Promoting Resource Efficiency By Focusing On Supply Chains

By Mathy Stanislaus

I recently attended a G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency workshop in Yokohama, Japan on Promoting International Cooperation for Improving Global Resource Efficiency and on the Kobe 3Rs (reduce, reuse & recycle). In Yokohama, I described our current activities promoting Sustainable Materials Management (SMM), which analyzes the entire life cycle of products and services to identify the best ways to use materials while minimizing environmental impacts (e.g., use of energy, water and land). That means looking at use of resources from the point of materials extraction, through production, all the way to the end of a product’s life and beyond to reuse and recycling.

From left to right: Kazuhisa Matsuda, Japan; Benedetta Dell'Anno, Italy; Mathy Stanislaus; Gwenole Cozigou, European Commission.

From left to right: Kazuhisa Matsuda, Japan; Benedetta Dell’Anno, Italy; Mathy Stanislaus; Gwenole Cozigou, European Commission.

By advancing systems-based approaches such as SMM, we can reduce often-overlooked sources of significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, such as those from the supply chain of the manufacturing sector. The Paris Climate Agreement, for example, set a global goal to limit global warming to less than 2o Celsius by reducing GHG emissions. More than 40 percent of these emissions are attributable to materials management, and the G7 Alliance offers an important new mechanism to help meet the goal.

We are working collaboratively with the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency (G7 members from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with representation from the European Union) and the private and public sector to foster a circular economy, one in which materials are used for as long as possible and materials and products are recovered at the end of their life. Our work is important because, as the G7 Alliance found last year, “for every one percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent . . . much of raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste with[in] one year. . . Unsustainable consumption of natural resources and concomitant environmental degradation translates to increased business risks through higher material costs, as well as supply uncertainties and disruptions.”

The U.S is hosting a G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency workshop in Washington, D.C. on March 22-23, 2016. At this forum participants from across the globe will explore how to use life-cycle concepts to advance resource efficiency and focus on significant upstream impacts in supply chains, specifically the auto sector. Why focus on the auto sector? That sector is an important part of our industrial and service economies and is significant to the gross domestic product of several G7 countries. It is also a global economic driver with supply chains reaching across the world. Additionally, automobile manufacturers and their suppliers are innovatively using life-cycle concepts to identify and address significant impacts and resource use.

Sessions will address a wide range of topics designed to benefit all participants – overcoming SMM barriers, the use of innovative materials and eco-design, information tools to foster life-cycle thinking, industry “hotspot” identification, supply chain transparency, incentives for change, and more. Participants will identify best practices that are transferrable to other sectors. Follow the conversation with the #G7CircularEconomy hashtag.

Building on the results of the workshop, we plan to host subsequent workshops to support the global transition to sustainable materials management. We know that there will be challenges ahead, but I am proud we are working with our fellow G7 countries in taking actions that will be beneficial to others for years to come.

Continue the discussion by following @EPAland’s conversation on #G7CircularEconomy.

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Recycling Saves Resources and Creates Green Jobs

By Mathy Stanislaus

Recycling is an important and significant aspect of a material’s lifecycle. It helps reduce the use of raw materials in the manufacturing sector and conserves resources like timber, water and minerals. Over the next 15 years, global demand for materials is predicted to rise more than 35 percent. This makes the efficient use of natural resources vital for economic development. In an effort to promote resource conservation across the globe, leaders from the world’s largest economies formed The Alliance for Resource Efficiency.

The Alliance is an international initiative dedicated to developing new strategies for environmental conservation in ways that promote sustainable management of our natural resources. In the United States, we call this sustainable materials management, or SMM. SMM encourages consumers, businesses and communities to consider the entire lifecycle of the materials we use – from extraction or harvest of materials and food (e.g., mining, forestry, and agriculture), to production and transport of goods, provision of services, reuse of materials, and, if necessary, disposal. Considering the full lifecycle of a product allows us to minimize environmental impacts as we use and manage material resources flowing through the economy.

In the last several decades, through improved materials management practices, we have successfully raised the national recycling rate to 34%, reducing 186 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually. That rate represents 87 million tons of material that were recycled or composted. Every 10,000 metric tons of recyclables generates 37 jobs, which equates to $1.1 million in wages and $330,000 in tax revenues . By working together consumers, businesses and communities can build on this success.

Consumers

Consider buying used clothing and building materials at reuse centers and consignment shops – they can be just as durable as a new product and save you money. Instead of discarding unwanted appliances, tools and electronics, try selling or donating them. This not only reduces waste, but it also benefits the community. What’s more, donating used items prevents goods from ending up in landfills and may create a tax benefit. Also, look for products with less packaging. The money manufacturers save by using less packaging is often passed down to you.

Businesses

Businesses can utilize lifecycle analysis to make better decisions during product design, such as using fewer toxics and more materials that have a longer, useful life. To help conserve resources, businesses can practice careful industrial and product design that minimizes the use of virgin materials and reuses them in an effort to reduce environmental impacts.

Companies can establish policies that support using and purchasing recycled products and materials. By expanding workplace recycling programs to include all types of paper, businesses can reduce paper waste. Installing built-in recycling centers and receptacles throughout buildings can encourage employees to rethink how they dispose of their wastes.

Communities

Communities can make efforts to encourage and collaborate with both businesses and consumers. This can help ensure that materials are used more efficiently and effectively. Government organizations can also begin to create awareness for the environmental consequences of our actions when using materials and purchasing products.

Local governments have a central role in increasing recycling in their communities, as they are responsible for implementing effective materials management strategies in their areas. They can do their part to make recycling a priority by ensuring residents are aware of regulation and policies that simplify recycling in their homes.

Ongoing Efforts

Next spring, we will host an event on sustainable supply chains with a focus on the automotive sector. The workshop will focus on identifying and sharing best practices and successes that are transferrable to other industries.

This event, and many other promising efforts to come, brings us closer to advancing SMM and combating climate change both domestically and internationally. I am proud and excited to be a part of a strategic initiative that will help the United States achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Advancing Sustainable Materials Management at the G7

By Mathy Stanislaus

Recently, I represented the United States at the kick-off event of the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency in Berlin, Germany. “The Alliance” is a result of this summer’s G7 Leaders agreement that sustainably produced renewable resources should be a key priority. In the United States, we call this sustainable materials management, or SMM. SMM uses life cycle analysis and systems thinking to reduce environmental and other impacts as we use and manage material resources flowing through the economy, from extraction or harvest of materials and food (e.g., mining, forestry, and agriculture), to production and transport of goods, provision of services, reuse of materials, and if necessary disposal.

The kick-off event for the G7 Alliance for Resource Efficiency was co-chaired by Germany’s Federal Ministries for Economic Affairs and Energy; and the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. The alliance was established to share best practices on how to use natural resources more efficiently, which will protect jobs, create new ones, and strengthen economies while protecting the environment. Earlier this year, the leaders of the G7 pointed out the importance of this work: “For every one percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP), raw material use has risen by 0.4 percent . . . much of raw material input in industrial economies is returned to the environment as waste with[in] one year. . . Unsustainable consumption of natural resources and concomitant environmental degradation translates to increased business risks through higher material costs, as well as supply uncertainties and disruptions.”

At the kick-off event, a number of corporations including General Motors, Toyota, Werner & Mertz and Tarkett shared their success in establishing systems to maximize the reuse and reengineering of materials that advances their bottom line. In addition to G7 countries and the EU Commission, a number of international organizations including World Economic Forum, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), International Resources Panel, World Trade Organization and International Labor Organization, discussed the role of multilateral cooperation in fostering resource efficiency and areas for future cooperation. Academics and researchers such as Professor Marian Chertow from Yale University presented on research and innovation efforts to promote resource efficiency. The conversation focused on how best to establish a network of best practices that result in tangible, concrete outcomes.  There was a general view that the Alliance should prioritize activities, bring in business up front and effectively communicate both best practices and the rationale for advancing resources efficiency/SMM.  Many noted the importance of engaging countries beyond the G7 because of the global nature of material flows, including resources, manufacturing and products.

The conversation doesn’t end in Berlin. We continue to advance concrete actions to advance SMM both domestically and internationally, in partnership with businesses, states and local governments, NGOs and academia. Next spring, we will host a follow up G7 Alliance event on supply chains, with a focus on the auto sector.  Getting organizations to identify and address impacts across their value chain, in particular the supply chain, is critical for sustainability. However, the complexity of supply chains can make this challenging, including the flow of information within the supply chain. The auto sector is actively engaged in improving their operations, supply chain, and communities in which they operate. The workshop will focus on identifying and sharing best practices and successes in the auto sector that are transferrable to other sectors.

Leading up to the US event, the Alliance will hold workshops to identify and share best practices.  The UK October 29-30, 2015 workshop will focus on “industrial symbiosis” –an approach to directly match industry sectors and facilities to maximize the reuse of materials in manufacturing.  Under this practice the wastes or byproducts of one industrial facility becomes a resource for another facility. The US Business Council for Sustainable Development is working with companies, cities, communities and governments to advance this concept in the US.  After the event, a workshop will be held in Germany to discuss best practice examples of innovative bio-based products, value chains and resource efficiency in the building sector. They will assess the resulting opportunities, in particular for rural areas and discuss potential international cooperation on the topic.

Altogether, there are many promising efforts underway advancing and promoting resource efficiency and sustainable materials management. It’s exciting to be a part of and I was proud to represent the US in this effort. The challenge is to translate these efforts into concrete changes that achieve the promise of the economic, environmental and social benefits.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.