John Hubbard, technical consultant at FIRA International, offers his view on a number of initiatives at both UK and EU level that are pushing sustainability towards the top of the business agenda …
Despite the UK Environment Bill being delayed until the next parliamentary session, the process for the consultations outlined in an August 2020 policy paper, which sets out how stakeholders will be consulted and the requirement for Government targets to be published by 31st October 2022, remains in place.
The initial targets, which will contain both long-term but also interim targets so that progress can be monitored, will be published in four key areas: air quality; biodiversity; water; and resource efficiency and waste reduction. In addition, there will be a target concerning PM2.5 (fine particulate matter).
The exact nature of the targets will be developed through consultation with environmental experts and stakeholders, which is expected to take place in the early part of 2022.
Key areas which may be of significance for the furniture industry are the control of chemicals released into air or water, and for a clear focus on improving resource efficiency to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill or incineration.
In preparation for this bill, this month sees the conclusion of two consultations about waste in the economy. The first deals with a Waste Prevention Programme for England. The background of the consultation is founded on two overarching objectives maximising resource use and minimising waste and its impact on the environment.
Furniture is one of the industries highlighted in the report. It has been estimated that 2.5% of the waste from UK households is furniture (including carpets), and that the industry is responsible for 1% of the UK’s carbon footprint.
The Government has identified four key actions that it is intending to take to address waste in the industry: encourage sharing of best practice in product design and take-back schemes; introduce minimum standards on durability, reparability, recyclability and the recycled content of furniture through the UK Environment Bill; encourage Local Enterprise Partnerships in the field of repair and refurbishment for reuse; and introduce a consultation proposal by 2025 for Extended Producer Responsibility in the industry.
In addition to the focus on furniture, there are also chapters on associated industries including textiles, construction, and plastics and packaging.
The second consultation is on the UK-wide proposal to introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging, which intends to focus the compliance on the packaging producers rather than spreading it along the supply chain, as well as improving recycling rates and labelling of packaging.
The EU have also introduced a Circular Economy Action Plan. In the consumer products field, the aim is to deliver green products to the market which are high quality, functional and safe, and which are also efficient and affordable.
The strategy for consumer products relies on three areas: designing sustainable products; empowering consumers; and circularity in the production process.
Furniture is one of the product group value chains identified in the action plan (alongside ICT, electronics and textiles). The ‘empowering consumers’ activities will include better information and an improved role for ecolabels and other sustainability schemes, each requiring clear and transparent benefits. As public procurement is responsible for approximately 14% of EU GDP, then an increased role for Green Public Procurement is envisaged.
In recognition of the increasing importance of sustainability to the furniture industry, FIRA International have developed modular training sessions around sustainability topics. These will be helpful to identify the key issues for the industry, and to help professionals decide whether working towards the industry recognised Furniture Industry Sustainability Programme (FISP) is the right way forward for their business.
John can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01438 777700.