What if we made manufacturers responsible for disposing of the products they produce? You would think that products would start to last longer and become cheaper and cheaper to recycle. This concept was first introduced by Thomas Lindhqvist in a report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment in 1990. The idea was named Extended Producer Responsibility, (EPR) and was defined as follows: “[EPR] is an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact of a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal.”
Photograph: Alte Fabrik Finkemeier 002
Corporate Social Responsibility, (CSR) has become a buzz phrase with companies wanting to communicate their environmental achievements. Consulting agencies rate companies on their corporate responsibility and advise them on environmental ethics. Annual Corporate Citizenship and Sustainability reports allow them to tout their accomplishments. Yet the media is inundated with images of e-waste in Africa, India and anywhere else there is a ready market of cheap labor and an absence of environmental protection measures.
Photograph: Jim Puckett/AP
So how can industry be puffing its chest over CSR while its used and discarded products continue to clog land and waterways in the third world? Here is what Greenpeace said in a report from 2006.
“The hi-tech sector continues to produce ever shorter-life, often superfluous products with inherently hazardous materials. Why are hi-tech corporations, which profess to be responsible corporate citizens allowing this to happen? One answer is that CSR initiatives, whether they involve Codes of Conduct or reporting guidelines, are voluntary. At best, CSR can be a way for the best companies to lead the way. At worst, CSR initiatives can even be a diversionary tactic, used by industry to pretend that they are taking action and to avoid regulation.”
As always some business will adhere to the code of conduct and some will use it to further obscure their nefarious practices. It isn’t any different from large oil companies using their public relations budgets to air television ads about their environmental programs. We’ve all seen the ad campaigns that portray as environmental hero the petroleum company responsible for the most disastrous and extensive oil spill in the history of the planet. The company was found to be “grossly negligent” and yet the eco-friendly ads continue to grace our air waves. It is up to us as individuals to separate truth from fantasy and to demand greater corporate responsibility.