“ In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainly shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
—Rio Declaration 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
The precautionary principle is a new paradigm of decision-making. It is based on:
Taking precautionary action before scientific certainty of cause and effect;
Seeking out and evaluating alternatives;
Shifting burdens of proof; and
Developing more democratic and thorough decision-making criteria and methods.
The Principles of Clean Production
Production processes and products designed with little concern for their environmental impacts frequently damage human health and that of our communities, and wreak havoc upon the earth's fragile ecosystems. The resulting environmental degradation is global and all people are affected. But the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on the poor, politically oppressed and people of color.
To end and reverse these impacts requires a commitment to clean production. Achieving clean production requires continuous application of precaution, prevention, democracy, and producer responsibility for impacts caused by production processes and products.
Prevention means reducing the toxicity (detoxification) and material intensity (dematerialization) of products and production processes.
Prevention in production processes is achieved through in-plant changes in processes, materials, and operations management. Implementing prevention techniques requires using less or non-toxic materials, renewable rather than non-renewable materials and reducing energy and water use.
Prevention in products is achieved—across their life cycle—through changes in product design and end-of-life product management. Products designed using a preventative approach:
1. use no persistent, bioaccumulative, carcinogenic, neurotoxic, teratogenic, or developmentally toxic chemicals, or genetically modified organisms
2. are reused, recycled, or composted at the end of their lifecycle
3. are manufactured using the cleanest and safest materials and processes.
Preventative techniques do not shift the risks between environmental media, workers and citizens.
Right to Know
Citizens and workers have the right-to-know and understand the hazards and environmental impacts of materials used in manufacturing processes and contained in products and their packaging.
This requires producers to report the use of all materials (including their hazards), energy, and water used in production to workers, citizens, and governments and to include on products a label that lists materials in production, contained in the products and used in its packaging (including their potential hazards).
Right to Participate in Decisions Affecting Public, Occupation, and Environmental Health
Citizens and workers have a fundamental right to participate in the decisions that affect their health, life and environment. This includes a right to prior informed consent before exposure to potentially dangerous activities or products. Such participation can be achieved through an open meeting process and the preparation of Environmental and Human Health Impact Statements prior to constructing production, recycling and disposal facilities and producing or importing new products.
When an activity or material creates the potential for serious or irreversible harm to the environment or human health, producers must take measures to prevent harm from occurring, avoid the activity or cease using the material. In these cases precaution entails developing and using safer alternatives before a casual link has been established by absolutely clear scientific evidence. To continue an activity in the face of serious harm, producers should be responsible for demonstrating that no safer processes or materials are available to perform the task.
The Responsibility of Producers - Extended Producer Responsibility
Manufacturers should be responsible for the environmental and health impacts caused by their products and production throughout their lifecycles. Extended producer responsibility involves four forms of responsibility: physical responsibility, economic responsibility, product liability, and informative liability.
Physical responsibility means producers are held accountable for a product once a consumer finishes using it. The physical management of a product might entail collecting, processing, composting, treating, or disposing of products.
Economic responsibility means producers must pay for the physical management of a product after a consumer finishes using the product.
Product liability means producers take a responsibility for environmental damages caused by a product during production, use or disposal.
Informative liability means producers must provide information on the materials used to produce and contained in a product and the environmental and human health effects of these materials throughout the product’s life cycle.
Citizen Responsibility for Sustainable Consumption
Citizens, especially affluent citizens have a responsibility to consume in a way that is sustainable. This entails limiting consumption of short-lived, non-essential products; reducing the use of products that consume large amounts of resources or contain or use toxic substances in their production; increasing the use of durable, repairable, and less-toxic products; decreasing reliance on polluting forms of transportation; increasing “sharing” of durable products; and reusing; composting; and recycling products at the end of their useful life.