8.3 The IPP, ecological economics and industrial ecology
The IPP is seemingly closely related to both ecological economics and industrial ecology. It is founded on concepts such as working with the market, continuous improvement, an integrated approach to policy making, life-cycle thinking and stakeholder involvement (European Commission 2003a), which are also central to both of those areas. Furthermore, it addresses the issues of closing the material cycles, cooperation and information sharing among stakeholders involved in product chains, pollution and waste prevention, and eco-design, characteristic to industrial ecology. Thus, while starting to work on this book, I thought that the IPP would be the first policy ever to be so close to ecological economics, and to industrial ecology in particular.
Because of its scope (EU and European Economic Area countries) and ambitious objectives (‘to support sustainable development by reducing the negative environmental impacts of products throughout their life-cycle’ (European Commission 2003d: 1)), the IPP can have a large impact on how products are manufactured, consumed and disposed of on a worldwide basis. Its impacts will not finish at the EU borders, as currently products are manufactured and consumed globally and leading policy examples often inspire policy makers in other countries. Thus, had the IPP been based on the theory of ecological economics and industrial ecology, it could also contribute to the spread of ideas which, for about 20 years, have accumulated in these two areas.
However, as the analysis performed within this book demonstrates, the impression that the IPP is so close to ecological economics and industrial ecology is superficial. In fact, the IPP addresses only selected issues dealt with in these areas, while neglecting others. Its attention is focused excessively on product development, which is at the centre of any business activity. Certainly, a focus on products constitutes a relatively new field of environmental protection policies, and, metaphorically speaking, this might have been the ‘missing link’ of sustainable development. Nevertheless, although it requires the characteristics mentioned in the first paragraph of this section, it risks narrowing the scope of (analysis to incremental improvements only and neglecting the wider picture of economy-environment interactions. Even though in its current shape, the IPP can contribute to the development of certain tools used within ecological economics and industrial ecology, such as LCA, this would be a selective and narrow process, related only to those tools that can be used directly for product development.
Regarding products and their environmental impacts, the IPP complements the traditional environmental policy. Relative product improvement is not a sufficient means of dealing with those impacts; indeed, some of the problems that the IPP (faces concern to the quantity and diversity of products (see subsection 2.4.2). Products’ pressure on the environment is not limited to the relative and direct impacts of single products, but also incorporates the aggregated and indirect effects. This indicates the need to shape the whole systems within which products operate which surpasses the competences of the IPP. A close relationship between the IPP and the general environmental policy is necessary, and some of the implications discussed in the following section refer to both of these policies. Indeed, some product-oriented measures should be included in many types of policies apparently irrelevant to products, and vice versa, product policy should sometimes include provisions related to wider issues. Thus, the IPP’s task is to study the products’ environmental impacts thoroughly and indicate to decision makers, companies and consumers the elements of those impacts and ways in which they can be tackled. Thus, the IPP can contribute to system innovations rather than develop them on its own (as suggested by Jackson 1999 and Nuij 2001).
From the analysis in Chapters 3 and 4, it seems that as yet many other issues central to ecological economics and industrial ecology have been neglected in the IPP, such as the systems approach. In its current form (as in European Commission 2003a), the IPP fulfils only less than half of the implications from ecological economics (Table 3.2) and directly addresses only two (out of 13) theoretical principles of industrial ecology (Table 4.1). This list could be significantly extended if the European Commission followed suggestions of the European Parliament (2004), which seems to be more concerned with the stronger theoretical grounding of the IPP in concepts such as ecological economics and industrial ecology. Consequently, if the IPP were to conform to the theoretical background of these two areas, it would have to be revised and the principal implications for such a transformation are presented in the following section.