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Pitch

Empower government, industry and consumers to make decisions that will truly transform economies towards a sustainable future


Description

Summary

The developed world has enjoyed many decades of growth in wealth and wellbeing, based on intensive use of resources. But today it faces the dual challenge of stimulating the growth needed to provide jobs and wellbeing, and of ensuring that the quality of this growth leads to a sustainable future. To tackle these challenges and turn them into opportunities the economies of developed countries require a fundamental transformation within a generation – in energy, industry, agriculture, fisheries and transport systems, and in producer and consumer behavior. Preparing that transformation in a timely, predictable and controlled manner will allow further development of wealth and wellbeing, while reducing the levels and impact of resource use.

Most people in the developed world already recognize and trust the term ‘passport’. They know what it is and can identify its simple characteristics. The product passport is based on the very same characteristics but applies to inanimate objects. It encompasses all forms of product information and labeling, offers extensive scalability and lays the foundation for holistic long-term control of resources.


Category of the action

Reducing consumption


What actions do you propose?

Background

It seems that the true origin of the personal passport cannot be accurately defined. However, there are many theories and plenty of cultures putting their hands up to say it was their invention. Some even claim one of the earliest references to a passport was made as early as 450 B.C. When you dig into the extensive history of the passport you will likely conclude that it is the cumulative evolution of a vast many societies and cultures. We should be proud that with such an extensive history the current configuration of the personal passport is relatively standard worldwide and still satisfies the original need.

Why do we need a personal passport? To fulfill certain desires related to mobility of humans we need a means of control. A personal passport is essentially a trusted method of validating (proving) and communicating information to others (e.g. immigration officers) so that mobility can be controlled.

Why is it relatively standard worldwide? As humans we require a certain degree of trust. For trust to exist we need to recognize the method of validating and communicating information. We also seek to accomplish this with minimal effort so we standardize and simplify.

Imagine every country satisfied this need with individual standards at different levels of complexity. It may satisfy the domestic and after some time regional need, but with increased mobility it would prove cumbersome and much effort would be expended building recognition and trust. The ever increasing amount of effort required to control mobility with individual standards would likely lead to a decrease in use or abandonment altogether. Take for example what happened in 19th century Europe when the popularity of rail transport led to an explosion in tourism and the eventual elimination of passport requirements by the early 20th century. It took the shockwaves of World War I to renew concern for international security and initiate the reinstatement of passport requirements, which eventually led to a universal standard.

What can we learn from this? Concern for international security represents concern for the environment. If we truly want to control something we need to adopt and apply a simple standard method of validating and communicating information in a way that is recognized and trusted universally. We certainly do not want to rely on events like world wars to renew concern and provide a basis for practical solutions.

Introduction

Therefore I propose government, industry and consumers adopt and apply the universal ‘Product Passport’. 

Similar to the general information found in a passport the product passport would build on this concept by validating: name/title, picture, description, composition of materials, manufacture date/location and functionality. This means the product passport applies to every product.

Similar to an entry/exit stamp that is placed in a passport to validate travel the product passport would build on this concept by validating ownership, location, use, reuse or redistribution, remanufacture or refurbishment and presence of recycled content. This means the product passport is not limited to newly manufactured products.

Similar to a visa that is placed in a passport to validate travel, work or study the product passport would build on this concept by validating an ‘EcoLabel’ or other form of accreditation. This means the product passport fosters competition.

The product passport would include a ‘Dismantling Report’, which provides information and instructions on how to dismantle a product and locate parts to remove before sending to the proper recycling or repurposing facilities. This means the product passport provides a practical location to store information so that it is easily accessible when a product reaches the end of its life cycle.

The product passport would include an ‘Environmental Product Declaration’, which is a verified document that reports environmental data of products based on life cycle assessment and other relevant information and is in accordance with the international standard ISO 14025 (Type lll Environmental Declarations). This means the product passport promotes the use of life cycle assessment in product design.

The product passport offers extensive scalability and can include all information necessary to empower government, industry and consumers to take action towards a sustainable future. It is required to synergize all existing environmental initiatives, such as labeling, so that recognition and trust is achieved in a timely, predictable and controlled manner and maintained in the long-term with minimal effort.

The product passport would be stored on an open access online database administered by an intergovernmental organization. It would include advanced search engine capabilities so information can be accessed with minimal effort. General descriptive information linking the product to the product passport would be displayed on packaging or directly on products while select portions of additional product passport information would also be displayed depending on relevance and feasibility.

A form of UPC or QR code that can be read by smart phones or other electronic scanners is one suggestion to link the product to the product passport. Such a code is particularly relevant for small products as displaying information on packaging or directly on products is not feasible. Such a code would be displayed in addition to an ‘EcoLabel’ or other form of accreditation.

As the product passport offers extensive scalability it should be understood as a practical starting point laying the foundation for future growth and adaption.  Once initiated it is likely that only select products would contain product passports that include all the above-mentioned components. Indeed, the majority of products would contain product passports that include only general descriptive information.

The key is that all product information existing now and to be created in the future will be validated and communicated in a simple standard method. Only when equipped with accurate information that can be recognized and trusted will government, industry and consumers be empowered to make decisions that will truly transform economies towards a sustainable future in a timely, predictable and controlled manner. 

The following is a non-exhaustive list of actions that should be taken.

  • Engage all stakeholders and gather feedback
  • Develop product passport proposal and create a strategy and implementation plan
  • Unify and synergize all environmental initiatives, such as labeling/certification/declaration/standardization schemes
  • Create database and consolidate all available relevant information
  • Format information according to the standard product passport template
  • Launch product passport codes that can be placed on packaging or products
  • Create and introduce incentives to use all product passport components
  • Ensure long-term product passport functionality and value for all stakeholders
  • Use the product passport to leverage action towards a sustainable future

 

Benefits

The information below is non-exhaustive but provides insight into how a holistic control mechanism such as the product passport would help government, industry and consumers transform the economy. The listed items are in no particular order and are not intended to give priority to one group over another based on number of items.

Transformation will need a policy framework that creates a playing field, where innovation and resource efficiency are rewarded, creating economic opportunities and improved security of supply through product redesign, sustainable management of environmental resources, greater reuse, recycling and substitution of materials and resource savings. Decoupling growth from resource use and unlocking these new sources of growth requires policies that recognize the interdependencies between the economy, wellbeing and natural capital.

Governments need to work on defining the right indicators and targets for guiding actions and monitoring progress. They should focus on prioritizing sustainable growth friendly measures and efforts around the globe to promote the transition towards a green economy.

Transitioning the economy onto a resource-efficient path will bring increased competitiveness and new sources of growth and jobs through cost savings from improved efficiency, commercialization of innovations and better management of resources over their whole life cycle.

The market based instruments play an important role in setting a framework for markets to reward greener products, and should use both voluntary and mandatory measures. Different components of the product passport would satisfy this by transitioning from voluntary to mandatory in accordance with different policy measures.

The product passport would empower government to:

  • Access the information needed to define financial, taxation and pricing policies that create incentives for sustainable production and consumption decisions;
  • Create robust and easily understandable indicators that are necessary to provide signals and measure progress in improving resource efficiency;
  • Introduce minimum recycled material rates, durability and reusability criteria for key products;
  • Incrementally increase the share of environmental taxes, while reducing others;
  • Address legal, financial and institutional barriers;
  • Apply more long-term innovative thinking that leads to the uptake of new sustainable practices and stimulates breakthroughs in innovation, and develops forward thinking, cost effective regulation;
  • Establish international agreements to make global consumption and production patterns more sustainable;
  • Incrementally increase performance-based public procurement;
  • Apply labor market instruments to accompany the transition;
  • Identify differences in economic structures and indicators that measure social and environmental progress beyond GDP;
  • Mitigate negative impacts on third world economies.

 

A change in purchasing choices will stimulate companies to innovate, and to supply more resource efficient goods and services. In addition, when environmental performance standards are supported they can help to remove the least resource efficient and most polluting products from the market.

The product passport would empower industry to:

  • Make use of ‘industrial symbiosis’, where the waste of some firms is used as a resource for others;
  • Make use of incentives that stimulate a large majority of companies to measure, benchmark and improve their resource efficiency systematically;
  • Reduce the use of misleading claims while taking advantage of market rewards for genuinely environmentally friendly products;
  • Provide credible and comparable information;
  • Provide more sustainable options by making them more accessible, attractive and affordable for all consumers;
  • Increase the user’s convenience and trust;
  • Invest more in resource efficient research and innovation necessary to fill the gaps in our knowledge and skills and provide the right information and training;
  • Support service-based business models that sell performance instead of transferring product ownership, which helps increase product-life, reuse and recycling and saves resources;
  • Deal with international competitiveness concerns, and seek to get a consensus with international partners to move in a similar direction.

 

Changing consumption patterns can help increase demand for more resource efficient products and services. Access to credible, comparable and accurate information is needed to help guide consumption decisions. Consumers can save costs by avoiding waste themselves, and buying products that last, or that can be easily repaired or recycled.

The product passport would empower consumers to:

  • Trust and understand environmental initiatives, such as labeling;
  • Make sustainable choices based on reusability, recoverability, recyclability, recycled content and durability;
  • Make use of take-back, recycling schemes and repair services;
  • Consciously support resource efficiency policy measures.


Who will take these actions?

Implementation

As you will note below an implementation plan would ideally be created after engaging all stakeholders and gathering feedback, and in parallel with a strategy. It is my opinion that anything in addition to this proposal retains its integrity in the collaborative efforts of relevant yet diverse individuals, as I am but one individual.

Who?

At this stage I would like to develop my proposal by engaging potential implementers such as policymakers, business executives and investors, individuals at non-profit or non-governmental organizations and citizen organizations. The subsequent steps would be to set up a core team of relevant yet diverse individuals. This core team would then seek collaboration with an organization willing to take initial ownership.

What?

The following is a non-exhaustive list of actions that should be taken.

  • Engage all stakeholders and gather feedback
  • Develop product passport proposal and create a strategy and implementation plan
  • Unify and synergize all environmental initiatives, such as labeling/certification/declaration/standardization schemes
  • Create database and consolidate all available relevant information
  • Format information according to the standard product passport template
  • Launch product passport codes that can be placed on packaging or products
  • Create and introduce incentives to use all product passport components
  • Ensure long-term product passport functionality and value for all stakeholders
  • Use the product passport to leverage action towards a sustainable future

 

When?

Set-up of the administration would take several months whereas complete implementation of a product passport program would take several years. The scope of this proposal is to clearly contribute to an increase in resource efficiency by 2020. If potential implementers support this proposal the first actions could be taken in 2014.


Where will these actions be taken?

The organizations can be located anywhere in the world.


How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Over the 20th century the world increased its fossil fuel use by a factor of 12, while extracting 34 times more material resources, and about half of these material resources end up going to landfill. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates that by 2050 we will need a 4 to 10 fold increase in resource efficiency, with significant improvements needed already by 2020. 


What are other key benefits?

As the product passport offers extensive scalability it should be understood as a practical starting point laying the foundation for future growth and adaption.  Once initiated it is likely that only select products would contain product passports that include all the above-mentioned components. Indeed, the majority of products would contain product passports that include only general descriptive information.

The key is that all product information existing now and to be created in the future will be validated and communicated in a simple standard method. Only when equipped with accurate information that can be recognized and trusted will government, industry and consumers be empowered to make decisions that will truly transform economies towards a sustainable future in a timely, predictable and controlled manner. 


What are the proposal’s costs?

How?

Potential implementers could respond to my request for assistance by initiating dialogue and providing support in various ways. I could then work with them to set up a core team of relevant yet diverse individuals, carry out the first actions and seek collaboration with an organization willing to take initial ownership.

With what resources?

Any initial monetary contribution would be used to set up a core team, i.e. costs related to bringing the individuals together either physically or virtually. It would also be used to support the first actions, i.e. costs related to the carrying out of actions and sustaining the core team.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of possible cost drivers for implementing the product passport.

  • Set-up of administration
  • Open access online database
  • Continual information collection and validation
  • Participation incentive programs

 

Of course there are also risks associated with the product passport; however, they are not addressed at this stage of the proposal.


Time line

Set-up of the administration would take several months whereas complete implementation of a product passport program would take several years. The scope of this proposal is to clearly contribute to an increase in resource efficiency by 2020. 

NOTE: If you have just finished reading this proposal and are not of the opinion that the product passport or a similar concept is 100% necessary and will with absolute certainty be implemented in the future (if we are to survive as a species) I strongly suggest you read it again, take some time to reflect and digest, and try to understand the simple yet powerful ideas presented. We have too much at stake to ignore this idea.


Related proposals

A related Climate CoLab proposal was submitted in 2013 under the following title and pitch.

Material Content Labels for Electronic Products: institute a product-labeling program for appliances and electronics describing material contents, their sources and its recyclability. 


References

European Commission, Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, September 20, 2011

European Resource Efficiency Platform, Manifesto and Policy Recommendations, March 31, 2014

Environmental Product Declarations

EcoLabel

The History of Passports