Sustainable Products and the EU: the Green Deal, Ecodesign and the Circular Economy Action Plan Explain

By Charlotte van Vessem

The European Green Deal is perhaps one of the European Union’s most famous policy initiatives. However, as it is involved with many different branches of EU policy, its exact contents can be difficult to grasp. This article seeks to clarify one specific branch of the European Green Deal, namely that of sustainable production in the form of ecodesign and circular economy.

The Ecodesign Directive

As part of the European Union’s sustainability policies, the Union adopted the Ecodesign Directive in 2005, which was a set of policies and regulations concerning the ecological product requirements for all energy-driven products sold in the EU, such as TV’s, fridges, and other electronic devices. In 2009, the Ecodesign’s scope was widened to include more products related to energy use, such as windows, isolation materials and water-powered products.

As electricity and electronic-related products make up about three quarters of EU greenhouse gas emissions, the EU has sought to find ways to decrease the ecological damage ensuing from these products, most importantly regarding the energy use connected to their production. As such, the biggest focus of the Ecodesign Directive is on the manufacturers: most of the policies are aimed at reducing energy consumption and decreasing negative environmental impacts (such as water use and pollution) in the processes of design and creation of products. Another important area for the Ecodesign policies is reducing waste and promoting recycling.

When looking at consumer-oriented policies, a good example of what the Ecodesign Directive is responsible for is the EU Energy label, which is an eco-label that scales products such as laundry machines or freezers on a scale from A (best) to G (worst).

Sustainable Product Initiative and the Ecodesign Regulation 

In line with the EU’s launching of a new set of sustainability policies, the Ecodesign Directive is about to be replaced by a new set of policies called the Ecodesign Regulation. The new Regulation was supposed to be launched for the first time at the end of March 2022 as part of the EU’s Sustainable Product Initiative, but a draft has leaked. At first glance, the new sustainability regulations of the Ecodesign Regulation seem to have a much wider scope than its predecessor: among the new changes might be an EU-wide ‘digital passport’ for electronic products, for example.

The Ecodesign Regulation significantly expands the scope of the Ecodesign Directive in two ways. Firstly, it extends the scope to a wider range of products. Secondly, it entails a much broader set of requirements relating to products’ repairability, reusability, durability and recyclability. It also refers to the presence of potentially dangerous chemicals, energy and resource efficiency, and the products’ environmental footprint. With the new Regulation, it should become easier for consumers to get information on their products’ production process, durability and ways to repair or replace it. As such, the EU seems to not only drastically increase the scope, but also the aim of the directive, going from a focus on energy reduction at the production stage to a focus on all stages of the products’ life cycle.

Circular Economy Action Plan

The enhanced regulations are aimed at improving the European circular economy: an important goal for the European Green Deal. For the EU, a circular economy is a model of production and consumption that is focused on extending the lifetime of products and materials for as long as possible through, for example, recycling, repairing and the sharing and leasing of products. This would thus effectively result in a decrease in single-use products. In 2020, the EU implemented the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), which is the main plan to implement the EU’s circular economy proposals. The CEAP, similarly to the Ecodesign Regulation, has a wide scope ranging from the textile industry and fast fashion to batteries and food waste. However, as the CEAP is still quite new, most policies are still in the drafting stage and are yet to be finalized and implemented.

Conclusion

The EU is taking steps to reduce its energy consumption in the production process and waste by focusing on a circular economy model (the CEAP). The EU’s policies focus on lowering consumption, decreasing single-use products and the carbon footprint of product design and use. The Ecodesign Directive and the Ecodesign Regulation have been created to help realize this ambition in two ways: by focusing on sustainable production processes on the one hand and informing consumers about sustainable products and recycling options on the other, helping them to make more sustainable choices. While the new Ecodesign Regulation has not been finalized yet, it seems that it will raise the standards for manufacturers to produce more sustainable products, and constitute a move away from consumerism towards a societal model wherein reusing and sharing are central.

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