The Integrated Product Policy (IPP) of the European Commission is aimed at minimizing the negative impacts of business on the environment. IPP complements traditional legislative approach by considering the entire product life cycle, taking action where it is most effective and maintaining the competitiveness of products. This calls for careful analysis of different product life cycles and deep commitment from the involved stakeholder groups.
The EC selected Nokia to run a pilot project for the product group of mobile phones to demonstrate how the new approach would work in practice. The pilot is currently in its last stage of implementing the new environmental initiatives that have been set. The final report will be published soon, and it is now up to the participants to make use of the findings before providing follow-up for next year.
In practice, implementation occurs within the five task forces that were set up in the pilot: communicating environmental information to stakeholders, reducing energy consumption in use phase, reducing or eliminating materials of concern, improving the take-back scheme, and developing and standardizing environmental assessment methods. One example of Nokia’s actions is a reminder that consumers will soon see on their mobile screens, reminding them to unplug the charger when not in use.
IPP has proved to be an excellent way for discussing environmental matters and reaching mutual understanding on solutions to these issues. Stakeholders have learnt to comprehend one another, and accepted that issue ownership should be taken by those members of the supply chain who are directly responsible. One of the key findings of the pilot has actually been that a multi-stakeholder consultation process is very constructive, providing win-win partnerships between the participants while resulting in best outcomes for the environment. All in all, IPP has been found to be an efficient, effective, and quick way to drive environmental improvements.
According to project coordinators, Pranshu Singhal and Olli-Pekka Mäkirintala, the initiative has been worth the substantial effort. "IPP has been a very good initiative, helping us and our stakeholders in identifying and understanding the environmental problems associated with mobile phones, finding feasible improvement possibilities, and sharing ownership", says Singhal. He adds that the objectives have been simply to identify the problems, to communicate and discuss them, to consider and evaluate several improvement possibilities, and then implement the best solutions. The consensus for best solutions was reached after several rounds of discussions and analysis.
The advantages of the IPP pilot to Nokia are many. First of all, the pilot has given Nokia an opportunity to openly identify, discuss and communicate the environmental issues of mobile phones. Secondly it helped to strengthen its relationships with the stakeholders including the European Commission, and to understand how the process of policy making works in practice. The Commission now understands the mobile phone industry better as well. Through this cooperation Nokia has also been able to contribute to the process of making better regulations, demonstrating what kind of tools are workable for this industry and avoiding directives that do not add environmental value in the context of mobile phones.
Last but not the least IPP has provided a good forum to Nokia to demonstrate its stong environmental commitment and work. This is true within the EC, as well as on a wider scale. Nokia has been able to demonstrate what it has already achieved in the environmental field, and the Commission will bring up Nokia’s name in the context of IPP, strengthening its image as a responsible company.
According to Singhal and Mäkirintala, the real challenge with the initiative is carrying out the implementation stage successfully, as it requires a great deal of resources, including excellent management and continuous monitoring. Due to the resource intensiveness, the trouble at times has been that some stakeholders have not been as committed to the project as Nokia. As a result, Singhal proposes incentives to be given to the stakeholders running successful IPP projects in the future.
The IPP pilot experiences and recommendations will also be used as one input for the revision of two EC directives - Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) - as well as the reconsideration of an eco-labelling scheme. Both Singhal and Mäkirintala give a high level recommendation for using the IPP concept prior to legislative decisions in the future. "IPP kind of approach should definitely be used for future law making. The approach is product-oriented and enables the use of various tools. Stakeholders have acknowledged that the same requirements do not always work for completely different products, and that voluntary agreements may at times work better than compulsory laws", says Mäkirintala.
According to Singhal, IPP is the best way to put life cycle thinking into practice. The questions remaining are how to ensure compliance, and what kind of incentives to provide for companies to motivate them to get involved in this approach. "IPP, if correctly implemented, is a remarkable improvement in legislative decision making, offering better possibilities for environmental protection than the traditional approach. It is a whole new concept that requires a new way of thinking as well. However, traditional laws are required in cases where IPP does not suit the purpose", says Mäkirintala.
Nokia will continue its work with the initiative, meeting the action plans and providing monitoring reports as required. The future will start to clear up as the initiative advances. IPP and life cycle thinking in general have a huge role to play if we want to truly have a positive effect on the environment.