Tag Archives: Product Stewardship

Product Stewardship: Times Have Changed in the U.S.A.

For those of us in the environmental movement, it might seem as if we are on a long hike, which keeps going and going and going, from peak to peak, and valley to valley. The landscape looks familiar, the challenges commonplace. There are times to rest, and times to move, times to seek shelter, and times to book it across wide open fields. And then there are times when you sit back and notice that you have come a long way, and that the process was enjoyable, and that the long days of trudging in mud got you to a place of beauty, and that the view is nothing like you could have imagined.

On July 1, I attended an event at a Sherwin Williams paint store in Branford, Connecticut, to mark the start of Connecticut’s paint stewardship program. Before Governor Dannel Malloy placed the first gallon of paint into the collection container, he spoke of the importance of keeping paint out of our storm drains and the Long Island Sound, and praised the industry for their product stewardship efforts. Dan Esty, Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, talked about the “new world of product stewardship” and how the paint program kick off represents the “next step in Connecticut’s move to building the waste management system of the 21st Century.”

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Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy places a can of paint in a recycling bin in a symbolic kick-off to the PaintCare Program. (L to R: American Coatings Association President Andy Doyle; Connecticut State Sen. Ed Meyer; Connecticut State Rep. Pat Widlitz; and Gov. Dannel Malloy.)

One after the other, speakers walked to the makeshift podium at the corner of the paint store, amidst the colored strips of lavender and mauve, and praised the new paint program and its ability to save resources, save money, and create jobs.

There was a good feeling, and rolling out right in front of me, like a video documentary, was a paradigm shift of immense proportions, as Important People, from the Governor and his Administration, to key legislators, retailers, and paint manufacturers, praised the collaborative nature of this innovative program.

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(L to R: Sherwin-Williams District Manager Tom Kelly; Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy; Connecticut State Rep. Pat Widlitz; Connecticut Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Dan Etsy; Connecticut Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection Environmental Analyst Tom Metzner; Product Stewardship Institute Chief Executive Officer Scott Cassel)

Tom Kelly, Sherwin Williams District Manager, mentioned the calls he already received on the first day of the program from residents seeking a place to bring leftover paint. “They come in just to drop off paint, but then see a clean store, and that we have what they need, and they leave a customer,” he said. Andy Doyle, President of the American Coatings Association, pledged the “support and backing of America’s paint industry” to recycle all the state’s leftover paint. The two chief bill sponsors – Sen. Ed Meyer and Rep. Patricia Widlitz – applauded the Governor and his team, as well as the industry, for their collaborative approach to finding a solution to a significant environmental problem, calling it “something really special.” They talked about the “terrific concept of producer responsibility” in which “paint manufacturers come up with their own plan to recycle.” State Rep. Lonnie Reed said that “…building in recycling and end-of-life elements into all of our products is important, and a sign of things to come.”

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(L to R: American Coatings Association President Andy Doyle; Product Stewardship Institute Chief Executive Officer Scott Cassel)

As I stood there listening, it struck me that product stewardship has become commonplace in Connecticut. PSI laid the groundwork for paint product stewardship in Connecticut and across the nation by convening paint manufacturers, retailers, state and local governments, and others in national meetings to hash out the agreements that led to this very moment. But the paint program in Connecticut would not have happened if each of the local stakeholders at that press event did not seize on the opportunity they were presented. The paint industry has now transformed itself from an industry that once saw consumers as the reason for leftover paint to one that has taken a leadership role to make sure leftover paint is recycled.

As our nation debates immigration reform, marriage equality, and voting rights, we can all sense shifts in public opinion that represent sea changes of immense proportion. This year marks a watershed moment in the product stewardship movement. To date, eight producer responsibility laws have passed this past year on four products in eight states: pharmaceuticals (Alameda County, CA; King County, WA); paint (Maine, Minnesota, and Vermont); mattresses (Connecticut and Rhode Island); and thermostats (New York). No, the entire country has not embraced producer responsibility; that will take decades. But we now have Governors and Commissioners speaking about an industry’s responsibility to manage its own waste, and an industry speaking glowingly about its partnership with regulatory agencies that allow it to assume its rightful responsibility.

This is the paradigm shift that many of us predicted in 2000 when the Product Stewardship Institute was created on that cold December day in Boston when over 100 government officials assembled to talk about a little known concept called product stewardship.

The times have changed. Sometimes it is nice to sit back and enjoy the show, and revel in the enjoyment that your hard work has provided to others. For many of us, now is that time.

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Comfortable in an Uncomfortable Space

Last weekend I had the joy and good fortune to watch my daughter graduate from college. Few of my previous life experiences have matched that prideful day.

At Wesleyan University, on commencement day, a commitment to social justice dripped from each graduate’s gown. A stream of red and black marched by the round-topped star-gazing observatory as African drummers pounded soulful renderings under a tent. Professors and other dignitaries mingled around lawn chairs, and flags whipped in the cold wind.

Receiving an honorary degree was former Wesleyan graduate, Majora Carter, whose efforts to economically revitalize poor urban areas are profoundly “Wes.” So was her speech. Her message: Get ready to be uncomfortable. That’s right! Anyone who wants to shake up the status quo will have enemies, even brutal opposition. You will know who your friends aren’t, she said.

As someone who wears product stewardship lenses inside his glintertwined arrowsasses, the message resonated with what I say about PSI – we are comfortable in an uncomfortable space – occupying a crevice of real estate between government, industry, and environmental groups. Most of the time, the positions we take are downright uncomfortable, at times going head to head with some of our own government members; other times trying to motivate brand owners that are convinced they know the answer even when no data exist; and other times getting smashed by environmental activists for being too close to business.

Over the past 13 years, this space has yielded dividends. In the past two weeks, three new producer responsibility laws have passed – Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation mattress law, and paint laws in Minnesota and Vermont (the 5th and 6th states to pass paint stewardship legislation so far). These laws do not pass solely because of PSI. In many ways, they would never pass if it was all up to us, or up to any one stakeholder. It takes a strong coalition that gets built over time. Starting and maintaining those coalitions is what PSI does – and it often starts in a very uncomfortable place, where we need to convince all stakeholders that the heavy lifting needed to change the status quo is worth the effort.

Thanks to all of our partners for great success these past two weeks, and we hope for many more victories that result in resource savings, job creation, and taxpayer savings. I am starting to like this feeling of being a little less uncomfortable.

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Thought-Provoking Responses to my Blog Post on AMERIPEN’s EPR Position

Well, by golly. Our last blog entry has made quite a splash!

Ever since PSI shed light on AMERIPEN’s (draft) stance on Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR—the concept of having manufacturers bear the financial responsibility of recycling or safely disposing of their products after consumer use—I have been inundated with emails, phone calls, messages, and other “shout-outs” from people all across North America. While some responses have been quite negative (one said that PSI destroyed all its credibility and another said that the blog was harsh and insulting), most have been extremely positive—even congratulatory!

So, in the spirit of open communication and transparency, I wanted to share these comments—the good, the bad, and the ugly. By publishing them on PSI’s blog, I hope to give you a sense for both the temperature and the magnitude of the issue at hand. It’s clear that I have struck a chord with many people. Some took my blog as a personal attack, which was not intended. Nor was it intended to insult anyone. It was written because some of AMERIPEN’s members were saying one thing and then doing something completely different behind closed doors.

The only way to resolve our differences is to discuss them—frankly, openly, and freely—together. And if one way to make that happen is to keep the dialogue moving on PSI’s blog, well, then that’s what I will do.

With that, here are the comments I’ve received thus far. Please note that, to respect the privacy of those who do not wish to disclose their identities and/or affiliations publicly, I have omitted the authors’ names and the names of their respective companies/organizations.

“Good for you, my friend. Go after them. You are calling a spade, a spade. Congratulations.” —Emailed by the president of a recycling association

“Interesting.  But not sure AMERIPEN’s position is necessarily flawed.” —Emailed by the vice president of government relations for a North American recycler

“THANK YOU! for speaking up! GREAT information, although disturbing. You’re one of the things we’re especially thankful for during this Thanksgiving season, and all year long.  It was especially disturbing to me to see several of the Keep America Beautiful partners/sponsors on the Ameripen list.”  —Emailed by the coordinator of an environmental beautification program run by a county health department

Your recent blog post has caused some concern for [us]….there are statements in the blog that do not align with a collaborative nature. As a result, we fear that key companies for the EPR dialogue [in which PSI was to participate] may decline an invitation to participate when the dialogue is branded with PSI…We remain committed to improving material capture and the implementation of policy and practice that leads to that end. Your commitment to these goals is appreciated and we will seek opportunities in which we can cooperate with each other in the future. —Emailed by the executive director of a regional recycling association

“We (in the office) enjoyed and appreciated the blog very much. As a professional management organization, we need to be honest and include all data and its sources, all facts, including information that might not support our own perceptions or personal opinion. Once again, as a professional management organization, we need to be neutral. We believe in rigorous analysis and having the accurate data so that credible comparisons can be made.  Your blog raised questions, which is good, because the AMERIPEN position was not based on the right data. If you want someone to believe you and be a reference, you need to base your assertions on the best information you can have.  Once this process is done, the debate can start.” —Emailed by the representative from a stewardship organization

“This was very helpful, Scott.”  —Emailed by the president of a nationwide recycling organization

“Thanks for posting…not sure why such a position would be of benefit to them…perhaps arrogance.” —Emailed by a mattress recycler

“Here is great response to AMERIPEN’s position on EPR from Scott Cassel. It’s another reminder that PSI is fighting the battle every day for all of us! If you aren’t a member of PSI already you should be.”  —Emailed by the coordinator of a state product stewardship program

“Very well said, as always, Scott. It seems that as long as taxpayers accept that they are effectively subsidizing large corporations through their municipal solid waste programs, and consumers continue to buy products that are over-packaged in difficult-to-recycle materials without complaint, what do those corporations have to gain by coming to the table to accept their fair share of responsibility? Be encouraged at least by the fact that they felt the need to address the issue of EPR at all, albeit in a negative way. I think that is a good first step. Perhaps it is the public we need to engage with first, to get product manufacturers to finally come to the table.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative

“My impression… is that we have really bought into EPR for those hard-to-dispose-of items, such as electronics, mercury-containing thermostats, pharmaceuticals, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I truly believe EPR is the ultimate destination of our industry, but the story I tell our residents/my peers is from the standpoint of hard-to-dispose-of items. Probably we’re looking at the same animal from different vantage points.” —Emailed by a commercial recycling and city beautification coordinator

“Scott:  Congrats.  Another great post. I hope it lights a fire under some of the members! I will forward to my contacts at big brands who are Ameripen members…I heard there was an 8-3 policy vote on the EPR position.  Any idea who the three companies are that did not oppose EPR?  Thanks.” —Emailed by a senior program director of a national nonprofit focused on corporate social responsibility

“Thanks for the info. I am not a PSI member but have attended meetings. I work in a small industry that really has no choice but to engage in rule making, since we know we can’t stop it. I find PSI to be very balanced in this release. To me it’s obvious one of 2 or 3 facts must be in evidence with the packaging industry. They don’t trust the “agenda” of some of the stakeholders within PSI. Within industry, a public process can be a threat, and honest discussion can get a seasoned professional in trouble. They have determined while doing their EPR work they don’t not a way to advance the business and meet the anticipated criteria. If you’re a corporate officer you have legal duty to your stockholders. Maybe they did their work and see they have to resist in favor of profit: I infer that the Euro-scare part (must be from US) is based on this. They must think they can win. Maybe they don’t trust PSI, so PSI needs to work within their trade groups to build that trust – please note, this will be a more private forum. It seems clear to me think they can win or delay (delay is a win for stockholders). One think about business is that there are conservative: if they think there is a nightmare scenario buy not helping, they will help. Right now they do not know, and maybe they do know, where this will lead and its bad for them. So I think this is the key problem, they think they can hold it off, and have to, because they can’t justify it to the owners. I wish you luck. I think inevitability based on the case for recycling is your most powerful message. You tell them they can’t win.  Also, ask “what’s in it for them?” they are businesses after all. The cold fact is: government works mostly in the area of economic externalities like waste and pollution, while business work in internal economics, like profits. The external cost must be linked to the internal costs, obviously Extended Producer Responsibility is one way to do it. They may be rejecting that route for now.  A Machiavellian approach would be to find the weakest member of their coalition, the one who benefits most, and get them inside the tent.” —Emailed by a technical manager at a coatings manufacturing company

“Thanks Scott, I forwarded this to several others.”  —Emailed by a waste management specialist at a state recycling organization

“Scott: Nicely done.  I appreciate hearing about this and getting the link to the response on your blog.” —Emailed by the executive director of a biosolids recycling organization

“Hi Scott, I tweeted this from all (of our) Twitter accounts. I’ll post to (Facebook) shortly.” —Emailed by the director of a state chapter of a national environmental advocacy nonprofit

 “Great response. I just want to confirm that I can forward this to others outside the agency.” —Emailed by a statewide recycling program coordinator

“Good Job, Scott!” —Emailed by a North American post-consumer beverage container management organization

“The criticisms you level against AMERIPEN are precisely the ones that I would level against the recycling and EPR communities. You guys have no interest in assessing the reality of your claims by any kind of scientific measure. Your belief system is simply a religion, based on nothing substantial at all, and lots of misleading hype. You mention that recycling rates are stagnant but you are not prepared to explore the underlying reasons for that. The reasons are abundant and obvious: recycling is in idiotic approach to conservation, it is end of pipe, it is exploited by the garbage industry to increase garbage production and it has not got a prayer of ever becoming widely adopted unless governments impose it by force. The idea of instilling a new consciousness into the mind of every person on earth about green bins and purple bins and modes of separation is hopeless. And even if you could, you would not have one jot of influence on wasting behaviors since you have a primitive, simplistic notion of the sources of wasting. The only way to make progress in resource conservation comes from a production side approach, not a consumption side or end of pipe approach. The only concept that makes any sense is called Zero Waste meaning a redesign of production and commerce to design for perpetual reuse. You can read about it at http://www.zerowasteinstitute.org.  This approach HAS NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with your bogus zero waste to landfill or with recycling or consumer side waste reduction. Those are hopeless approaches that have failed worldwide and will continue to fail everywhere. And EPR is even worse, being nothing but a device to move costs from cities to manufacturers. Many cities have stated this openly, but you cannot allow that interpretation so you continue to pretend that you are pushing a conservation theory, though there is not the slightest support for that in the approach.” —Posted by the founder of a zero waste nonprofit organization

“I’m sure Scott will have a more articulate response, but let me start.  You are missing the point.  Zero Waste and EPR are not mutually exclusive approaches, but rather EPR is one tool in the chest to achieve zero waste.  The recycling community is no stranger to Zero Waste, and we are fully aware that recycling is not the solution, but it IS a critical element to the solution.  We are living in the real world, not the ideal one that you envision.  If you think our approach of changing the behavior of humanity is hopeless, then how do you think we are going to get to corporations completely shifting their model of producing items that can be infinitely reused?  And what is wrong with shifting the costs of managing discarded materials from municipalities to the manufacturers that foist them on us? (yes, I work for municipalities)  If they are made to be responsible for the waste they create, then if they are truly trying to minimize their costs, they will find a way to put the materials that they have mined, purified and molded to their design back to use.  We in the recycling community have to deal with today’s realities, and that is where we have to start.  Paradigm shifts take a long time, but a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.” —Posted by the executive director of a local recycling cooperative in response to the comment above

 – Scott

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Trapped Inside the Box: Corporate America’s Struggle to meet its Environmental and Social Responsibility

Twelve years ago, when PSI was getting off the ground, my personal vision was that government and industry representatives could have meaningful discussions about waste policy outside the legislative arena, and develop joint policies, regulations, and laws to protect human health and the environment. I was tired of the traditional unilateral government approach to pass laws over the fierce objections of industry. Collaboration, after all, can achieve far better results than forcing anyone to do anything.

Fast forward twelve years, to today. While there are many stellar individual examples of corporate leaders finding ways to reduce their product impacts, far more companies have chosen to thwart attempts at having an open conversation about their environmental and social responsibility. In an ironic twist of self-fulfilling prophesy, most companies that hate regulation and want smaller government only become “greener” through the threat of legislation.

In an ironic twist of self-fulfilling prophesy, most companies that hate regulation and want smaller government only become “greener” through the threat of legislation.

PSI works on about 18 product categories, and has invited manufacturers, retailers, and other businesses associated with every one of these products to discuss how to reduce their health and environmental impacts. The only industries to fully engage in these discussions are paint (through the American Coatings Association) and rechargeable batteries (through Call2Recycle).

The International Sleep Products Association would not bring any members to our two open national mattress dialogue meetings, refused to provide contact information, and would not discuss strategies to solve the problem.

The majority of U.S. consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies were invited to attend our three technical packaging calls that recently addressed both voluntary and regulated strategies to reduce, reuse, and recycle packaging and printed material, including non-EPR systems. Only a few participated, and they have not invited PSI to attend any of their discussions. The truth is that most CPG company representatives in the U.S. are so new to the issue of packaging waste and recycling that they do not know what to do. There are many in this field, including PSI, who have been working on these issues for years, and can provide insights and opportunities for productive discussion among all stakeholder groups. However, this can only happen if these companies do not close ranks and only discuss strategies among themselves.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association came to PSI five years ago seeking EPR legislation on mercury thermostats because they did not want to continue paying for the recycling of thermostats from free-riding companies not contributing to the industry-funded thermostat recycling program. After six months of multi-stakeholder negotiations and after all issues were negotiated, they walked away from the agreement and have since opposed all thermostat legislation except bills that codify their voluntary program.

No wonder why environmental groups have sharpened the saw against these companies. We have now come full circle to the point where PSI began – governments are left with little choice but to force legislation on industry, or accept whatever programs industry wants to do. That is truly a sad waste of all of our time and energy.

Yet the world turns, and PSI will react to this reality. We will continue to seek out corporate leaders, like those on our Advisory Council, at the American Coatings Association, and at Call2Recycle. And we will continue to support and strengthen voluntary programs as well, since many states will not support legislation under any circumstances. But the truth is that PSI is being forced into the same antagonistic fight in state legislatures that we wanted to avoid when we were created in 2000.

I had hoped that data, logic, discussion, and human interaction would breed relationships that would entice companies to transcend their natural inclination to maintain the status quo. We are now entering the fall, and many governments are getting ready for the 2013 battle in state legislatures across the U.S. …unless someone would rather talk…

Is anyone out there? Hello?

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Failure to Launch: U.S. Good at Throwing Away the Gold

For the 11th year in a row, Massachusetts has failed to pass electronics EPR legislation. It is now 12 years since the Commonwealth became the first state in the country to ban the disposal of lead-bearing cathode ray tubes, sparking the electronics recycling industry in the U.S…and placing the financial burden to manage electronics on Massachusetts cities and towns. It was the classic ban without a plan. Unlike the stellar U.S. women gymnasts who earned Gold in London yesterday, our country fails miserably at passing legislation that will keep gold and other valuable materials out of our country’s landfills and incinerators.

What a waste. What a shame. To watch our great and mighty companies offshore jobs, complain about it being the only choice they have, but do little to create thousands of green jobs that are there for the asking if they would engage with PSI and other stakeholders to develop extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws and other strategies that meet their own interests.

The powerful corporate self interest that has blocked movement on product stewardship and EPR in the U.S. is the same one that unknowingly is weakening itself, just as the U.S. auto industry’s fight against fuel efficiency standards weakened itself, causing the need for a government bail-out.

I just finished yet another book that chronicles ways that U.S. companies and policy makers are failing to take actions that will strengthen our economy, instead resulting in the slow decline of U.S. economic power. Edward Luce’s Time to Start Thinking shows what the product stewardship movement experiences on a smaller scale – a failure to launch.  Look no further than the microcosm of the product stewardship field, where many unenlightened companies fight against policies that will save billions of dollars for U.S. taxpayers, reduce waste, and generate thousands of recycling jobs.

These companies operate under the guise of groups like the Product Management Alliance, which evaluates EPR laws by showing that the laws that they weaken actually don’t perform well. How enlightening! The powerful corporate self interest that has blocked movement on product stewardship and EPR in the U.S. is the same one that unknowingly is weakening itself, just as the U.S. auto industry’s fight against fuel efficiency standards weakened itself, causing the need for a government bail-out.

As I wake up this morning to yet another failed attempt to pass an e-waste bill in the all-Democratic Massachusetts Legislature (and with its Democratic Governor), I wonder what this failure is all about…was Dell so bent on passing a bill that ensured that any goals included would already be met before the law went into effect? Or was the House leadership frozen in political gridlock on matters far removed from the bill itself? It is clear that there was no consensus on the bill, but how can stakeholders be so far apart for so long that we cannot figure out a way to act in all of our own self interest?

Close your eyes…and envision a time when we in the U.S. really went for the gold…like those women Olympic gymnastic heroes of today. Rather than burying our gold in the ground and mining raw materials in an endless cycle of waste, we owe it to ourselves to find a way to break out of this malaise together.

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Individual Responsibility: United We Stand in Health Care and Product Sustainability

Individual responsibility. In our world of product stewardship, these words have one meaning – a company having responsibility for safely managing its products from manufacture to post-consumer recycling or disposal. The Supreme Court decision on the health care law highlighted another individual responsibility – that citizens have the obligation to buy health insurance to cover their own medical care. Both relate to the principle that we are all responsible for our own actions and the negative impact they have on others.

What is so puzzling to me is why those who adhere strictly to the individual responsibility principle when it applies to people whose homes were foreclosed, those with excess credit card debt, and those who do not “pull their weight” in society, do not extend their views to product manufacture and health care. Manufacturers in the U.S. know that this All-American principle of individual responsibility is coming to meet them, even as many of them try to delay the greeting.

Individual responsibility is the bedrock of being an American. We are a people of individual rights…and responsibilities. We want our freedom…but we know that we have a responsibility to our neighbors, our community, and the wider society. We don’t like free riders, and we know that we have to do our part. That is what it means to be an American. No one needs to look over our shoulder because we are driven by an inner responsibility, whether moral, religious, or communal. But it is deep, and it makes us who we are as a country.

So why do those who profess individual liberties walk away from their own responsibility to manage the products their companies make in a way that does not harm their fellow citizens? Why do they want to allow free riders and put an undue burden on others…on me, and on you?

Regarding the health care law, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, “It’s about dealing with the freeloaders – the folks who now get their care without insurance in [a] high-cost emergency room setting. And all the rest of us pay for it today.”

All the rest of us are also paying for the recycling or disposal of every product put in the marketplace. If a company like Preserve is innovating its way to create products with recycled content and is committed to recycle its own products, why aren’t its competitors doing the same thing? Why should one company take responsibility for its environmental impacts while others don’t?

I hate being told what to do. In that way, I might have some friends out there. But I sure as heck don’t like freeloaders who cause impacts that affect me, or make me pay for those impacts. Product manufacturers and retailers have a societal responsibility, and we know the negative impacts that used consumer products, such as electronics, mercury thermostats, and pesticides, can have on our health, our environment, and our economy, even as they have many positive impacts on our quality of life. Those who want freedom should take responsibility for the freedom this country gives them in their pursuit of a profitable business. Otherwise, they will force the big bad government to make them responsible citizens….united with the Supreme Court and the people of this country.

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The Movement and Its People – Two PSI staff move on

The June 2012 edition of Inc. magazine contains an interview with author Jim Collins about how to grow a great company. In the piece, Collins highlights how a few of the great leaders, like Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, have turned their company into a movement. Chouinard developed rock climbing equipment to reduce the impact that he and fellow climbers have on the environment. His company helped start a movement that motivated the climbing community.

“A movement springs up around a cause,” says Collins in the Inc. article. Product stewardship is such a movement, and its cause is to help our society live within our material means by holding companies responsible for reducing the environmental and social impact from the products they make and sell. The Product Stewardship Institute is part of this wider movement.

Sierra Fletcher

But movements are comprised of people, and PSI has been blessed with some truly amazing individuals who have chosen to apply their skills and passion to serve the greater public good while working with our team. This month, Sierra Fletcher, PSI’s Director of Policy and Programs, and Kate Hagemann, an Associate, will be moving on. After five years at PSI, Sierra will be moving back to her home state of Maine, where she will work for the Environmental Health Advocacy Center as a legislative advocate at the state and federal level on toxics policy. Kate has enrolled at Yale University for a Masters Degree in environmental policy where she will take up her interest in lifecycle assessment that was cultivated at PSI. Both have been critical to the success of PSI, and they will be sorely missed.

While PSI has been on the front lines of reducing the health and environmental impacts from consumer products, we have also been conscious of our role as a place for young and talented individuals to find a home for their passions. We have created jobs that did not exist 20 or 30 years ago.

Kate Hagemann

But as an organization that is part of a movement, we understand that movements do not stand still, but are dynamic. People come and go. While we will miss Sierra and Kate, we know that they will carry their experience from PSI on to their next gig, leaving a space for the next passionate, smart person who is ready to contribute to the product stewardship movement.

Change can truly be an opportunity for growth. PSI’s staff changes have given us the chance to reflect on our successes, challenges, and the road ahead. There is much more for us to do together, and we are ready to craft the new team, and know that you are all there by our side.

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Calling all private sector, small government advocates – We are ready for you

USPS StampJohn E. Sununu, former U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, wrote an Op-Ed that appeared in the June 5 Boston Globe in which he touted last week’s private launch of a rocket into space as heralding the dawn of private investment in a domain that was previously solely that of government. Why then can’t the post office be privatized, he asks.

I wonder the same thing. The U.S. Postal Service did not respond well to the writing on the wall over the past 20 years, as the need for their letter carrier services gave way to faxes and the Internet. I tried to get USPS representatives interested in becoming a reverse distribution network for collecting used products for recycling, but they couldn’t grasp the concept. Their most common function now is to pass on costs to local governments to recycle or dispose of unwanted marketing queries and catalogues.

But I also wonder why those who support the private sector taking over the responsibility for government functions have such a hard time when it comes to trash or, should I say, the products that ultimately become trash. Companies derive profits from making and selling products, and it is accepted that these companies should internalize these profits. Why then should the costs of managing those products after they are consumed be externalized to society? Why should these costs become government’s costs? After all, we (all taxpayers) pay for this, not the companies that make or sell the products. In most places in the country, there is no differentiation between a computer, a piece of paper, an aluminum can, or a sofa. Stick it on the curb or bring it to the dump and you pay the same price. Government has little influence over product design to make a couch that weighs half as much but still performs the same. But the private sector does…if only given the incentive.

Government’s role traditionally has been to clear the streets of trash to protect public health and safety. However, over the past 40 years, government has also invested billions of dollars nationally in creating an infrastructure to collect and recycle used products, resulting in millions of dollars of private sector profits. This, too, is government’s traditional role. In his new book, Time to Start Thinking, Edward Luce recounts how government paved the way for the private sector to profit from the Internet through billions of dollars of taxpayer investment. Thomas Friedman, in his new book, That Used to be Us, laments the lack of government investment now in new energy efficient technologies that can pave the way for private sector investments in the next generation of clean energy technology.

Government paves the way by investing in the future of the country. But there is a time when it should step aside for the private sector to take over. State and local governments have invested enough in developing the infrastructure that is now serviced by waste management and recycling companies. This public sector investment has yielded millions of recycling jobs, a reduction in environmental impacts, and cost savings. The investment has paid off.

But we are at a critical juncture. Government does not have the funds to invest any more. It is time for the private sector to internalize post-consumer product costs and to invest in sustainable products and collection systems that recover valuable materials for the manufacture of new products. This transition to a more sustainable economy is rooted in our ability to forge a lasting partnership between the private sector and government.

I am with John Sununu on this one. He forecasts a person’s typical response to change by clinging to the status quo. Look at it this way. Everything that we buy will be transformed to some degree. We change the things we buy by using them. Therefore, we are all agents of change. It is time to change how waste is managed in this country.

Calling all private sector small government advocates – we are ready for you.

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Recycling Jobs: Who Really Cares?

For once, there was good news about jobs. Real American jobs.

The front page headline of The Boston Globe’s business section on April 16 read: “Recycling industry poised for hiring.” The article highlighted the recent report by the Environmental Business Council, MassRecycle, and SkillWorks (a nonprofit that funds workforce initiatives) that predicts the growth of over 1,200 recycling jobs in Massachusetts in the private sector alone. This growth would be added to the 14,000 current recycling jobs in 2,000 Massachusetts companies with a payroll approaching $500 million annually.

Wow! Such great news. Finally, business, government, and environmental groups should be swinging arm in arm, humming This Land is Your Land.

Let’s take it a step further. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws create recycling jobs by signaling to investors that the supply of recycled materials will be available. In the first year of E-Cycle programs in Washington and Oregon, three new processing and recycling facilities opened. Implementation of their E-Cycle programs resulted in electronics collection and processing job growth of 64%, supporting 360 jobs or 12.6 jobs per 1,000 tons of electronics processed, well above the less than 1 job per 1,000 tons from traditional disposal. Collection rates rose to 38.5 million pounds in Washington and 19 million pounds in Oregon.

Since EPR laws increase material supply and recycling, businesses should be loving EPR too, right?

Then why would the Hartford Business Journal equate the 2012 Connecticut mattress EPR bill as bad for business? About EPR, the Journal says: “If you think about the logical extensions of that doctrine, the world as we know it ends.” They are not being kind. Of course those of us working on EPR know that the world as we know it must change. We cannot continue to waste resources and place the burden on government and taxpayers.

But the Journal shows how different many in the business community view EPR. They acknowledge the problem that mattresses cannot be disposed of in landfills and incinerators, and that it costs a great deal to manage them properly. And they acknowledge that the bill would create jobs, citing companies ready to set up shop in the state, the way that a paint recycler immediately announced plans to come to the state after Connecticut passed its 2011 paint EPR law.

But they object to businesses being held responsible for resolving the problem. “Somewhere the responsibility of the individual user has been lost in a nanny-state fantasy that business is responsible for all ills…Isn’t this exactly the kind of big-picture societal problem that governments are supposed to solve?”

I want to thank the Journal for framing these questions. I really mean it. We now know where to start the discussion. Government is definitely not equipped to handle product waste by itself, despite their extensive expertise in waste management and recycling. Pure and simple – they do not have the funds. And it is not fair to ask all taxpayers to pay for the consumption of others.

EPR systems require that state and local governments, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers all play a role in the responsible management of products and the materials of which they are made. And, yes, individuals who buy the products should pay for their recycling or disposal, and producers should make it easy for those consumers by incorporating these costs into the product purchase price. Until the full cost of managing products is internalized, we will continue to have a nanny-state where government picks up the cost to dispose of products.

But why do businesses so vehemently resist the changes that many agree need to be made? What responsibility does the business community have in reducing environmental impacts and reducing government waste management costs that result in higher taxes?

On the other side, what is the extent of government’s reach? What added costs do governments impose because they are involved in ways that they should not be?

We all want jobs. We want a clean environment and a reasonable quality of life. Then why is it so hard to take responsibility for changes needed to bring about these outcomes? Are we just too darn stubborn to consider a change to our current situation, no matter how much better we have the power to make it? I really think that this is most of the challenge.

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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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