Benefits of the new eco-design directive
Eco-design is the philosophy of designing physical objects and services to comply with the principles of economic, social and ecological sustainability. The intention of eco-design, or sustainable design, is to eliminate negative environmental impact. This is done through design, such as labeling, which raises consumer awareness on real energy use.
The production, distribution, use and end-of-life management of energy-using products (EuPs) is associated with important environmental impacts. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase of a product so eco-design aims to consider environmental aspects at an early stage in the product design.
On November 20 last year, a new directive entered into force to alter the design of 'energy-related' products in order to make them more environmentally-friendly.
Coherent EU-wide rules for eco-design will ensure disparities among national regulations do not become obstacles to intra-EU trade. The directive does not introduce directly binding requirements for specific products, but defines conditions and criteria for setting requirements regarding environmentally-relevant product characteristics, such as energy consumption, and allows them to be improved quickly and efficiently.
The current eco-design rules deal only with energy saving products, such as washing machines, freezers or hair-dryers. The new directive also covers products that can be designed to save energy such as shower heads and other bathroom fittings, insulation materials and double-glazing. The actual products to which it will apply will be specified in the European Commission's future implementing measures.
The new directive will improve the resource and energy efficiency of a much wider range of products and reduce demand on natural resources, contributing to the security of energy supply and to the achievement of greenhouse gas emission targets in the EU. This will also result in economic savings for businesses and consumers.
Businesses whose products may, in the future, fall within the scope of an implementing measure must note that such products should not only comply with those measures, but also bear the CE (European conformity) mark. In this regard, a declaration of conformity with the measures must be issued by the manufacturer or authorised representative in the EU.
Before placing a product on the EU market, a manufacturer or authorised representative must also carry out a conformity assessment procedure in order to ensure the product's conformity. Once CE marked, a product can be placed anywhere on the EU market.
In accordance with future implementing measures for various products, the manufacturer will be obliged to provide information to consumers on the ecological profile of a product describing the materials, emissions and waste throughout the product's lifecycle. Documents outlining the benefits of eco-design and the role that consumers can play in the sustainable use of the product will also be incorporated.
Importers' responsibilities are also addressed. The new directive states that, where a manufacturer is not established on the EU market and in the absence of an authorised representative, the importer will be obliged to ensure the product placed on the market complies with all the requirements applicable to it, and keep and make available the EC declaration of conformity and relevant technical documentation.
The new directive requires that, by no later than October 21 next year, the Commission establishes a working plan setting out for the next three years an indicative list of product groups which are to be prioritised for the adoption of implementing measures.
EU member states have until November 20 to implement the provisions of the eco-design directive. The provisions will not apply directly to businesses, but will have to be taken into account in the context of future implementing measures or voluntary agreements.
This will have a bearing on consumers. As societies become more conscientious, information relating to products' environmental impact will have a bearing on sales. In the long term, it will be the environment that stands to gain.
Dr Jotham Scerri-Diacono lectures on environmental law at the Institute of Legal Studies. For more information email cborg@jmgan ado.com.