Tag Archives: lifecycle

Who Is PSI? An Introduction to Facilitative Leadership

PSI tackles the “elephant in the room”

PSI tackles the “elephant in the room”

Everyone and everything these days is being reinvented, reinvigorated, redesigned, and remade. It’s all about branding. Recycling is being reinvented as EPR…EPR is being reinvented as recycling. Many of those working on recycling containers, packaging, and printed materials are like those who finally found religion…they think their brand is the best.

Some believe that only voluntary efforts can work, while others believe only EPR can work. Some believe EPR only works on packaging but not products, while others believe the reverse. Some say that only toxic products should fall in an EPR system, others say only some packaging materials but not others. The state of recycling discussions in the U.S. today is exciting, but rudderless.

PSI has never wavered on who it is. For the past 11 years, PSI has served many in the world of recycling as a Facilitative Leader. We work to provide forums for the honest discussion of how to reduce the lifecycle health and environmental impacts from consumer products all along the product lifecycle. We don’t hold to a particular set of strategies for doing so but rather promote deliberative discussions to arrive at mutually agreeable solutions. We raise issues that need to be discussed, and we do not let any group dodge hard questions. We believe that sustainable solutions can only be reached by integrating the expertise of each key stakeholder. We base decisions on jointly developed data. We emphasize transparency and hold open meetings and calls. No group is locked out. We help stakeholders frame their own debate, and we help them manage the data and issues so that they make decisions and move forward on shared goals. We do not exclude ideas and strategies because they are unpopular. We tackle the “elephant in the room.”

PSI was a main force in bringing the product stewardship movement to the United States. Through thousands of presentations, webinars, dialogue meetings, and informational briefings, we helped build the capacity for product stewardship in 47 states and for thousands of local governments. We aim to identify trends, raise issues, develop solutions, implement strategies, and evaluate programs. We connect people into networks. We are not passive facilitators. We forge progress. We do not believe EPR alone is the answer. We believe that voluntary solutions and legislated solutions both have a place at the table.

As a facilitative leader, PSI succeeded in developing a national multi-stakeholder agreement on product stewardship.

PSI helped stakeholders reach a national agreement with paint manufacturers, retailers, painting contractors, the U.S. EPA, and multiple state and local government agencies.

In 2007, PSI helped stakeholders reach a national agreement with paint manufacturers, retailers, painting contractors, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and multiple state and local government agencies. This agreement has translated into three state laws and a national model, and is being rolled out nationwide to ensure a harmonized system. We did this through joint research, and raised nearly $2 million of public-private funding of pilot projects and initiatives that paved the way for the paint manufacturers to become true corporate leaders. The paint industry, through the American Coatings Association, has taken responsibility for managing leftover paint for the entire industry…over 64 million gallons each year. The agreement PSI helped forge is a huge win for paint recycling jobs, municipal budgets, and the environment. It will save U.S. municipalities about half a billion dollars each year in costs that they would have to pay if they were to properly manage all leftover paint.

Yes, paint is different from every other product. However, every product is different from every other product, or package. Each one requires its own strategies and solution — some voluntary, some regulated strategies, and some both. PSI has developed a process that has led to voluntary and regulated solutions on over 15 product categories.

According to the Facilitative Leadership Training Institute, facilitative leaders prefer dialogue to debate and understand the values beneath an opinion instead of arguing over competing opinions. They work toward synthesis and transforming analysis into shared understanding. They respectfully elicit the insights, creativity, and wisdom from others.

In their book entitled Breaking Robert’s Rules, Larry Susskind and Jeff Cruikshank say that facilitative leadership is a means to “… getting people to take responsibility for their own futures.” PSI’s paint dialogue became known as the Paint Product Stewardship Initiative, which took on a life of its own as stakeholders became empowered to make decisions as a group.

PSI has facilitated change in the product stewardship movement, while keeping the same commitment to honest dialogue. We cannot do our work without you. In the spirit of Emma Lazarus, Give us your weary, old worn out arguments and we will recycle them into a sustainable solution.

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Real Product Sustainability Requires a Lifecycle Approach

Every two weeks, PSI members and partners receive updates on product stewardship news from around the world. A recent NY Times article on battery recycling caught my attention because it illustrated how product sustainability requires a full lifecycle perspective — not only a focus on end of life. The December 8 front-page story described how processing methods used at a Mexican plant for recycling vehicle and industrial batteries from the U.S. are poisoning workers and citizens. The batteries are recovered — mostly voluntarily — at a very high rate in the U.S., without the need for an extended producer responsibility system, because there is great demand for the lead in the batteries. However, those collecting the batteries are skirting U.S. laws by shipping the batteries to poorly run facilities in Mexico. The money saved by companies is at the expense of the health of workers, citizens, and the environment. It is also at the expense of U.S. companies that are abiding by more protective standards in the U.S. There is truly no such thing as a free lunch. We need to level the global playing field so that U.S. companies do not lose business to companies operating abroad under insufficient standards. We should require U.S. companies to certify that they are using material processors that truly protect the environment all throughout the product lifecycle. This is real product sustainability. It is time for U.S. citizens to demand global environmental and social standards of protection for the products they consume.

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In Search of Honest Dialogue: Six Stages of Industry Grief

The Product Stewardship Institute was founded in 2000 to establish cooperative agreements with stakeholders to reduce the lifecycle health and environmental impacts from consumer products. Most advocates at the time pointed their fingers only at producers, suggesting that the responsibility was solely theirs. Instead, PSI said the responsibility was shared among all stakeholders, but that producers had primary responsibility for financing and managing the system. This nuanced framing of the product stewardship movement as having a lead actor with a strong supporting cast helped the movement take hold in the U.S.

Over the past decade, PSI has knocked on the proverbial door of over 15 industry sectors and offered to work collaboratively to reduce the unintended lifecycle impacts resulting from their products. Companies, like the people who run them, have responded in a variety of ways. These responses usually fit within a trajectory of perspectives that reflects the culture of the industry sector and the individuals who lead them. Whether and how these perspectives change through discourse is also a reflection of the industry, its leadership, and external influence and circumstances. In general, PSI’s experience is that the perspective of most industry sectors proceeds along the following path during the course of a dialogue: (1) there is no problem; (2) government should do more to address the problem; (3) more funding is not needed; (4) government programs should be paid for through a visible consumer fee; (5) industry programs are more efficient so the private sector should take programmatic control; (6) don’t hold us responsible for meeting performance goals.

Of the industries we work with, only two manufacturers – paint and rechargeable batteries – have fully engaged government, and both were responding to the threat of legislation. Perhaps the paint industry learned from previous legislative battles on lead paint and volatile organic compounds and saw how it could benefit from the unified national process that PSI offered. Maybe the rechargeable battery industry learned that collaboration with governments was needed to implement its own voluntary producer responsibility program. Whatever the case, the rest of the industries have either refused to engage in a constructive dialogue about the problems caused by their products or they engaged for a period of time, sometimes up to six years, before digging in against further discussion.

The six phases above have been called Industry Stages of Grief by my colleagues in the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment. These phases represent the progression of perspectives that most corporate executives go through when they are confronted with problems caused by their products. No company likes to be told that their products cause pollution and add to the financial strain of governments. None wants to be asked to change its business practices, since change will always mean an investment of resources. The key is whether a company or an industry sector is willing to learn, and also believes it can convince other stakeholders of its viewpoint. I have found that all stakeholders have the potential to change their positions once they engage in dialogue. This change of perspectives happened at every one of PSI’s dialogues, no matter which industry sector we engaged. Government officials learned as much as their industry colleagues, and all positions were influenced as a result.

Unfortunately, what we are seeing now is a merging of companies into Corporate America that believes that it doesn’t need to engage, doesn’t need to listen, and doesn’t need to do very much of anything it doesn’t want to do. And this is a very dangerous place for them to be. Remember the car companies that fought against fuel efficiency standards for so long and so hard that they lost out to foreign auto makers that figured out how to make high quality fuel efficient vehicles? That is what is taking place right before our eyes with regard to the use of natural resources in consumer products. Our industries are saying Hell No to any regulation, even if it means a level playing field for each one of them to compete for recovering valuable materials. If they keep up their antics, they are destined to end up in the auto junkyard and waste yet another opportunity. And guess who will be clamoring for a government bailout when they wake up?

To be sure, there are companies that are engaging with external stakeholders and have figured out how to make social and environmental sustainability a key component of their business models. For many others, it is difficult to break from the pack.

The Industry Stages of Grief outlined above is a general guide. Manufacturers enter at different places along this trajectory, and proceed at different speeds. All stakeholder viewpoints must evolve to some degree for negotiations to be successful. It takes a commitment of resources for groups of individuals who represent divergent viewpoints to jointly embrace a common idea. There is a dynamic tension that occurs in negotiations. For the dialogue to succeed, the pace of change must meet the expectations of the stakeholders, particularly the governments that now pay a huge cost to manage waste. Progress must be fast enough to keep them from unilaterally legislating. On the other hand, if these regulators proceed too quickly, before strong coalitions can be formed to support the desired changes, they risk not only alienating the industry groups they want to engage but other key stakeholders as well.

Gilles Goddard, an industry representative from Canada, uses the following phrase to capture the delicate dance of negotiations: “You can’t pull a flower to make it grow.” Negotiations take time, perseverance, and the right individuals who want to reach an agreement. Timing is a key element. If government pushes too hard or pulls too fast, it can ruin the chance for success. But if industry moves too slowly, it can also sour the opportunity for an agreement, and result in unilateral government legislation.

Honest dialogue anyone? Is there anybody out there?

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Uprooting Subsidies: The Next Frontier in Product Stewardship

Last month I was fortunate to have been asked to present at the Northeast Resource Recovery Association’s 30th anniversary conference. One of my assigned topics was “Product Stewardship in 30 years.” Initially, this task seemed daunting…until I realized that I could say almost anything since no one knows exactly what will and won’t happen 30 years from now.

As I combed through my litany of what-could-bes, I considered the notion that 10 years of U.S. product stewardship might have finally positioned us to reach far upstream to reduce product impacts, and set us on the path to true sustainability. I even went so far as to say that the current conservative Congressional winds might just open the door to the removal of subsidies underpinning product un-sustainability.

During the question-and-answer period, one of our friendly participants asked me if my cause for optimism was justified. After all, many conservative politicians don’t give a hoot about environmental protection if it means that industry and consumers must pay for added social and environmental protections. Yet members on both sides of the political firestorm are increasingly focused on eliminating subsidies (tax breaks) due to a panic-inducing budget deficit.

First on the chopping block are ethanol subsidies.

Some thirty years ago, when a confluence of circumstances pushed the concept of alternative fuels to the forefront of Congressional consciousness, those growing corn for use in ethanol production received handsome federal subsidies. No thoughtful lifecycle assessment determined if this industry was sustainable. And there was no widespread public debate on the various potential alternative fuel opportunities. But in the heartland there was a focused political interest feeding off homegrown corn that couldn’t be eaten. Age-old ag subsidies, totaling $30 billion over the next decade, are now under attack as anti-subsidy proponents point to biofuel mandates that preempt the need for ethanol subsidies.

The political equation is fraught with fretting, yet the slash-and-burn, subsidy-removing, equalizer sword that conservatives wield at the peril of losing the Iowa primary could effectively level the playing field for sustainable energy as well as sustainable products. And many appear eager to use it.

I am fully supportive of the strong backlash against subsidies. The Product Stewardship Institute’s main objective is to level the playing field for products. Focusing on a product’s end-of-life management is a huge task. But let’s face it, that movement started over 20 years ago in Europe and Canada, and spread to the U.S. 10 years ago. That movement is in full swing. The movement begging for attention relates to the unequal playing field created by subsidies, which causes truly “green” products to be at a competitive disadvantage to those products that only claim to be green, or products that cut consumer price tags but raise societal costs.

This is the next phase of the product stewardship movement.

One of PSI’s goals is to encourage consumers to choose products based on their environmental and social attributes. That is a huge endeavor, considering those attributes often fall behind in product effectiveness, price, and availability. We are still unable to thoroughly and accurately compare the environmental and social attributes of different products. PSI’s green washing webinar  highlighted the plethora of environmental claims, certification companies, and public confusion over which products are truly environmentally preferable.

But if we look behind this external curtain, we begin to understand that the product manufacturing system must be challenged. Mining subsidies (150 years old) give millions of dollars each year to companies that extract raw materials from the earth at a time when we are desperately trying to promote the use of recycled materials.  Additionally the lack of company requirements for clean-up operations has left 500,000 abandoned mines, polluted 40 percent of western watersheds, and racked up a bill estimated between $32 and $72 billion (not including currently operating mines). We know similar subsidies occur in other sectors like the timber and virgin paper production industry, which allows special tax rates costing taxpayers $440 million a year. Another recent PSI webinar, on mining subsidies, captured these excesses.

If we look closely, there are subsidies everywhere, particularly if that term encompasses society’s subsidization of companies that do not internalize the true costs of their products. And that is the heart of product stewardship. Our movement, across the entire product lifecycle, seeks to require companies to assume the full costs of making products. I do not want to subsidize corn growers for making ethanol, thermostat manufacturers for making sure their mercury thermostats get collected, mining companies for extracting gold to be used in electronics, or any company for costs that society must bear because of that company’s business decisions.

That is a long way of saying that, yes, I am optimistic that now is the time to sound the subsidy issue alarm, and to level the playing field for those  businesses truly seeking environmental and social equity. I have no illusions that those rallying for subsidies will stop, or that others will join the effort. But the time is ripe to bring these issues into greater focus and educate ourselves and the public about what we really mean by product sustainability.

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Extended Producer Responsibility – The Gateway to Discomfort and The Path to Progress

I like being comfortable. Every Saturday, I rest. I make myself as comfortable as I can be. On the other days of the week, I make others uncomfortable. Not on purpose. But I suppose it’s the nature of our business…the EPR business. I think of ways to change how waste is managed in our country. And that can make people nervous and downright uncomfortable. The truth is that I am tired of disposing of my own garbage and watching other people’s garbage get tossed out. There are people starving around the world and using scraps to build their houses, and we in the U.S. are still throwing out tons of usable materials. This is a situation no one should be comfortable with. So I want to agitate. I want to change it. Many of you do too. But without holding someone responsible, who is also capable of creating lasting positive change, it will not happen. And that is where EPR comes in.

For years, government was given the responsibility to take care of its citizens. And it embraced that responsibility. Employees cleaned the streets from horse excrement, paved roads, and met the needs of citizens. Along the way, they also started to carry the burden of companies, which made more and more products that were shipped to the store or to the door, and that was the end of their corporate responsibility…unless someone got hurt directly from negligence on their part in the way the product was made or operated.

But now we know that products harm not only directly but indirectly. There are impacts all along a product’s lifecycle. Mining causes worker injuries, pollution, and blighted landscapes. Manufacture, transportation, use, recycling, and disposal all cause impacts. And the entity that can best change those impacts is the manufacturer that makes those products. Unfortunately, they are all too comfortable with how things are right now. After all, it’s tough in business. To survive is not easy. The successful companies have been able to maneuver through a host of obstacles. And who wants to have to engage in yet another challenge, which is what EPR represents? EPR is just one more obstacle to business survival, and one best avoided.

Those of us in the EPR business have gotten accustomed to making people feel uncomfortable. The first presentation I gave to paint industry representatives on paint recycling, well before PSI was created, was met with disdain. After my dinner-time presentation, a guy from California Paints stood up and literally mixed a bunch of liquids together into a can. He wanted to demonstrate how paint recycling was destined for contamination…how it could never be done right, how toxics would inevitably get mixed with good paint and create a hazardous waste of uncontrollable proportions. He sure showed me…15 years later, the recycled paint manufacturing industry is as strong as ever, and poised for exponential growth.

EPR advocates have learned to expect opposition. We are used to the push back. It is our job to make others uncomfortable and to rethink what they have always been doing for years. When my 21-year old daughter does this to me, I thank her for making me think…really think…about what I am doing and why.

It is time for manufacturers to really think about what they are doing and how EPR can help increase the supply of recycled materials, create jobs, and reduce pollution at reasonable cost. It is our responsibility as advocates to show how EPR can result in those benefits. But ultimately it will take those who are comfortable to become uncomfortable before those benefits are realized.

There is the old saying…no pain, no gain. You exercise and you feel better. It is time to start training for the EPR changes that are round the bend.

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Who Pays for Product Stewardship?

Below is a blog post by Scott Cassel, Executive Director of the Product Stewardship Institute, in preparation for the PSI Networking Webinar, “Who Pays for EPR? Producers, Consumer Fees, Taxes, and Political Perceptions,” on Wednesday, May 18th (1:00-2:30 p.m. EST). Please join us for the dialogue.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.” That’s what my environmental science professor told me many years ago. He was referring to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics which, according to Wikipedia, “…means that the universe as a whole is ultimately a closed system—there is no magic source of matter, energy, light, or indeed lunch—that does not draw resources from something else, and will not eventually be exhausted.”

Ever since being introduced to this phrase, I have found myself repeating it when I want to make a point about not getting something for nothing. Advertisements that promote free vacations and free stuff always come with a hitch…like grabbing your email address for endless promotions, or fine print on forms that sign you up for costs when an initial free promotion runs out.  You know the deal.

So why do some people want a free lunch when it comes to the environment?

These people don’t want their taxes to go up, and they don’t want to pay more for a product at the store, yet they want a clean environment. Why is that?

Here is my understanding. Most people really do want a clean environment. And they want to leave clean air, clean water, healthy land, and lots of other stuff to their kids and grand kids. Unfortunately, no one told them about the true costs for these benefits and, even if they knew those costs, they would need to be convinced that the money they paid was used efficiently and effectively. But here’s the kicker – none of us really knows the true costs of the products we are consuming at a record pace. That beautiful silver cup in your cupboard came from mined materials that have their own impacts on worker safety and health and the environment. That hand-crafted wooden crib for the new baby came from lumber that was certified by some organization whose stamp of approval states that the trees from which it came were harvested with great care. And the jeans you just bought are made from cotton grown somewhere under conditions that required a lot of resources, then dyed with who knows what type of chemicals that were treated in some way that was hopefully protective of the environment and worker safety, and did not use child labor.

Wow! Is it no wonder that we bury our heads in the sand and move on with our lives… making a living, fixing dinner, creating a home, and staying out of debt. And when it comes to paying for the stuff we use, we all want it for the cheapest price.

Remember the credit card bubble, the real estate bubble, and the housing bubble? We are now in the environmental bubble. The real truth is that most of us really don’t have a clue about the environmental and social impacts caused by the products we buy. But we are about to find out, and then we will have burst yet another unsustainable bubble.

Let me pose a hypothetical question. What if you knew that Product A had a negative impact on the water that you and I dearly value, while Product B did not? And what if Product B cost only a few cents more than Product A? Like most people, you would probably choose Product B.

Now what if Product B was more than a little bit more expensive than Product A? Would you choose it anyway? Fewer people would. They will look harder at the trade-off, and wonder whether the negative impact from Product A was really that much worse than Product B. And how would they really know? Who really knows how either Product A or Product B was made? Even if we had some idea, we are all not scientists who can stop in our tracks and calculate the impacts of every purchasing decision we make. And what if Product A performed a lot better than Product B, or you didn’t want to risk the switch and find out? What would you do then?

It’s no wonder that we don’t want to wrap our brains around the full cost of producing the goods we consume. We’d go nuts!

But we have to start somewhere.

Many companies have begun expensive and time-consuming lifecycle assessments to better understand the environmental impacts of their products all along their lifecycle, from mining, to manufacture, to use, and finally disposal. These tools have advanced our understanding of product impacts. But progress has been slow, and these assessments are often best when comparing one variable against another. Taking this information to the public so they can make purchasing decisions is still years away.

What can we do right now?

Pass product stewardship laws of course!

Product stewardship systems hold manufacturers responsible for reducing the impacts of their products. These systems provide a financial incentive for companies to design products so that they use fewer and less toxic materials and choose materials that have a market value and can be processed and re-sold after use. Product stewardship acknowledges that there are no free lunches. There is a cost to the environment when we make and use products, and there is a cost to minimize those impacts.

If we want clean water and air, green jobs, and lower costs to government, the consumer will pay more than what they pay now for many products. While toner cartridges and lead acid car batteries have a value at “end-of-life” that exceeds the cost of collection and processing, carpet, paint, compact fluorescent lamps, most electronics, and many other products don’t. The product stewardship movement has begun to reverse these external costs on the environment.

We all know that the consumer will pay at the end of the day…because there is no such thing as a free lunch…and manufacturers cannot be expected to eat the extra cost. But what if the manufacturer of Product A and the manufacturer of Product B were both required to set up systems to ensure that their products were collected and properly managed when consumers no longer wanted them? And what if these two companies truly included all the lifecycle costs of making and using their products? Only then will you have the real choice between products, since the societal cost of making that product will be included in the price you pay. But how much will you be willing to pay, and for what level of environmental and social benefit? How will you know that the impacts of making that product were truly incorporated in what you paid? And what value do you place on those benefits as compared to your neighbor? This is the bulls-eye for the debate on product stewardship.

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