Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Product Stewardship, Climate Change and the Encyclical Laudato Si’

The climate change message of the encyclical Laudato Si'  is receiving deserved attention for bringing a moral dimension to the climate discussion.  But it goes beyond climate change into related environmental, social and economic issues.

Pope Francis has made it very clear that although the Encyclical has specific meaning for Catholics, the messages are meant for all humanity.  The Vatican emphasized this by bringing in members of other religions and an atheist to attest to the importance of the Encyclical.

One of the messages I glean from the encyclical is the importance of "product stewardship" as one of the many steps we need to take as a society.

Today I joined Catholic Climate Ambassador Betsy Reifsnider to speak to the California Product Stewardship Council  (CalPSC) about climate change, the encyclical and the relation of both to product stewardship.  Betsy did a great job showing the interconnections between the message of Pope Francis' encyclical on climate and other issues such as product stewardship, while I spoke about climate change causes, impacts and solutions.  I believe the CalPSC team felt, as I have, energized and validated by the messages of the encyclical.

Betsy Reifsnider (Catholic Climate Ambassador), Doug Kobold (CalPSC Board)
Michael Paparian, Heidi Sanborn (CalPSC Executive Director)

I worked on product stewardship issues when I was a member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board (now CalRecycle) and represented the state in national discussions over electronic product stewardship from 2000 to 2004.  Product stewardship concepts are fairly simple -- manufacturers should design products for source reduction, reuse and recycling and take back their products at the end of their useful life.  Paint, televisions, computers, cell phones, carpets and even cars have been the subject of product stewardship discussions.

Pope Francis captured the essence of product stewardship more eloquently and succinctly than I've ever seen:

"These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. ... It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard." Pope Francis, Encyclical, June, 2015, paragraph 22
The connection between product stewardship and climate change was shown several years ago when the Product Policy Institute (now UPSTREAM) used EPA data to show that 37% of greenhouse gas emissions come from products and packaging.  The report is available here.  The bottom line: To reduce GHG emissions we must reduce emissions from production and consumption of manufactured goods and food.

This is where product stewardship groups like the California Product Stewardship Council, UPSTREAM and the Product Stewardship Institute come in.  They work with policy makers, NGOs, governments and industry to promote programs to encourage manufacturers to more efficiently produce products, produce green products, insure product recyclability and take back products at the end of their useful life for recycling into new products.  Their work is an important component of the overall effort to identify and address all of the root causes of climate change.

If you want to read the encyclical, it is available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment