Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2008

Extending Producer Responsibility: An Evaluation Framework for Product Take-Back Policies

by Michael W. Toffel, Antoinette Stein and Katharine Lee

Abstract

Manufacturers are increasingly being required to adhere to product take-back regulations that require them to manage their products at the end of life. Such regulations seek to internalize products' entire life cycle costs into market prices, with the ultimate objective of reducing their environmental burden. This article provides a framework to evaluate the potential for take-back regulations to actually lead to reduced environmental impacts and to stimulate product design changes. It describes trade-offs associated with several major policy decisions, including whether to hold firms physically or financially responsible for the recovery of their products, when to impose recycling fees, whether to include disposal and hazardous substance bans, and whether to mandate product design features to foster reuse and recycling of components and materials. The framework also addresses policy elements that can significantly affect the cost efficiency and occupational safety hazards of end-of-life product recovery operations. The evaluation framework is illustrated with examples drawn from take-back regulations promulgated in Europe, Japan, and the United States governing waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

Keywords: Product; Cost; Corporate Social Responsibility and Impact; Environmental Sustainability;

Citation:

Toffel, Michael W., Antoinette Stein, and Katharine Lee. "Extending Producer Responsibility: An Evaluation Framework for Product Take-Back Policies." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 09-026, July 2008. (September 2008.)