Products policy must start to deliver, says Advisory Committee

While new policy thinking on products is "beginning to emerge", the Government's agenda should now focus on "delivery", according to the latest annual report from the Environment Department's Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment.1 The report also delivers fierce criticism of the Government's sustainable procurement group.

The key recommendation of the new report was first made by ACCPE last year (ENDS Report 344, pp 35-36 ). It is for the Government to explore the feasibility of replacing ACCPE with an executive body responsible for developing and delivering product policy.

The report repeats other recommendations, such as the broadening of DEFRA's "market transformation programme" on the energy consumption of appliances to cover other issues. And it calls for more Government support for eco-design programmes for business.

The Government's framework on sustainable consumption and production (SCP), issued in October, promised a "quick response" to some of these recommendations (ENDS Report 345, pp 22-26 ), but ENDS understands that the Government has been waiting for ACCPE's latest report before considering its reply.

Overall, the report says that "much more needs to be done" to translate the policy vision set out in the SCP framework into action. "The agenda for products is no longer about concepts and frameworks, but about delivery."

While guidance has been developed on procurement and corporate supply chain initiatives, for example, the "real challenge remains to put it into action and embed good practice into routine behaviour."

The report is particularly critical of the Government's recent initiatives on sustainable procurement. Whitehall's sustainable procurement group issued its report in October, accompanied by a revised note on environmental purchasing from DEFRA and the Office of Government Commerce. This spelt out that the duty to seek "value for money" should apply only after environmental requirements are included in specifications.

The Government also announced that from November all new central government contracts must apply a new set of minimum environmental standards for products. And it identified a number of "quick win" products.

Although ACCPE welcomes these developments, it expresses "disappointment that "more could not be offered" by the sustainable procurement group. "Reference to well-established standards and the issue of relatively straightforward guidance seems to be little return for over two years of work," it complains.

It criticises a lack of "analysis of the scale of the impact which Government procurement has, and no clear priorities which show where Government action can really make a difference to shift the market in a more sustainable direction."

Moreover, "there are no targets set, nor a clearly defined baseline which will enable progress to be measured in future. Nor is it clear how a monitoring and compliance regime will work."

ACCPE is also critical of the European Commission's White Paper on integrated product policy, which EU Environment Ministers have also asked to be beefed up (ENDS Report 346, p 54 ).

The White Paper's proposals for individual initiatives are "limited" and the timetables for implementation could have been "much more ambitious". It "fails to give a clear vision of future priorities and hence of the risks or opportunities which face business in trying to make change...nor does it provide any indicators which would give a clue to essential priorities."

The conclusion that is drawn from this, says the Committee, is that product policy "will continue to be driven at national level, and that Member States must take up the running with concrete action."

The report also includes an update on the work of ACCPE's four sub-groups - on homes, food, transport and electrical goods:

  • Homes: Research for ACCPE by BioRegional concluded that BRE's EcoHomes rating scheme for new homes should be extended to cover existing housing stock and should encompass all levels of performance (ENDS Report 343, pp 31-32 ).

    ACCPE supports these recommendations, but stops short of echoing BioRegional's call for such a rating scheme to be incporporated into the building regulations at some stage.

  • Food: This sub-group examined the use of energy in the food chain in line with an earlier ACCPE recommendation to investigate the potential of applying the market transformation programme (MTP) in a new sector. The research revealed "the great need for information on food-related impacts" and the potential value of using the MTP approach to prioritise key issues and impacts.

    The report recommends the MTP approach be used to help develop the food industry sustainability strategy, by analysing selected impacts through the supply chain of particular foodstuffs.

    A second study looking at ways to tackle the environmental impacts associated with commodity crops focused on palm oil. ACCPE has adopted most of its recommendations (ENDS Report 348, p 28 ) - although the call to set up a working party to develop policies involving the Departments for International Development and Trade and Industry is softened simply to a call to "set out a policy framework".

  • Transport: A study of the influences which affect car use and transport choice, and the potential for carbon savings, found that further technological fixes are likely to be less effective than encouraging the purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles - in particular, by introducing a more steeply ranked vehicle excise duty system - and influencing use patterns.

  • Electrical goods: A study by Enviros called for the Government to encourage a gradual increase in collections of certain types of small appliances for reuse "whilst providing clear social and environmental benefits" (ENDS Report 348, pp 16-17 ). However, ACCPE's report says such schemes should be developed only "where it is clear collection is economically viable." Unsurprisingly, Enviros' suggestion that the Government should help develop product labelling schemes to indicate the hazardousness and durability of appliances fell on deaf ears.

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