Product Stewardship in Australia
Fairview’s aluminium cladding scheme Ecoloop, has recently been accredited under the Australian Government Voluntary Product Stewardship Scheme. So, what exactly does this mean?
Product stewardship is an approach to managing the negative environmental impacts of products and materials throughout their life, from design, manufacture, and production to disposal. It is a term that acknowledges these stakeholders as having a responsibility in ensuring their products or materials are managed in a way that reduces their environmental and human health impacts.
The Australian Government recognises industry best practice through accredited voluntary product stewardship arrangements. The aim is to drive environmentally beneficial outcomes through good design and clean manufacturing, including the use of components and materials that are easier to recover, reuse and recycle.
Trevor Evans, Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management, says that Fairview is the fifth Australian company to have its national recycling scheme accredited by the Australian Government.
Product stewardship can benefit businesses, as well as the environment. It can build or support a company’s reputation as a socially and environmentally responsible organisation. Helen Lewis of Helen Lewis Research notes, “Increasingly, consumers are trying to choose brands that align with their social and environmental values. On a practical level, many consumers are concerned about waste to landfill and looking for convenient end of life solutions, whether that is for reuse, remanufacturing or recycling.”
Helen has worked in the environmental management field for over 20 years and has seen massive changes with business adopting a life-cycle approach to their brands over the years. “Well-known brands in finance, manufacturing, retail and construction are all adopting and promoting policies that aim to embed life cycle thinking and sustainability strategies across their business and supply chains. This is driven by consumer expectations, government regulations, access to finance and pressure from investors, as well as the desire by many industry leaders to do the right thing,” she says.
Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence
Fairview spoke to John Gertsakis, Director, Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence and Adjunct Professor, UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures.
The Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence (PSCOE) provides several different programs, services and information resources, all of which are aimed at helping businesses, associations and other organisations to conduct Product Stewardship, and implement it better across the product and material life cycle.
As the Director of the PSCOE, can you explain simply what product stewardship is, and why the Centre of Excellence was set up?
In many ways, product stewardship is about manufacturers, product importers, material producers and retailers taking greater responsibility for their products across the supply chain to eliminate or significantly minimise environmental impacts and human health risks. It’s also about demonstrating how circular economy objectives can be embodied into products and company programs in a very practical way.
The Centre was established to help accelerate the uptake of product stewardship in Australia by mentoring, educating and activating stakeholders across product and material supply chains. We want to see the wide-scale adoption of product and material stewardship principles into business models that reduce waste generation and create positive environmental and social outcomes via good design, improved resource productivity and sustainable reuse.
In short, the Centre’s program of work is focused on taking product stewardship to another level and to do this at scale nationwide. Inherent in this goal is to bring stewardship to the board room and executive level decision-making so that it is considered a business opportunity, and not just compliance.
How does Product Stewardship align with government policies and targets for the future?
The Australian Government sees product stewardship as one of the key tools necessary to achieve the targets and actions in the National Waste Policy Action Plan. From a policy perspective, Australia is starting to acknowledge that product stewardship and extended producer responsibility are essential interventions that can prevent and reduce waste while also creating new business opportunities to address a range of environmental issues, including toxics, carbon emissions, litter and planned obsolescence.
Why is product stewardship accreditation important?
Government accreditation starts to build trust and confidence in the market about environmental performance and scheme credentials. If professionally managed by the Government and the accredited organisation, it provides independently awarded recognition of product stewardship action on a national basis.
Accreditation also shines a light on stewardship initiatives that can be favoured in procurement by government at all levels as well as the private sector.
Most importantly it serves to provide greater transparency and accountability at a time when greenwash and self-declared environmental claims undermine legitimate environmental initiatives and programs.
What industries are most suited to product stewardship models?
In the first instance, all companies placing products on the market should be demonstrating a clear stewardship approach. This is a growing expectation from many consumers.
However, there are some obvious industries and product classes with great scope for product stewardship action, including solar panels, building products, automotive vehicles, carpet and other floor coverings, single-use medical products used in healthcare, and furniture, both domestic and office furniture.
Some of these product categories are already doing good work at an individual company level, but much more can be done at an industry-wide level to maximise the environmental benefits. There is also significant potential to look at how product stewardship can be used in industries and products that use hazardous and/or toxic substances in manufacturing or the final product.
Fairview’s intention for Product Stewardship
There are currently five voluntary product stewardship accredited schemes in Australia, including Ecoloop.
Fairview recognized that waste should be viewed as a resource, and their goal was to help reduce the impact of waste from rectification projects around Australia and contribute to the circular economy.
Melissa Herrmann, Fairview’s Industry Engagement Manager says, “Ecoloop specialises in ensuring cladding is given new life, so Product Stewardship Accreditation demonstrates our commitment to sustainability. We were the first business to recycle ACPs, so we are very proud to continue to lead the industry in sustainable practices.”
In addition to its Voluntary Product Stewardship Accreditation, Ecoloop, has been verified by to comply with Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Construction and Demolition Waste Reporting Criteria.
The GBCA’s Construction and Demolition Waste Reporting Criteria allows waste contractors and waste processing facilities to be verified by an independent auditor for compliance with minimum standards of reporting. This is a critical step in ensuring not only transparency in the industry but also customer confidence regarding the recycling of waste.
“Rectifying non-compliant building cladding is an imperative for public safety. The core of our business is to ensure rectification of building cladding doesn’t mean increased landfill. We continue to give new life to products being removed from the construction industry,” continued Ms Herrmann.
In addition to the environmental benefits, a product stewardship approach to cladding products has allowed Fairview to strengthen their reputation and relationships with customers, government regulators and associations; continually improve and expand within the sustainability space; maximise the value of products and material streams; while most importantly, helping customers achieve their sustainable outcomes.