Eco-design requirements for energy-using products (EuP)

The EU's Eco-design Directive seeks to make the design of energy-using products such as hairdryers, computers, fridges or office equipment more environmentally friendly. In future, energy performance requirements can also be imposed on products which have an indirect impact on energy consumption during use, such as window frames and water taps.

The production, distribution, use and end-of-life management of products is associated with impacts on the environment (consumption of natural resources and energy responsible for global warming, waste and release of hazardous substances). More than 80% of this is determined at the design stage.

In order to reduce the environmental burden in the product design phase, the European Commission proposed a framework directive on setting eco-design requirements for energy-using products (EuP), which was adopted in 2005. The directive allows for the definition of eco-design specifications on a product-specific basis.

In 2008, the Commission proposed to extend the directive to cover energy-related products, such as windows, doors, insulation materials, which do not directly consume energy but have a significant impact on its consumption. The recast directive was adopted in 2009. 

Under the Eco-Design Directive, the European Commission sets energy efficiency standards on a product-by-product basis according to priorities. These implementation measures define energy performance for each product and its related labelling, which enables consumers to make informed choices.

The directive is a tool under the Commission's Integrated Product Policy, which seeks to minimise products' adverse environmental impacts throughout their full life-cycle (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Integrated Product Policy [IPP]').

The directive itself does not include any binding requirements on specific products but defines criteria for setting environmental requirements, such as energy and water consumption or waste generation.

Importantly, however, the Eco-design Directive continues to give priority to self-imposed measures by industry over regulation if they are deemed to be more efficient.

The first priority product groups, for which eco-design standards have been considered, were identified in the directive. They included heating equipment, lighting, domestic appliances and electric motors.

There will not be obligations for all energy-using products, but only for those that meet criteria such as environmental impact, volume of trade in the internal market and clear potential for improvement, for example where market forces fail to make progress in the absence of legal requirements.

Implementation measures can include generic eco-design requirements designed to improve the overall environmental performance of a product. Others may relate to a selected environmental aspect of the product (such as energy consumption during use) which is quantified and therefore measurable.

In October 2008, the Commission established its working plan for 2009-2011. It outlined the next batch of ten product groups for which it is considering adopting requirements, including air-conditioning and ventilation systems as well as food preparation and refrigeration equipment (EURACTIV 24/10/08).

2009 review

The 2005 directive only applied to energy-using products such as televisions, fridges and lighting. But in 2009, the directive was extended to cover energy-related products, which have a significant impact on the final energy consumption of households.

Consequently, eco-design requirements could in future be set on a wider range of products, including windows, construction materials, detergents and water taps, although these do not directly consume energy.

Setting standards for energy-related products will, however, not be on the agenda until 2011, when the Commission is due to publish its second working plan, which will include energy-related products.

It will further review the effectiveness of the directive in 2012 to assess whether it is appropriate to extend its scope beyond energy-related products. 

The European Commission welcomed the political agreement on extending the Eco-design Directive to energy-related products, calling it a "further step towards a 'low carbon' future".

"We need more ecological innovation to fight climate change but also to overcome the current economic downturn. Today’s decision will open up new business opportunities in particular for small and medium sized enterprises and for further cost efficient energy savings," said Günter Verheugen and Andris Piebalgs, then commissioners responsible for enterprise and industry, and energy respectively.

The Czech Presidency of the EU, which brokered the political deal on the recast directive, argued that it simplifies the free movement of goods within the Union while ensuring a low impact on the environment throughout their life cycle.

"The directive (…) strengthens the internal market, increases energy efficiency and improves the protection of the environment," said Jana Reinišová, deputy permanent representative of Czech Republic to the EU. "This is because the directive sets out clear criteria for relevant products and these criteria will be valid throughout the EU. In this way, it removes barriers to cross-border trade that are due to different national requirements," she added.

BusinessEurope, Europe's primary business lobby, said the extension of the directive's scope is "a coherent step to further improve energy efficiency, provided there is an effective dialogue with sectors concerned on costs and benefits". It insisted, however, that it should not be extended to all manufactured products.

"Careful attention should also be given to other legislation that already exists in order to avoid double regulation," the organisation warned.

European household appliance manufacturing industry welcomed more ambitious eco-design targets for domestic refrigerators, freezers and washing machines, gradually taking A-class products off the market, as well as a new layout for the EU energy label.

Consumer groups BEUC and ANEC were disappointed in the recast directive, arguing that it should have extended to cover all consumer products with a significant environmental impact such as textiles, furniture and paper-based products. They added that it still fails to address relevant environmental impacts such as the use of dangerous chemicals, waste production and recycling

"Eco-design means designing a product taking into account its environmental impacts during the whole life cycle. We regret that the new directive has not fully embraced this concept and continues to favour energy efficiency over chemical content or recycling potential," said Stephen Russell, ANEC secretary-general.

Industry association CECED argued the new eco-design requirements manifest the need for the new label, which adds classes such as A-20% or A-40% to the A-G label to show their energy savings compared to a traditional A class product.

"We are pleased to now have a tool that will support our efforts to continue improving the energy efficiency of our products well beyond Class A," said Luigi Meli, CECED director general. "Technological competition between industry players will further boost progress on energy efficiency and CO2 emissions," he added.

But European environmental NGOs said the new standards, which also included televisions, could have saved consumers even more on their energy bills had they been ambitious enough. They  also argued that the new energy label risks misleading consumers as it adapts the well-known A-G scheme rather rescaling it.

"Televisions and fridges were very iconic tests for these policies. We expected bolder ambition," said Edouard Toulouse, eco-design officer at the European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS).

"Industry pressure prevented EU decision-makers from going for the greenest options and ensuring energy inefficient products are clearly flagged with simple A-G labels," argued Nathalie Cliquot, product policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

  • July 2005: The European Parliament and the Council adopt a final text (EUP Directive 2005/32/EC).
  • 16 July 2008: The Commission adopts a proposal for a directive to extend the scope of the framework Ecodesign Directive to cover other energy-related as well as energy-using products.
  • 26 Sept. 2008: EU governments endorse two proposals to add lighting and TV 'set-top' boxes to the list of regulated equipment (EURACTIV 29/10/08).
  • 17 Oct. 2008: EU governments approve a proposal to improve the energy performance of external power supplies (EPS), which convert power for household and office products (EURACTIV 20/10/08)
  • 21 Oct. 2008: Commission unveils a list of ten priority energy-using product groups for which it wants energy-efficiency standards to be established within the next three years (EURACTIV 24/10/08).
  • 8 Dec. 2008: EU national representatives vote in favour of phasing out energy-guzzling incandescent light bulbs and inefficient halogen bulbs between 2009 and 2012 (EURACTIV 09/12/08).
  • 17 Dec. 2008: Commission adopts regulation to reduce standby power consumption of electronic household and office equipment.
  • 4 Feb. 2009: Commission adopts efficiency standards for simple set-top boxes. 
  • 18 March 2009: Commission adopts two regulations to improve the energy efficiency of house lamps and office, street and industrial lighting (EURACTIV 19/03/09).
  • 6 Apr. 2009: Commission adopts regulation to reduce electricity consumption of external power supplies.
  • 24 Apr. 2009: Parliament approves extension of the Eco-design Directive to cover products with an indirect impact on energy use (EURACTIV 27/04/09).
  • 22 July 2009: Commission adopts four regulations to make industrial motors, water circulators, televisions, refrigerators and freezers more efficient (EURACTIV 23/07/09).
  • 24 Sept. 2009: Council adopts the revised Eco-design Directive extending its scope to all energy-related products.

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