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Speech by Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
2 October 1996
We have all come to realise the importance of protecting our environment from Agenda 21 and the numerous national and international conferences on sustainable development. Doing it, however, presents a challenge to us all.
The field of product design - or Eco-redesign as we see it here - is one of the most important of the practical applications of sustainable development and perhaps one of the most challenging to implement.
Some of the large, global companies have gone down this path with some success in the last few years. We have seen the advertisements for BMW, Bosch, Xerox and their ilk.
Unfortunately, we have a long way to go before environmental aspects are considered as a matter of course for all companies developing new products.
The Netherlands Government led the way in extending eco-redesign throughout industry with their Prisma program in the early 1990's. Australia's Eco-redesign Program followed rapidly and remains one of the few successful programs of its type in the world.
If you have any doubts as to the importance of Eco-redesign, consider for example how important the refrigerator is for our society. The health benefits for the community of being able to preserve food, the efficiency for food processors and distributors to be able to bulk store and transport are just a few of the advantages. However, refrigerators consume large amounts of energy and their coolants used, until recently,CFC's that destroy the ozone layer. We have managed to find alternatives for the CFC's but refrigerators are still large users of energy and other resources.
Then consider for a moment that most of the world's population doesn't have a refrigerator in the house, but would like to be able to have one - and the health benefits it can bring. Most developing countries are not able to supply enough energy to support this.
This is a simple example of a product we take for granted and the ongoing global need to integrate environmental values into design.
Eco-redesign is a new way of thinking for designers and manufacturers. It won't happen overnight - but it will happen.
It will happen faster in Australia as a result of the stimulus to industry provided by the Eco-redesign Program. The FederalGovernment recognised the opportunities in this area and supported RMIT in developing the capacity to assist Australian industry to consider environmental attributes of product design.
For this to become normal practice, companies must be convinced that it is necessary or desirable, to have access to skills to enable them to implement eco-redesign and be confident that the products are commercially viable.
It is no mean feat for companies to embrace innovative approaches that directly impact on their core business.
Eco-redesign needs a good appreciation of the whole life cycle of the product and of what is possible in design at each stage. This is even before production can begin.
While the Government has supported the Eco-redesign program, the Program has also required significant commitment from the companies to follow through on the design and produce the products that are here today. This Program has been a learning partnership between the government, the experts at RMIT and the companies involved - not a Government handout with no expectations of return.
I can safely tell you at this point that the concept was so new and the commitment required from the companies so great, that the program was not overwhelmed by companies lining up to take part.
So it is with great pleasure that I commend RMIT's Centre for Design and the companies here today for their special vision and their considerable determination to lead Australian industry down the sustainable development path.
The companies involved in the project - Southcorp Whitegoods, Schiavello Commercial Interiors, Imaging Technologies, Blackmores, Email and Caroma have recognised that the challenge of this decade, and decades to come, is to design products that have as little impact on our environment as possible. They have been prepared to take risks to progress in this direction and are to be congratulated on achieving ready-to-market products within the three year timeframe of this program.
It gives me great pleasure to be here today to show Australia the first successes of this program.
The products speak for themselves.
They show that with ingenuity, commitment and know how that much can be achieved in reducing the environmental impacts of products - without losing the quality features and affordability consumers expect.
They show that products can be made using less toxic and less environmentally damaging raw materials.
Production processes can be designed to be cleaner and waste less water, energy and materials.
Products can be designed to use less water, energy and chemicals like detergents during operation.
Finally, products can be designed to easily separate into component parts for efficient recycling at the end of their useful lives.
For example, Southcorp's dishwasher series on display here today has the highest (6 Star) energy rating of an Australian made model. (it uses only 0.8kilo Watts per hour on the fast wash program). This means only 8 to12 cents per wash.
It also has the highest (Triple A) Standards Australia water conservation rating. It uses less than two sink-fulls of water (18 litres) for a full load. (Most people use at least two sinks full when they wash by hand).
Now, if every dishwasher currently in use in Australia was this efficient, we would save 10.5 billion litres of water every year over current usage. This is enough water to fill half a million olympic sized swimming pools or supply the domestic needs of a town of 90,000 people ( average 4 per household and 450 kl/ *)
If every dishwasher currently in use in Australia was this efficient, Australia would reduce its annual output of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, by 700,000 tonnes.
Imaging Technologies' Swap Shop vending machine uses less steel than earlier models and is smart enough to let the owner know when it is time to restack, thus saving transport costs and corresponding air pollution from vehicle exhaust.
Schiavello's office furniture is manufactured using cleaner production techniques from materials that do not contribute to 'sick building syndrome' and can be disassembled and reused instead of going to land fill.
All these products are important but perhaps most important of all will be the information kit containing all of the lessons from this demonstration program. It will be an educational kit so that other companies and designers in the future can avoid the pitfalls that the pioneering companies here today have had to negotiate.
The value of the Eco-redesign Program will not stop with these six products. These, and the lessons learned from their design processes, are the seeds for the future of Australian industry.
This program has been a very valuable one for Australia.
Through the RMIT Centre for Design, Australia now has world leading environmental ecodesign capabilities with the proven capability to assist business deliver marketable products. The information kit and the expert advice now available will help extend eco-redesign to other companies and other products.
Every product that is eco designed helps protect our environment a little more and every company that embraces the concept helps position itself a little more competitively in the global marketplace.
Most of the products from this very successful program are now on the market. The rest will soon be released. In a sense, it is now up to the marketing people to position the products and complete the process with commercial returns.
I look forward to being able to use these products, and others like them, knowing that they have been designed with environmental protection in mind.
On behalf of the Federal Government, I congratulate RMIT and the participating companies and I take great pleasure in launching the EcoRedesign products.