Public policy on the sustainability of consumer goods
Submitting InstitutionNottingham Trent University
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Other Philosophy and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
Research on sustainability in this unit is helping to extend the lifetime
of clothing and other consumer products (durables/ semi-durables) by
informing government policy and influencing manufacturers to reduce waste
and over-consumption. Our findings on key policy instruments have fed into
new government guidelines, prepared in the context of EU legislation, on
the potential to reduce waste by increasing product lifetimes. Our
clothing sector research has been disseminated to policymakers and
industry stakeholders through studies on public understanding of
sustainable clothing, clothing behaviour and designing clothes for
longevity. Together they have culminated in a Government-funded initiative
to create an industry-supported Clothing Longevity Protocol.
Insights from the research programme are providing an evidence base to
assess policy options for increasing product lifetimes, structured around
an instruments-based model (i.e. regulatory, market based, voluntary) and
drawing upon previous product longevity studies relating to economic
policy, consumer behaviour and product design. The insights have been
applied to the clothing sector, in particular, in the context of public
policy goals relating to reduced carbon emissions.
Sustainability — Research into sustainable design and production
has flourished at NTU since the 1990s (Sect 3, vi). Initial
scholarship and pedagogic research was driven primarily by a commitment to
high quality postgraduate and undergraduate teaching and expertise in
sustainable design grew as the concept became established in the 1990s.
From around 2000 it was applied to projects in sectors such as lighting
and furniture and areas such as human-powered products, led by Prof
Daizhong Su (1992 to date) and Paul Johnson (1992 to date). Staff also
explored sustainable design in the developing world and in the context of
open design and community-based models. Initial research on product life
extension related to waste from products (specifically, packaging), led by
Professor Tom Fisher (2007 to date, Sect 3, ii, iii), but this
later broadened to consumer durables, led by Professor Tim Cooper (2010 to
date, Sect 3, i). Clothing sector — Research has primarily
been applied in the clothing sector, with technical knowledge and
understanding rooted in research since the early 1990s on clothing
technology, textile science and, latterly, fashion design, led by
Professors George Roberts (1972-2001), Winifred Aldrich (1991-2001) and
David Elson (1966-2000) and by Dr Katherine Townsend (2000 to date, Sect
3, iv, vi). Knowledge of commercial aspects of sustainability came
from industrial expertise, led by NTU's Institute for Sustainable
Development in Business (from 1997) and more recently its CSR /
Sustainability Research and Teaching Group. Expertise is also enhanced
through the University's SME service, Future Factory (launched in 2009),
and business incubator the Hive, in which design staff work on
sustainability-related projects in partnership with local companies.
The context for research on product longevity is the need to address
over-consumption in industrialised countries which emerged on the agenda
of the 1992 Earth Summit. This led policymakers to pay greater attention
to the environmental impact of consumer products which, in turn,
stimulated discussion on product lifetimes in the context of sustainable
design and waste reduction. In the mid-1990s Eternally Yours, a Dutch
organisation, brought together researchers and practitioners with an
interest in product longevity. In 2004 Tim Cooper received an EPSRC grant
to establish the Network on Product Life Spans, which continued the
debate. Cooper's early, exploratory research culminated in Beyond
Recycling, a 1994 report that received national media attention, and
he has subsequently undertaken both qualitative and quantitative research,
focussing on electrical goods and clothing and including studies on
theories on obsolescence, consumer attitudes and economic implications of
increased product lifetimes.
References to the research
The following outputs have been reviewed by two external senior
academics. (Names of reviewers can be provided for the panel on request).
vi. Winifred Aldrich, Brian Smith and Feng Dong (1996) Obtaining
repeatability of natural extended upper body positions: Its use in
comparisons of the functional comfort of garments Journal of Fashion
Marketing and Management, Vol. 2, Iss: 4, pp.329-351. DOI 10.1108/eb022538
Key research grants
RCUK, 2013-18, £1,018,000, UK INDEMAND Research Centre. (Cooper)
WRAP, 2012-13, £81,400, Clothing Longevity Protocol. (Cooper)
European Commission, 2012-14, £137,170, Market deployment of eco-lighting
Defra, 2012-13, £7,000, The potential role of collaborative consumption
tools and practices in helping people increase the useful life of
European Union FP7, 2012-15, £366,667, A consumer-oriented prototype
forming the nucleus of a novel Ecological Accounting System. (Su)
WRAP, 2012, £35,000, Guidance on design for longevity of clothing.
EMDA, 2011-12, £15,594, Development of a novel eco-lighting product. (Su)
ERDF, 2009-12, £21,948, Future Factory sub-contracts. (Johnson, Cooper,
WRAP, 2011, £7,000, Understanding opportunities to increase reuse and
WRAP, 2011, £8,800, Clothing behaviour. (Cooper)
Defra, 2007-08, £60,000, Public understanding of sustainable clothing.
Details of the impact
The impact of NTU's research on public policy on the sustainability of
consumer goods and the factors that influence product lifetimes is
evidenced by references in policy debate. It is beginning to shape the
next generation of manufactured goods, bringing more benefits to consumers
and to the environment.
Primary beneficiaries include Defra and WRAP (Waste and Resources Action
Programme), who in developing government policy have commissioned
studies citing our research (WRAP, 2009, 2010; ERM 2011). Our findings
have been applied to the clothing sector in particular, disseminated to
policymakers and industry stakeholders through various studies (e.g.
Fisher et al., 2008; WRAP, 2012). Our research has shaped policy documents
such as the Government Review of Waste Policy in England (Defra,
2011a) and the strategic direction of publicly funded bodies such as WRAP
(see research grants).
Public policy has only recently begun to address product lifetimes and
academic research was necessary to establish the rationale and
credibility. After the UK Government became aware that the EU Waste
Framework Directive required member states to produce waste reduction
plans, Defra commissioned an independent research study on the
potential for increasing product longevity. The subsequent report (ERM,
2011:13) cited Cooper as "a leading academic working in this field",
and an associated study on consumer behaviour (Defra, 2011b: 2) noted: "While
the review included 60 sources that touch on product lifetimes in some
way, only a few provide comprehensive explorations of consumer attitudes
and behaviour. The most useful evidence comes from work by Professor Tim
Cooper and colleagues (on appliances and electronics) and by Fisher et
al. (on clothing, for Defra)." Previously the House of Lords Science
and Technology Committee (2008) had invited Cooper to present oral
evidence at its enquiry into Waste Reduction (prior to his current
NTU appointment); this was reflected in the report's recommendations.
WRAP has recently begun to address product lifetimes of electrical
goods and clothing and has commissioned research from Cooper,
Fisher, Townsend and colleagues at NTU. This work builds on a report on
resource efficiency and climate change which utilised data from Cooper and
affirmed his theoretical assertions that efficiency may not lead to
sustainable consumption because of the rebound effect and that relative
obsolescence was of greater significance than technical failure (WRAP,
2009). Cooper's research findings have also been utilised by NGOs in
developing policy (Friends of the Earth, 2012).
NTU's research has had a particular impact on government policy relating
to clothing, which was chosen by Defra in 2007 as one of ten products for
which `sustainable road maps' were to be created. Our study for Defra
(Fisher et al., 2008) was cited in the Sustainable Clothing Action
Plan progress report (Defra, 2011c: 7) as having informed industry
stakeholders. Staff subsequently undertook several projects on clothing
for WRAP working with companies such as Superdry, Monsoon and Primark who
sit on its Design Working Group. The Evidence Base report for Valuing
our Clothes (WRAP, 2012) acknowledged Cooper as specialist
consultant and staff also worked on projects on design and on a Longevity
Protocol to support industry efforts to increase clothing lifetimes.
This latter work is too recent for changes in production or sales to be
measured, but industry engagement provides evidence of the practical
impact of earlier research.
The reach of the underpinning research is evidenced by invitations (i) to
participate on United Nations, European Commission and UK Government
expert panels and to attend associated workshops, (ii) to write chapters
for two Council of Europe reports and The Handbook of Sustainable
Design, and entries for the Encyclopaedia of Consumer Culture,
and (iii) to make keynote presentations at events led by bodies such as
the Design Research Society, International Solid Waste Association and the
Chartered Institution of Wastes Management.
The significance of the research is that it has provided a systematic
mapping of potential government measures to influence the life-span of
consumer goods and thereby improved awareness and understanding of
government bodies, industry and other organisations. This policy
field, largely neglected for the past 30 years, has latterly gained
importance in the context of a UN agreement by governments to develop
policies on sustainable consumption and production and EU policy on waste
Sources to corroborate the impact
Defra (2011a) Government Review of Waste Policy in England
(see testimonials for corroboration)
Defra (2011b) Public Understanding of Product Lifetimes, report
by Brook Lyndhurst for Defra.
Defra (2011c) Sustainable Clothing Roadmap Progress Report.
ERM (2011) Longer Product Lifetimes, report for Defra.
(pp 13, 22, 36)
Friends of the Earth (2012) Mining for Smartphones: the true cost of
(pp 24, 25, 27)
House of Lords Science and Technology Committee (2008) Waste
Reduction, Session 2007-08.
Volume I (pp 22, 53, 58, 60), Volume II Evidence (Oral pp
40-50; Written pp 38-40, 51-52; Other pp 223, 237).
WRAP (2009) Meeting the UK climate change challenge: The contribution
of resource efficiency.
(pp. 33, 36-38, 41).
WRAP (2010) Securing the Future of Resource Efficiency.
WRAP (2012) Valuing our Clothing: the Evidence Base
Individual users / beneficiaries' corroborating statements:
1/ Team Leader: Sustainable Products and Supply Chains, Defra
"Certainly when we were doing the research project (a study on product
lifetimes) his evidence from his work fed into that...Tim's one of the
first people on the list as soon as you started to look at people doing
work on product lifetimes...it contributed to evidence for our policy...
"We need to have a Waste Prevention Programme and there are decisions
about what the review policy should say... the work on product lifetimes
has influenced those things and Tim's work has influenced the work on
2/ President, International Solid Waste Association
"The work that he has been doing on lifetime cycles of domestic
products and other items has actually been incredibly useful in the
context of the work that the International Solid Waste Association has
"Very definitely his influence has been felt with regard to discussions
that have taken place in associations and advisory groups with regards
to where we as the UK should be going... If you look at the Chartered
Institution of Wastes Management and the special interest group on waste
prevention...his work has been mentioned on numerous occasions in the
3/ Head of Programme Resource Efficiency in Products and Services, WRAP
"Tim has had a significant impact on our understanding on what
opportunities there are to reduce the environmental footprints of
clothing and in turn, through the work we have published, it has
influenced other people in the sector in terms of their understanding...
He did a very good job in converting our objectives into operational
questions and so the consequences of that is that that work fed into a
major publication, Valuing Our Clothes ...Tim's played an important role
in making sure we asked the right questions and got the right
evidence... the evidence has helped to catalyse action within the
"(The) Sustainable Clothing Action Plan brings all the major players
together, and... the work that Tim's been involved in, the durability
work, is primarily through the working group on product design. In terms
of (the) Government's policy approach to the impact of clothing, it is
all determined through the Sustainable Clothing Action Plan. So, in
terms of policy delivery for the clothing sector, this is the major
channel, this is the focus, this is where the knowledge lies, this is
where Government looks for the evidence of what to do, so in that sense,
in terms of Tim's work feeding through this, yes, it does influence
"I was looking just this morning at a draft from Defra around their
development of the Waste Prevention Plan...Tim's work is directing a key
strand within that; yes, it is informing policy."
4/ Director, RGR Ltd
"(We were) commissioned to deliver a future trends report in waste and
resources management...We set to it by arranging some small
symposia...with a series of presentations and reactions and Tim
contributed to a couple of those, both as a presenter and as a
participant...Tim would always be on our list of folks to have round the
table for things like that...because of his expertise in product life
extension and his ability also to look ahead at potential consumption
trends and... the conceptual model."