There is growing scientific evidence that improving the sustainability of consumer products can lead to significant gains in global sustainability. Historically, environmental policy has been managed by bureaucracies and institutions in a mechanistic manner; this had led to many early successes. However, we believe that if policy concerning product sustainability is also managed in this way, negative unintended consequences are likely to occur. Thus, we propose a social-ecological systems approach to policy making concerning product sustainability that will lead to more rapid and meaningful progress toward improving the environmental and social impacts of consumer products. © 2010 by the author(s).