EPA Hosts International G7 Alliance On Resource Efficiency Workshop on Sustainable Supply Chain Management
By Gary Liss, Gary Liss & Associates, 04/14/16
With support from The Northern California Recycling Association, U.S. Zero Waste Business Council and Zero Waste USA, I attended the first G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency workshop held in the United States. The Alliance, founded at the June 2015 G7 Summit, is a forum to share knowledge, create information networks across G7 countries, and encourage collaboration with businesses – large and small, and relevant stakeholders to advance resource efficiency, promote voluntary best practices and foster innovation. The G7 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States; the European Union is also represented.
Hosted by the USEPA, the workshop was held in the Washington, DC area on March 22-23, 2016. Over 150 dignitaries, corporate and government leaders and non-governmental organizations were invited to participate by Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for Land and Emergency Response, the highest ranking person in the USEPA responsible for solid waste and recycling. The meeting focus was the use of life cycle concepts in supply chain management to achieve resource efficiency. The automotive industry was showcased as an example where resource efficiency efforts have been pursued.
Speakers from the U.S. included Mr. Stanislaus, Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and representatives from General Motors, Toyota North America, Ford, 3M, General Electric, Mars Corporation, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy, Johnson Controls, University of Tennessee UN Environmental Program, US Business Council on Sustainable Development, Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council and the Materials Marketplace, Stuffstr, Novelis Aluminum, Suppliers Partnership for the Environment. Bob Gedert, Austin Resource Recovery, and I were the key Zero Waste advocates there – in addition to leading Zero Waste businesses GM and Toyota. Bob was also there as President of the National Recycling Coalition.
The first day focused on upstream issues, and how to address resource efficiency in product design. It was one of the most exhaustive discussions I’ve ever heard on these issues. In addition to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like GM and Toyota, they had several auto parts recycling speakers. The latter provided some great ideas like asking the OEMs to label parts and participate in a database that would facilitate the use of salvaged and remanufactured parts. The remanufactured parts speaker suggested OEMs help promote these parts as “good as new”, as they are of the same quality and functionality and carry the same warranty as new. A presenter from Japan highlighted that remanufactured auto parts are used significantly more in the U.S. than in Japan, and they are trying to figure out why. One factor is that U.S. insurance companies allow remanufactured parts to replace broken ones. The discussion also highlighted how insurance companies could be a key partner in fostering reuse, and how that industry is championing addressing climate change – due in part to the potential catastrophic losses they may have to cover.
In the smaller group discussions, many ideas were presented and discussed how life cycle analyses (LCAs) and the more general life cycle management approach (LCM) could help with designing for resource efficiency. One of the best models was how 3M uses LCAs and LCM in evaluating new products. Traditional LCAs are very costly and time consuming, and not needed for all products. For 3M, they developed LCMs as a less rigorous tool that’s more of a checklist then the detailed analysis that would be done as part of a LCA.
I asked if a LCA yielded a result that recommended an approach inconsistent with Zero Waste, could they go beyond the LCA outcome? I highlighted the classic case shared by David Allaway of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, of a flexible, non-recyclable pouch being the better container for coffee than a steel can after a LCA was conducted. I suggested that manufactures could go beyond accepting a non-recyclable product and work on designing one that was reusable, recyclable or compostable. (For example, OSC2 of Piedmont, CA is working to develop a backyard compostable pouch for organic food products.) 3M responded that LCAs are only one of many tools used in evaluating new products and they could certainly go beyond LCA conclusions. 3M also noted that there has been an effort globally to develop a consistent framework for conducting LCAs that is due to be completed this year. That effort is also working to develop a simpler, more accessible LCM approach.
The second day, the focus was more on how to improve resource efficiency at product end of use and end of life. Stuffstr.com was an intriguing example of how new software/social media may assist consumers in tracking the value of their stuff, and where to recover the highest value when ready to discard it – whether selling as is, as repurposed, or recycled, depending on its condition.
In a small group discussion on Zero Waste and maximizing the value of discarded materials, after insightful presentations by GM and Toyota, we had a great brainstorm about what could be done, why it wasn’t being done, and what could be done to enhance Zero Waste and resource efficiency. Some of the ideas discussed are listed below in G7 Zero Waste Small Group Brainstorm.
A full USEPA report from the Workshop is due out in June. Mathy Stanislaus will be keynoting the 5th National Zero Waste Business Conference in Austin on June 3 where he will highlight the most significant outcomes from this Workshop.
I’d like to thank NCRA for their support of my participation in this important event. One of the most valuable things we can get from these impressive efforts to promote the circular economy, resource efficiency and Sustainable Materials Management (SMM), is a seat at the table so we can directly encourage businesses to consider Zero Waste in the design of products, packaging and services. If anyone is interested in working more in this area, let me know. I am co-chair of the SMM Committee of the National Recycling Coalition and would like to connect you with others working in this arena. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.