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The Week in Sustainable Business
Gil Friend, 26 Dec 04

We're pleased to welcome WorldChanging ally Gil Friend to our Sustainability Sundays lineup. Gil is a systems ecologist and business strategist, and is the CEO of Natural Logic, an environmentally-focused strategy, design and management consultancy. His blog is one of my regular reads. Gil has agreed to write a regular essay on sustainable business for our Sustainability Sunday features, and we are happy to add his voice and perspectives to our site. Take it away, Gil:

It began with a dot, and has now turned into a significant driving force in world trade. The European packaging "take back" laws and the German "Green Dot" have evolved into a growing set of product design & content directives with teeth -- the teeth being a 350 million plus population European marketplace.

Those crazy Europeans have for some reason been paying attention to the requirements -- and security -- of living systems as a key factor in industrial policy. US companies (with some notable exceptions) have been slow to take notice, and may pay the price at the bottom line.

A recent article in The Nation ("New Power for 'Old Europe' ") summarizes a series of related initiatives from the EU, including their proposed REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) regulation:

REACH is the first effort to secure environmental data on some 30,000 chemicals that have been on the market in the United States and around the world without any significant testing of their toxicity on human health and the environment. These include an array of highly toxic substances that were effectively grandfathered into the market by TSCA [the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976].

[...]

The REACH directive represents an upheaval in the basic philosophy of chemical regulation, flipping the American presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head by placing the burden of proof on manufacturers to prove chemicals are safe--what is known as the "precautionary principle." REACH adds extra bite with a requirement that toxicity data be posted publicly on the new agency's website. Thus, test results that were once tightly held by chemical companies will suddenly be available to citizens and regulators across the globe. That prospect foreshadows trouble for US chemical producers."

The US chemical industry and government have been hard at work to block REACH, with arguments we've heard before on such issues as fuel economy, global warming, pesticide regulation, and more: disruptive impacts, too expensive, restraint of trade, etc. The cosmetics industry, the auto industry and others are in various degrees of denial and combat.

Similarly, the global electronics industry has been slow to respond to the EU's product take back and product content directives, which come into force in mid-2005 and mid-2006 respectively. WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment ) will require producers of electronic and electric equipment to accept and properly recycle "end of life" equipment. RoHS (Restriction on Hazardous Substances) will ban the manufacture or import of equipment containing lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls or polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

Some companies have embraced the inevitable, diligently investing time and money in reaching goalposts that the EU is still moving. Hewlett Packard, for example, has made "design for environment" a key part of product design strategy, and has created a joint venture with mining giant Noranda to field an efficient take-back system -- mining the exceptionally rich ores of modern society's high tech detritus.

Others have taken a "do as little as possible, as late as possible" strategy -- a strategy based on a pervasive and deeply wrong-headed assumption: that designing and delivering better, more efficient, less toxic, more recyclable products would necessarily cost more money and yield less profit. The bottom line impact of losing access to the European market aside, the assumption is patently -- and demonstrably -- false.

Why does it persist? Tune in next time for some perspective on both the barriers and the opportunities -- and how companies that understand the ecosystem drivers behind these new regulations can potentially get out ahead of them.


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Comments

Sustainable Business can only come with reasonable attention to discarded wastes. Landfills, Ocean dumps, and bad burning methods only create a lesser environment. Taking a step outside the box for alternative energy, using current energy to the fullest and eliminating as much supposed "waste" products is a priority. With plastics the world seems destined to continue with what they call disposable packaging et al only to pollute earth zones for century's or eons to come. Cudo's to this BLOG bringing some enlightenment to a yet virgin audience. Being GREEN means more than talking about it. Keep up your challenge to lethargic mental processes.


Posted by: Robert on 28 Dec 04



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