Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Sustainability Next Steps: Product Standards?

The Brundtland Commission defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Last week I attended an interesting meeting entitled “Toward Product Standards for Sustainability” held by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The standing-room-only event included more than 250 attendees from industry, government, non-governmental agencies and academia. The focus of the two-day meeting was on issues related to sustainability and environmental performance standards for products. The workshop included an interesting mix of panel discussions featuring representatives from industry, retailers and organizations that have developed sustainability standards. The event also included several hours for breakout sessions on questions such as:

  • What type of guidance would be most valuable in steering the development of credible product standards that address sustainability issues?
  • What are the most important attributes to consider with respect to the development of product standards that consider/address sustainability?
  • What is most needed to help increase the creation of credible and robust product standards that consider/address sustainability?

As you might guess by the questions raised, the breakout sessions buzzed with a great deal of healthy discussion. This newspaper article about the event, written before it even took place, provides a glimpse into just how thorny these issues can be. Participants had varying opinions on everything. The event made it clear to me that a lot of debate and questions still exist regarding sustainability.

Thankfully, sustainability isn’t new to SPI and its members. SPI advocates continuous innovation and improvement in applying sustainability principles in the manufacturing, distribution, use and disposition of plastic materials. In addition, SPI and its members have embraced the concept of sustainability and sustainable practices. SPI has a policy on sustainability, is committed to the Operation Clean Sweep program, and continues to focus on educational opportunities through events like last year’s Sustain ’08 conference and this year’s NPE trade show.

The direction that future sustainability activities take, both through product development and standards development, will be fascinating. This topic is very complex and will continue to evolve. I look forward to continuing to be part of the discussion and activities impacting sustainability and plastics.

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