Time to jump-start eco-design

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This article is part of our special report Products for a greener planet.

After years of delays, hopes are high that 2012 will be the year Europe’s Ecodesign Directive will finally kick into action, saving billions of euros and the environment, says Stéphane Arditi, coordinator for the 'Coolproducts' campaign to promote energy-efficient appliances and other consumer goods.

Stéphane Arditi is a senior policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, specialised in waste and products.

"The Coolproducts coalition says the case to quickly pass regulation on household energy-using products could not be stronger, with rules on water heaters and boilers alone able to save the equivalent CO2 of 65 million cars.

Stéphane Arditi is a senior policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau, specialised in waste and products.

"The Coolproducts coalition says the case to quickly pass regulation on household energy-using products could not be stronger, with rules on water heaters and boilers alone able to save the equivalent CO2 of 65 million cars.

Few things are more maddening than witnessing unrealised potential. Since the inception of the Ecodesign Directive seven years ago, Europe has had the ability to ensure that our everyday household items are designed to be as energy efficient as possible. Such standards can have positive effects not only on the pockets of consumers, but also for the environment. So it is galling that the EU, a self declared leader in innovation and climate policy, has thus far been so slow in turning this law into actual regulation.

For too long the European Commission has been sitting on a coffer with easy access to massive energy and financial savings, unwilling to use the key to unlock it. The Coolproducts coalition has high hopes 2012 will be the year some of the directive’s potential will finally begin to be realised.

Some good examples of delayed actions are the ecodesign regulations of two common household items – boilers and water heaters. These two products alone use about a quarter of all energy consumed in Europe.

It has taken four years of delays and foot dragging for draft regulation on these two products to be released by the Commission. Thankfully, this month the drafts are scheduled to be sent to member states for a vote this summer. If they vote in favour, the expected savings are calculated at 136 million tonnes of CO2 – equivalent to taking 65 million cars off the road.

Increasing both speed and ambition when it comes to advancing energy efficiency would put money back into the pockets of citizens across Europe, many of whom are suffering real economic pain due to the financial crisis. There is currently a list of 43 products to be regulated under ecodesign but unfortunately progress has so far been woefully slow, particularly lately with only two of these products regulated in 2010 and three in 2011.

The pace must be picked up. When we look not only at the dire state of national economies and global energy prices as well as the EU climate and energy objectives, it is clear that a the regulations need to come out faster. But all is not lost and the Commission has the power, and hopefully this year the will, to get moving.

A study released in 2010 by the Ökopol Institute demonstrated how cost-effective it is to purchase energy-efficient products over conventional products. And while energy-efficient products can sometimes be slightly more expensive to purchase, that additional expense is ultimately more than recouped through lower energy bills than standard products. Coupled with Europe’s climate objectives, and the case to support the Ecodesign Directive could hardly be stronger.

The need to ensure that the energy-using products around us are designed in an energy-efficient and eco-friendly way is beyond doubt for a sustainable and affordable future.

At a time of austerity, the EU should show clear determination when it comes to ecodesign regulations. It should stop twiddling its thumbs, grab hold of the key with both hands and release the riches in the chest. "

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