Making sustainable products the norm is the ultimate goal of the EU’s proposed Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). But what makes a product sustainable? There is no simple answer to this question. The roads to sustainability are many and they should all be equally valued.
As part of the European Union’s ambitions for an environmentally sustainable and circular economy, the Commission has introduced a proposal for the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). The purpose is to set legal requirements to increase the sustainability of products. In addition to focusing on product’s durability, reusability, and repairability, ESPR also establishes requirements on transparency as a key element enabling circularity.
In 2021 alone, the impact of the current Ecodesign measures saved EUR 120 billion in energy expenditure for EU consumers and led to a 10% lower annual energy consumption by the products in scope. This is a clear indication of the good work the industry has been doing in the past 25 years and paves the way for the implementation of a future policy landscape for sustainable products that continues to drive circular appliances. Ecodesign is by no doubt a “success story we must capitalise on to reap the full potential of the great progress made in energy efficiency over the past decades,” said Matjaž Malgaj, European Commission’s Head of Unit for Sustainable Products who addressed in the European Forum for Manufacturing on ESPR, sponsored by APPLiA. The experience of the Directive provides a good precedent towards a new product framework that takes into account individual aspects across the product’s lifecycle.
With over half of EU consumers shopping with sustainability in mind, “it’s clear that people want transparency and fewer energy and resources being used. And this Regulation can allow us to meet this demand while ensuring sustainability criteria of products are transparent,” stated MEP Alessandra Moretti, expressing her support for the proposal, in its potential to establish a sustainable consumption trajectory for Europe.
To shape the next generation of sustainable products, “we must acknowledge that sustainability goes well beyond environmental considerations,” said MEP Pernille Weiss, highlighting the need to square a fair balance with social and economic aspects, with particular attention to the impact on SMEs. The EU Single Market is a key asset for industry and consumers alike which is why it is critical to implement the ESPR in a way that focuses on “keeping markets open and cross-border trade for products flowing.”
The rise of deviating national legislation and mandatory requirements on products risks undermining the entire sustainability efforts as the EU attempts to move towards a more sustainable model. With an increasing number of Member States drawing up rules to make products more sustainable, “solutions must be applied at the European level as part of a broader harmonised approach,” said Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA Director General.
The regulation 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. An instrument that represents “an opportunity for the digital transition and can further strengthen the Single Market through innovation and new circular business models,” commented Malgaj.
In this regard, industry representatives found common agreement on the importance of building on already existing databases such as SCIP and EPREL to avoid unnecessary and burdensome replications. “The burden put on companies must be proportionate, and data must be of added value across the value chain,” explained Falcioni, in a shared plea with other industry panellists. While there are potential benefits of the DPP, such as better transparency in the value chain and easier access to data, the information needs to be correct and trustworthy.
The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), tabled on 30 March 2022, is a key part of the European Commission’s circular economy agenda, which seeks to lower the overall environmental impact of products and halve waste in Europe by 2030.