Brussels unveils green performance scheme for products

Potocnik Green products EC.jpg

The European Commission has proposed EU-wide methods for companies to measure and communicate their ‘greenness’ and the environmental footprint of their products.

The voluntary scheme, called Building the Single Market for Green Products, will make use of the EU Joint Research Centre's controversial “lifecycle assessment” method (LCA) for calculating the environmental performance of a product.

A three-year testing period will begin after the Commission adopts the communication, aimed at developing product-specific green rules and benchmarks, easing the application of environmental footprint methods by companies, and assessing different compliance and verification systems.

The EU executive will also weigh different strategies for communicating the green credentials of products and organisations to consumers, including packaging and pricing signals.

Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik told reporters on Tuesday (9 April): “To boost sustainable growth, we need to make sure that the most resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly products on the market are known and recognisable. By giving people reliable and comparable information about the environmental impacts and credentials of products and organisations, we enable them to choose. And by helping companies to align their methods we cut their costs and administrative burdens.”

Companies now wishing to highlight their green credentials must handpick from the many different methods recommended by governments and private organisations, which often confuse consumers and incur high costs.

The communication proposes EU-wide standards as well as recommendations for companies and organisations on how to carry them out.

Lifecycle assessment

Last month, three major European industrial associations wrote to Commission President José Manuel Barroso expressing their concerns at the use of environmental footprint methodology in EU legislation.

The consumer organisation ANEC, the engineering industries group Orgalime, and the automobiles association ACEA – whose members include BMW group, Daimler, Ford of Europe and Fiat – said the methodology risked exposing companies to unfair competition and market distortion as consumers may base their buying decisions on unreliable and misleading information.

They also claimed the green methodology would not do justice to the complexity of global supply chains.

ACEA’s secretary-general, Ivan Hodac, said: “LCA ignores the complexity and diversity of products and supply chains: the current ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ of the suggested methodology overlooks the diversity and variety of the different products made available to consumers. Only the making of an engine, for example, consists of a multitude of different components, parts and materials that are sourced in complex, multi-layer, global supply chains”.

Eurocommerce, the European retail and international trade group, said it supported the environmental methodology but called for the Commission scheme to remain voluntary.

Christian Verschueren, director-general of Eurocommerce, said of the EU paper: “This is a step in the right direction. It should provide all actors with clear guidance to help them calculate their environmental footprint. However, the proposed methodologies are just one of many options. Retailers and wholesalers already use a variety of effective means to calculate their environmental impact. One size will not fit all in this instance. It is therefore essential for the commerce sector that the implementation of this new European proposal remains voluntary.”

According to a recent Eurobarometer poll, 48% of European consumers said they were confused by the wealth of environmental information and various certifications on the market.

There are more than 400 environmental labels and 80 mainstream methodologies and initiatives worldwide, the Commission said.

The Building the Single Market for Green Products communication comes under the European Commission's Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe, in particular the section related to sustainable consumption and production.

According to the Commission, the scheme foresees the establishment of a common, life-cycle assessment based methodological approach allowing member states and the private sector to assess, display and benchmark the environmental performance of products, services and companies, and  to the provide better information on the environmental footprints of products.

The Single Market for Green Products was announced as a key action in the Single Market Act of 2011 and in the industrial policy update communication of 2012.

  • 2013-2016: Three-year testing period for environmental footprint methodology and communication strategy for products and organisations
  • 2016: Beginning of in-depth evaluation of the results of the testing period with a view to further policy action.

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