On 30 March 2022, the European Commission published an ambitious package under the slogan “Making Sustainable Products the Norm”.
Previously, the Commission’s European Ecodesign Directive proved to be successful, with €120 billion saved in energy expenditure for EU consumers in 2021 alone (European Commission). Building on this success, the Commission launched a proposal for a revised and much broader Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR).
The ESPR creates a new legislative framework allowing the Commission to set minimal requirements for market access related to ecodesign performance and information of products. Those product specific ecodesign requirements will be developed per product category once the ESPR legal proposal is finally adopted and published in the Official Journal. Adoption is expected near the end of 2023 or the first half of 2024 (before the next European elections).
In this overview, we explain what ecodesign means in the context of the existing EU product policy landscape. We also discuss why ESPR will be a game changer in sustainability and what that means for your company.
What does ecodesign mean?
Ecodesign is about improving the environmental sustainability of products towards increased circularity and sustainability over the whole life cycle of the product. At the same time, it improves Europe’s material and resources resilience and independence.
The ecodesign performance requirements will relate to:
- product durability, reusability, upgradability, and reparability,
- the presence of substances of concern in productsthat hinder circularity,
- product energy and resource efficiency,
- recycled content in products,
- product remanufacturing and recycling.
Through a Digital Product Passport, the Commission will also implement mandatory ecodesign information requirements, such as:
- carbon or environmental footprints,
- information to track and trace the presence of substances of concern,
- information substantiating green claims related to, e.g., the mandatory recycled content.
Once the ESPR will enter into force, it will prioritise tackling product category according to an approved working plan.
|Until 12 May 2023, the Commission is holding a public consultation to get feedback on the first proposal for prioritisation, developed by the Joint Research Center (JRC).|
The proposal includes 12 end-use and 7 intermediary products:
1. End-use products: Textiles and Footwear, Furniture, Ceramic Products, Tyres, Detergents, Bed Mattresses, Lubricants, Paints and Varnishes, Cosmetic Products, Toys, Fishing Nets and Gears, Absorbent Hygiene Products.
2. Intermediary products: Iron and Steel, Non-Ferrous Metals, Aluminium, Chemicals, Plastic and Polymers, Paper, Pulp Paper and Boards, Glass.
The proposal also suggests developing some horizontal measures (across product types) on the topics of Durability, Recyclability, and Post-Consumer Recycled Content.
Once started, it would take up to two years for the European Commission to draft a delegated act with the ecodesign performance and information requirements. During the elaboration, they would consult and involve relevant stakeholders per product category.
Once the delegated acts enter into force, the ecodesign requirements would progressively apply, likely with a transition period, as such progressively banning the least sustainable products from EU market access.
Some background information about the existing EU product policy landscape
With more than 440 million potential consumers, the European Single Market is one of the biggest markets and trade blocks worldwide. Its rules and regulations govern all 27 EU Member Countries, together forming the “single market”.
From early on, the EU has been setting high standards on labour and environmental protection for products entering the EU market. As such, non-EU countries importing goods to be sold in the EU single market also must respect those rules and standards. This allows the influence of EU product policy and regulations to reach further than only the EU territory.
Over the years, more than 70 different product legislations (directives or regulations) have been adopted. Some are product specific, for instance the Toy Safety Directive, while others are more transversal or thematic, such as REACH, which sets rules for putting chemicals or chemicals mixtures in the EU market and includes bans or restrictions for the use of certain chemicals in various consumer goods such as textiles.
National authorities enforce the European products legislations. In June 2019, a Market Surveillance Regulation was adopted to modernise and increase the effectiveness of Market Surveillance by Member States.
Why is ESPR a game changer?
Like how the Green Deal raises the ambition level on sustainability across EU policy making, the ESPR would have a comparable game changing effect for products:
- It creates a new legal framework and basis from which the European Commission will be able to propose Delegated Acts for approval per product category with a large degree of autonomy.
- Linked to the green claims initiative and building upon the work of the Products Environmental Footprint (PEF), it would, over the coming years, mainstream methodological approaches on what is a (more) sustainable product. The ESPR would thus be a global trendsetter on operationalising the concept of sustainable products. One concrete example is the Battery Regulation, with the EU setting its own formalised method for carbon footprint.
- By progressively raising the bar on minimal ecodesign requirements for EU market access, the ESPR, associated delegated acts per product category, and related product legislation such as the Battery Regulation or the Construction Product Regulation, will drive product and services in the EU single market towards increased sustainability and circularity. Over the coming years, they would thus progressively make “Sustainable Products the Norm in the EU”.
Why is this important for your company?
Changing times require changed or adapted business strategies. Having a “fit for future” business strategy that integrates a company’s sustainability strategy is very much recommended. It allows organisations to better anticipate European regulatory and other trends, and better prepare for them by organising themselves upfront in a strategic and operational manner. As such, companies will be able to continue to dialogue and respond to questions coming from stakeholders in a credible manner, also during the transition period. Finally, it would make companies more resilient, i.e., able to better withstand (abrupt) changes.
As is the case for business strategies, your company ideally starts reflecting on its product and services portfolio in a proactive and strategic manner.
- Is our products and services portfolio specialised or broad?
- Do we mainly operate in a B2B or B2C context?
- What type of end applications and solutions do our products and services provide?
Answering those questions, and screening the products and services portfolio on a selected set of criteria, will allow companies to get a clearer view on:
- which sustainability topics are most relevant (or material) according to the type of markets or applications.
- which products or services need to be prioritised for further sustainability scrutiny or action.
Depending on how your company wants to position itself in the changing markets, you can then reflect on the targets and actions you want to undertake to improve your product portfolio. The ecodesign regulation and delegated acts will set minimal requirements to be met for EU market access. Your company can choose to go for certifications (e.g., the Cradle to Cradle Certified certification) to position itself in the market with better performing products.
By gathering these insights and intelligence, your company can anticipate market, stakeholder, and customer evolutions, and build a more resilient and future fit products and service portfolio.
With the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation, the European Commission is creating a new legislative framework with ecodesign performance and information requirements for products. We can expect the ESPR to drive companies to focus on sustainability and circularity in their products and services, making sustainable products the norm in the EU single market.
In the context of this changing EU policy landscape, a strategic and structured screening of your company’s products and services portfolio forms an essential part of your “fit for future” long-term business strategy.
Have any questions? Sustenuto can help you make your product and service portfolio future proof. Find out more about how we shape sustainable products.
 New proposals to make sustainable products the norm (europa.eu)
 Directive 2009/125/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 October 2009 establishing a framework for the setting of ecodesign requirements for energy-related products
 Substances of concern (SoC) are defined in article 2, (28), a), b) and c) of the proposed ESPR. They are a broader set of substances than the Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) as defined by REACH, for which already some communication obligations exist (see for instance the SCIP database).
 Initiative on substantiating green claims – Environment – European Commission (europa.eu). The legal proposal on green claims is expected by March 2023.
 New product priorities for Ecodesign for Sustainable Products (europa.eu)
 30th anniversary of the EU single market – Consilium (europa.eu)
 Directive 2009/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2009 on the safety of toys. Text with EEA relevance (europa.eu)
 REGULATION (EC) No 1907/2006 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC
 REGULATION (EU) 2019/1020 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 June 2019 on market surveillance and compliance of products and amending Directive 2004/42/EC and Regulations (EC) No 765/2008 and (EU) No 305/2011