Sustainable Materials Management Push by New EU Presidency

July 09, 2010


The Belgian EU Presidency wants to clean up industrial processes in Europe.  It's doing so by promoting a "cradle-to-cradle" approach to resource management in the manufacturing sector, according to latest reports.  Materials management for sustainability is nothing new.  But the fact that it's drawing high-level attention and support from the co-creators of the landmark chemical-management law ( REACH ) regulation gives new life to the sustainable materials approach.  (See What is REACH?)

History:  Herman Miller is generally credited with introducing the phrase "cradle-to-cradle" into the public mindset -- the phrase indicates, of course, the importance of designing products for greener beginnings and for recycling or re-use after the product's life span.  Here is a nice article about their sustainable design practices from Treehugger.  Herman Miller partners with many companies to enhance CSR and materials management initiatives -- they continue to be industry leaders in this regard and many others (fantastic products, profits, public perception, endurance, etc). 

EurActiv, an excellent source for European environmental news, reports that environmental ministers will debate a study by the Belgian EU Presidency on "sustainable materials management" (SMM) while meeting in Ghent this July 12-13, 2010.  Bear in mind that this current EU Presidency only lasts 6 months (rotating basis).  That said, the EU has been the leader in green chemistry, renewable energy, and recycling policy so far; we can assume that any reasonable cradle-to-cradle initiative -- once in motion -- is unlikely to be overturned, quelled, or squashed by subsequent rotations of governance. 

How does a manufacturing processing and materials policy affect manufacturing in the U.S.?  Immensely.  First of all, manufactures or distributors who produce, source from, or sell to the EU (which is pretty much all businesses!) will need to comply with new sustainable materials management regulation.  Second, the U.S. tends to follow Europe in environmental regulation for industry, so what the EU does is inevitably on its way elsewhere, including here in America.  REACH is one example, see also WEEE and RoHS directives.  And material disclosure directives and material disclosure solutions loom large in the U.S. with EPA honing related current and pending TSCA legislation.

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