I was asked recently about my “theory of change” in the light of ever-increasing power of corporations that put profits ahead of sustainability of people and the planet. I agree that concentration of corporate power, combined with weakening civic power, is part of what’s driving unsustainable production and consumption. My theory of change is that governments are essential to controlling corporate power and that government is strengthened by civic rather than consumer action. That’s one reason why UPSTREAM [formerly Product Policy Institute] focuses on policy solutions.
What excites me about the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy approach is that it is a way to get governments doing what they do best – regulating and playing referee – and corporations doing what they do best – innovating solutions to problems. I think local governments got off track by getting in the business of picking up after wasteful corporations. That was fine a century ago when there was a local public health hazard, but now the health hazard is more of a global threat from the scale of throughput of energy and materials. It’s hard to be an effective regulator when you’re also a service provider. And it’s doubly problematic when you are short-circuiting feedback to the parties making disposable and toxic products.