The Sustainability Consortium is a group of representatives from academia, industry, government and non-governmental organizations, collectively working toward the goal of consumer products sustainability. It was formed in the summer of 2009 with a grant from Wal-Mart Stores. Since that time it has added 60 members, says Dooley. Companies represented include Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel, Toshiba, Wal-Mart, Safeway Stores and Best Buy. Government entities include the U.S. Environmental Agency and its equivalent in the United Kingdom.
The group's mission is "to drive innovation across all elements of sustainability," says Dooley. It seeks to consider environmental and social impacts across the entire product lifecycle, from raw-materials extraction to use and disposal. In the process, it could lead to industry-wide standards for sustainability measurements and communication between manufacturers and retailers. Currently there are a number of disparate formats for achieving that goal. "We think this is going to bring economy of scale to sustainability reporting," he says.
For the moment, the group is "bootstrapping" from the best existing methods. Work done by the standards association known as IEEE provides a good starting point, according to Dooley. It can deal with everything from water usage to the way in which a company interacts with workers and the community.
Initial efforts to generate standards will be focused on particular product categories. For electronics manufacturers, that might mean a unified method for reporting on sustainability related to personal computers. In the area of home and personal care products, shampoo, detergent and cleaning fluids are good candidates for standardization, according to Dooley. "What matters most may change," he adds, "but all will be reported through a common IT system. Retailers and manufacturers will be able to draw from that database."
The standards will be available to all companies, regardless of whether they are members of the consortium. "We hope and expect that industry-specific groups will pick up the research that we've done, and embed that within their own standards," Dooley says.
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