European directives may well be exacting, but companies such as Revlon and Estée Lauder have indicated that they prefer their products to meet a wide-ranging 'EU standard', no matter how tough, rather than deal with differing international approaches. Hence, the reason why EU policies tend to 'migrate'.
It is in this area that the assistance of associations, which typically comprise several companies as members, has become increasingly relevant. According to Rockwell Schnabel, the former US ambassador to Brussels, Europe is "increasingly seeking to act as the world's economic regulator".
US state California has traditionally been at the forefront of strict environmental legislation and continues to fulfill this role. According to EU Affairs Associate Tybee Kiejdan of public affairs consultancy Cabinet Stewart, state government and legislators closely monitor the development of EU legislation - there are a number of examples that show that important elements of these laws have found their way into California, or at least have been inspired by it. In addition, other "more progressive" states in the US (such as Oregon, Washington, and New England) sometimes follow California’s lead.
California recently became the first state to ban flame retardants, which are suspected of contributing to learning disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity in children in 2003. This was in the wake of a similar ban in the European Union that year, prompted by a Swedish study that reported the levels of the chemicals in breast milk in Sweden had increased forty-fold from 1972 to 1997. At the time, China and South Korea were also considering the bans.
Green Chemistry in California: A Framework for Leadership in Chemicals Policy and Innovation is the most recent publication of California's Policy Research Center (CPRC) at the University of California. The report suggests that developments in the European Union are driving interest in cleaner technologies, including green chemistry, and are expected to lead a long-term EU competitive advantage in this arena. It mainly focuses on the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS), e-waste (WEEE), and chemicals (REACH). Other examples include:
- The Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Massachusetts Lowell has helped a cleaning supply company (Surface Solutions Laboratory) receive the first European Union Eco-label in North America for an all-purpose cleaner. The voluntary label is designed to encourage businesses to market products and services that are kinder to the environment and help European consumers – both public and private purchasers – to easily identify them.
- Massachusetts' Toxics Use Reduction Act (TURA) is now positioning industries to compete more strongly in the global market because of the chemical restrictions imposed on their products in the European Union and Japan. For example, TURI has established the Wire and Cable Supply Chain Initiative that brings together raw material suppliers, compounders, extruders and manufacturers to develop lead-free wire and cable that will meet the strict requirements of the EU and Japan.
European environmental and safety rules conceived in Brussels are increasingly becoming de-facto Asian standards on the factory floors that manufacture televisions, clothing, and furniture. For example, when the European Commission announced a ban on a certain class of azo dyes in 2003, once widely used for textiles, thousands of factories in Asia retooled at a significant cost.
The US may buy a slightly larger share of Asian exports each year, but Europe's presence is felt more strongly on the ground. European inspectors can be seen in warehouses throughout Asia testing more than 1,000 products per day (such as food, electronics, children’s toys, and clothing) for European standards that will be exported. These measures are linked to regulations such as the EU Directive 2002/95EC, which prohibits the use of hazardous substances in electronic equipment and the EEC EN71, a set of safety regulations for children’s toys.