"Ground-breaking" research will be at the heart of a unique collaboration by retailers, suppliers, environmental charities, academics and UK governments to tackle the challenges posed by the environmental impact of every-day products
The Product Sustainability Forum (PSF) brings together more than 80 organisations to take the lead on addressing environmental and sustainability issues that arise from making and selling products. Greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, water use, reliance on raw materials, product-related waste and packaging will all come under the spotlight.
Taking a joined-up approach to researching, measuring, communicating and reducing the environmental impact of a range of consumer goods - from dairy products and DIY materials to soft drinks and tinned groceries - the group's focus will span the whole of a product's life.
Set up by WRAP in response to discussions with industry and governments, the forum is chaired by the organisation's chief executive, Dr Liz Goodwin. She said: "The scale of the challenge is enormous. For example, the British Retail Consortium estimates that the retail sector alone accounts for around 3.5 percent of the UK's carbon emissions, and the retail supply chain, for more than 30 percent.
"Many companies already measure the environmental impact of their products but until now, this has always been done in isolation, and the methodology and results have not been shared. By working together, we have a real opportunity to minimise the effect our activities have on the planet."
The PSF is the first organisation of its kind in the UK, and demonstrates the desire and determination that exists to look at better ways of managing resources. The approach marks a shift away from simply concentrating on a single issue like packaging, towards a focus on a product's whole life.
The forum believes that improving the environmental performance of products will deliver a number of benefits - reducing costs, improving resource efficiency, and securing the future supply of products for consumer use.
"With the current focus on the challenges of sustainability being discussed at the Rio+20 Summit this week, and the UK's own carbon targets very much in mind, the group will play a critical role in both driving down CO2 emissions and reducing other environmental impacts of the way we resource, manufacture and sell goods," said Liz.
The PSF is currently assessing the evidence, and identifying grocery and DIY products where there's most opportunity to improve environmental performance.
"This is not only about identifying the products themselves, but also where in the lifecycle any action would have the most effect," said Liz.
The next step will be the publication of a report, which identifies priorities for action, along with plans developed by member organisations to tackle these. The report is due to be published in the autumn.
Added Liz: "The PSF vision is that every-day products should be designed with resource efficiency in mind, minimising environmental impact and encouraging sustainable consumption and production. With more than 80 organisations supporting these goals, along with the support from all the UK governments, we're determined that to make progress towards this vision a reality."
This is the first collaboration of its kind in the UK. "It's pretty unusual - if not unique - to see so many major organisations and brands working alongside one another and sharing best practice in order to find ways of making better use of all our resources," said Liz.
"This demonstrates just how seriously organisations are taking the issue of sustainability and the impact of their manufacturing and retail processes."
As well as its focus on key products sold to consumers in the UK, the PSF is forging links with other national and international organisations to share learning and avoid duplication of effort.
"This is particularly important for organisations which have markets and operations beyond the UK, as well as bringing benefits to other groups and countries keen to address the environmental impact of their own products," said Liz.