Sustainable Products Policy: Do all stakeholders agree on what is ‘sustainable’?

For decades, the standard approach to production and consumption has been “ make, use, dispose”. The European Commission considers that current linear pattern does not give producers an incentive to make their products more sustainable. Many products break down too quickly, cannot be easily reused, repaired or recycled, and many are made for single use only. Prices of products do not often reflect their environmental and societal costs, which reduces the incentives to produce and consume more sustainably. Missing or unclear information for consumers on the sustainability of products further contribute to the problem.

As warnings about climate change intensify, some civil society organisations are starting to challenge the sustainability of the linear model of production and consumption. At the same time, the single market provides a critical mass enabling the EU to set global standards in product sustainability and to influence product design and value chain management worldwide.

EU initiatives and legislation already address sustainability aspects of products. The Ecodesign Directive regulates energy efficiency and certain circularity features of energy related products. Instruments such as the EU Ecolabel or the Green Public Procurement are broader in scope but have reduced impact as they are voluntary. In general, there is no comprehensive set of requirements to ensure that all products placed on the EU market become increasingly sustainable and follow the circular pattern.

The European Commission’s new Circular Economy Action Plan, launched under the European Green Deal, aims to transform production and consumption. It announces initiatives for the entire life cycle of products, from design and manufacturing to consumption, repair, reuse, recycling, and bringing resources back into the economy. One of the initiatives is the Sustainable Product Policy Framework, which includes actions on product design, empowering consumers, and encouraging more sustainable production processes.

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Sustainable Products Policy: Do all stakeholders agree on what is 'sustainable'?


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