The Australasian EPD Programme

PROFILE: Stephen Mitchell

Stephen Mitchell Chairs the Board of the Australasian EPD Programme. A leading sustainability professional, Stephen specialises in due diligence for illegally logged wood, timber resource recovery and environmental certification.

We spoke to him about his involvement with sustainability and EPDs and his forecasts for the future.

How did you first become involved in sustainability?

I have always been involved in the environment. I was a keen bushwalker and went to New Zealand for a few months after leaving school to do some travelling and tramping.

I have a background in solid waste and recycling with community organisations and local government and that led to a role in NSW government. After that I joined a timber industry association to develop a product stewardship approach for timber waste and that led me into all sorts of interesting areas of sustainability.

When and why did you become involved with the Australasian EPD Programme?

When I was with the Timber Association I was the “timber guy” on a project for the Building Product Innovation Council to collect life cycle inventory data for all building materials – including concrete, steel, plasterboard and timber.

I came on board as a Director of EPD Australasia in 2015 after using the LCI data to complete five EPDs for the Australian timber industry together with thinkstep.

Barbara Nebel from thinkstep asked me if I was interested in a few meetings a year, little did I realise the commitment I was making! As with any start-up, there is a lot of ground work to do and limited resources.

However, the previous chair Malcolm Garnham, my fellow Directors and our fantastic Programme Manager Kelly Taylor are terrific. We are all really committed to setting up this infrastructure to help business in Australia and New Zealand be transparent and provide credible verified data about the environmental impacts of their product and services.

Your company SMA Associates does a lot of due diligence work in the timber industry.  Can you explain your work in this area?

In my day-to-day work I mainly work with timber and furniture importers to undertake due diligence on their imports to minimise the risk that they are made from illegally logged wood. It is mandatory now for Australian importers to comply with the Australian Illegal Logging Prohibition Regulations. Many furniture companies don’t have much of an idea where the timber in their product comes from, or what that means in terms of risk of illegal logging, so I provide some much-needed assistance in this space.

You are also part of the Circulate NSW project that is working with business to develop commercial applications for the reuse and recycling of waste items.  Can you tell us about this project and your role?

Just after I started my own consultancy, I was part of the NSW EPA Industrial Ecology Program, working with NSW businesses to divert wood waste from landfill into a range of products such as particleboard, poultry bedding and renewable energy generation. That was very successful, and we diverted over 7,000 tonnes of wood waste. These days I help individual clients develop markets for recycling and reuse of more problematic wood wastes and help get them through the tough NSW EPA approval process.

What do you predict will be the future of LCA and EPDs in this region?

I get a kick out of talking with the companies with EPDs registered with the programme and how and why they have used LCA and EPDs.

In an age of “radical transparency” EPDs are, and will continue to be, increasingly vital in a number of key areas.

  • At a company level LCA and EPD is an essential tool for businesses to identify their production supply chain exposure to climate and other emissions.
  • EPDs provide verified information that helps correct, often erroneous, assumptions about production and supply chains.
  • Companies with Environmental Management Systems certified to ISO 14001 must demonstrate life cycle thinking – EPDs enable this.
  • While currently voluntary, the rigorous nature of the process lends itself to embedding LCA and EPD into government regulation.

It is vital for our survival as a species on this planet that fossil carbon emissions are reduced. Despite paltry efforts to address this by policy and regulation I have faith that we can do this – but people need the information, tools and infrastructure to make it happen.

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