility for the environmental impact of their products, throughout the prod— ucts’ life cycle, including upstream impacts aris— ing from choice of materials, from manufacturing 0 Copyright 1997 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale University 6 journal of Industrial Ecology . . . making producer responsibility into product responsibility holds out the distinct possibility that no one will be responsible. processes, and especially from the management of the wastes arising at the end of product life. EPR has its most conspicuous incarnation in product take—back and related schemes to im- prove recycling and final disposal of products. As Roland Clift notes in his column in this issue, because the supplier retains responsibility for the product, the implied commercial relationship has been likened to leasing. Not surprisingly, business interests have often opposed the extension of producer responsibility be— yond the factory fence. As with any addition of new regulatory obligations, EPR is potentially costly and troublesome to many firms. The corporate community has watched the German packaging take—back requirements emerge and has mobilized to oppose similarly aggressive ini— tiatives in the European Union and various na— tional legislatures. In spite of this opposition, EPR does not dis— appear. Sweden has enacted its own ambitious version of EPR through its Ecocycle legislation; other European and Asian governments are es— tablishing or planning the extension of producer responsibility for various categories of products and wastes; and even the Americans, generally not currently politically disposed to new exten— sions of environmental regulation, have imple— - EXTENDED PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY I mented EPR for a select category of products (re— chargeable nickel—cadmium batteries). Yet, in the United States, an odd twist has de— veloped. When the PCSD turned its attention to EPR, it quietly transformed it. The PCSD, a multi— stakeholder group convened by President Bill Clinton in 1993, redefined EPR in its 1996 report “Sustainable America: A New Consensus" to mean “an emerging environmental principle that uses the life—cycle approach to identify strategic opportunities for pollution prevention and re— source conservation. Under the principle of EPR, manufacturers, suppliers, users and disposers of products share responsibility for the environmen— tal effects of products throughout their life cycle.” This definition of EPR makes it synonymous with what many in the European environmental policy community call “product-oriented envi— ronmental policy” (POEP). By focusing on prod— ucts, rather than on facilities or even on risks, POEP looks to complement existing policy strata egies by exploiting the insights from a life-cycle perspective. The virtues and foibles of POEP aside, EPR—in the original sense—suggests that environmental gains might be realized that are different from those implied by POEP. EPR looks to change the incentives of producers so as to ac— cess specialized expertise (e.g., product design and technology development), to leverage new resources (financial and technical), or to change the behavior of producers and consumers (for end of product life recovery). Whether increasing the responsibility of pro— ducers is a good idea depends on the environ— mental problem to be solved, and especially, the details of the particular EPR scheme. However, making producer responsibility into product re— sponsibility holds out the distinct possibility that no one will be responsible. In fact, only people and the organizations that they populate can be responsible. Ascribing responsibility to a product fundamentally misconstrues what is usu- ally meant by the notion of responsibility. To argue that this change in definition con— fuses matters is not to argue that other actors in the product life cycle—upstream suppliers, down- stream distributors, consumers, waste handlers, or govemments—do not bear responsibility for the environmental impact of products. Where EPR is established, producers will often find more effi— cient solutions by cooperating with all actors in the product life cycle. And, government still has a role to regulate the actions of all actors, includ— ing consumers and waste managers. But let us re— sist the political temptation to make this notion ambiguous or even unintelligible, and argue the merits of extending producer responsibility di— rectly, grappling with the knotty issue of whether and how to allocate new responsibilities among producers, consumers, and governments. Lifset and Lindhqvist, Producer or Product Responsibility? 7 ...
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This note was uploaded on 08/06/2008 for the course ESM 282 taught by Professor Geyer during the Spring '08 term at UCSB.

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Lindhqvist&Lifset-1997 - I EXTENDED PRODUCER...

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