This post is by Julia Spangler of Fair for All Guide, a guide for understanding and embracing the interconnectedness of today’s world. Julia hopes to empower individuals to make responsible choices that honor our connection to each other and the planet.
Warning: It’s about to get a little technical up in here, but stick with me, it’s worth it.
Product stewardship is a concept I only recently became familiar with, but it kind of blew my mind. In a nutshell, this concept aims to address the question of who is responsible for the impacts of a product throughout its life cycle. According to the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI):
Product stewardship is the act of minimizing the health, safety, environmental, and social impacts of a product and its packaging throughout all lifecycle stages, while also maximizing economic benefits. The manufacturer, or producer, of the product has the greatest ability to minimize adverse impacts, but other stakeholders, such as suppliers, retailers, and consumers, also play a role. Stewardship can be either voluntary or required by law.
Basically, product stewardship puts the onus on manufacturers to take greater responsibility for the items they are putting out into the world. To me this feels like a radically different mindset from mainstream industry, but it makes a ton of sense. Consumers don’t have the capacity to sustainably handle the end-of-life of today’s increasingly complex products, and the public sector shouldn’t be responsible for cleaning up messes that can be avoided with more intelligent product design or end-of-life planning from the manufacturers. I agree with PSI that ultimately a team effort is needed, but I appreciate the emphasis on manufacturers not being able to wash their hands of the things they produce once they’re out the door.
In fact, PSI also defines a sub-concept specifically related to manufacturer responsibility:
Extended producer responsibility (EPR) is a mandatory type of product stewardship that includes, at a minimum, the requirement that the manufacturer’s responsibility for its product extends to post-consumer management of that product and its packaging. There are two related features of EPR policy: (1) shifting financial and management responsibility, with government oversight, upstream to the manufacturer and away from the public sector; and (2) providing incentives to manufacturers to incorporate environmental considerations into the design of their products and packaging.
Whereas product stewardship is a general philosophy, extended producer responsibility appears to be a policy-specific initiative with the goal of establishing EPR regulations for various industries.
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