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EU regulation and appliance innovation toward net-zero

Event reports 28 Sep 2023

In the quest for a net-zero future, balancing economic, technological, and environmental considerations is paramount as manufacturers grapple with the complexities inherent in producing eco-friendlier appliances.

Navigating sustainability trade-offs in home appliance manufacturing is a multifaceted challenge. Companies are actively exploring alternative materials, refining designs for longevity, optimising supply chains, and engaging consumers to make strides toward a more sustainable tomorrow. While trade-offs are inevitable, the pursuit of sustainability in home appliance manufacturing is not only an ethical imperative but also presents opportunities for innovation. Products should last longer, use less to give the same performance, be forever repairable, and use more recycled material. These options are viable, and they should all be equally rewarded. For example, choosing recycled or bio-based materials might reduce environmental impact but compromise the efficiency of the appliance. “Sustainability is the result of a trade-off between different parameters and whether the focus is on energy efficiency, durability, repairability or recyclability, it does not take away from the overall sustainability of the product,” explained APPLiA Environment Policy Director Korrina Hegarty at the AMDEA Conference of the Future in London. These trade-offs are intricate but indispensable, marking a pathway for the sector’s contribution to a sustainable and net-zero future. 

The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) is Europe’s flagship initiative to drive sustainable product design. The new legislation, currently being negotiated in the inter-institutional trilogues, also establishes the use of a Digital Product Passport (DPP) that will guarantee the traceability of materials used for the production of goods and ensure full transparency for consumers who will be able to make more informed choices. The proposed tool is intended to contain detailed data about a product’s origin, composition, repair, and end-of-life management. An instrument that represents “an opportunity for consumers in the digital transition, as long as the burden put on companies is proportionate and it is well designed and implemented to ensure data is of added value across the value chain” commented Hegarty. 

Educating consumers on sustainable usage and disposal of appliances is essential for maximising the environmental benefits of eco-friendly designs. Embracing circularity calls for a shift from the traditional ‘take-make-waste’ model to one of reuse, repair, and recycling. Consumers' choices and behaviours can significantly influence the lifecycle of appliances. Citizens' role in driving demand for circular products creates a ripple effect throughout the industry that can foster innovation, guide regulatory change, and cultivate a circular culture that extends beyond the realm of home appliances.

Often in the past, replacement solutions were offered without considering repair first. Here, the EU’s proposed Right to Repair marks a step in the right direction with a clear hierarchy of remedies. In line with the Commission initiative, repair should be promoted whenever economically viable, and consumers incentivised to choose it over replacement by giving them the guarantee that the product would be brought back into conformity in a timely and qualitative manner. Hegarty explained how under the new legislation, manufacturers will be required to provide repair options for consumers once the applying legal guarantee expires. In this sense, “it is important to ensure a future pool of professional repairers in the years to come.” Repair of home appliances often requires technical skills that consumers or non-professional repairers do not have. “The repairer must comply with the applicable standards for electrical equipment, but also have relevant liability insurance in case of redress to ensure that consumer safety is not at stake.” This sparked the idea originated by APPLiA Hungary to kick start a repair educational programme, in partnership with local vocational schools, offering young adults adequate training for household appliance repair. Similar initiatives were also undertaken by other organisations within APPLiA’s network of National Associations. APPLiA Slovakia and APPLiA CZ in cooperation with national high schools launched their very own repair educational programmes to boost the number of aspiring repairers by supporting the education of new service technicians. Similarly, the Polish branch launched an improvement programme for modern home appliance technicians with an eye to building long-lasting cooperation with technical schools while modernising the image of what is historically known to be an old profession.

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