Advocate says understaffing hurts eco-design directive

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The European Commissions' promising eco-design directive is struggling to gain traction because of staff shortages, undermining efforts to set energy-efficiency standards for products, said one expert who monitors the legislation.

By not allocating enough staff to work on the eco-design directive, the European Commission is missing a chance to use “a silver bullet” that would deliver quick, practical results for achieving its 2020 energy savings targets, said Edouard Toulouse.

“If you look at all the roadmaps and initiatives and policies in place, eco-design is really one of the few tools that can really deliver results and have an impact on the market,” Toulouse told EURACTIV.

Toulouse is an energy efficiency specialist at the European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS).

The Commission should normally take no more than 18 months to consult all stakeholders and draft energy requirements for new product groups, Toulouse said. The process is now taking several years.

One reason for the delays in implementing the directive is the lack of prioritisation, Toulouse said.

“There are problems with the internal organisation of the Commission. You cannot ask the eco-design directive to deliver more without increasing the capacity and the staff – it will not work.”

The eco-design directive, introduced in 2005, sets energy requirements for specific classes of products, mainly those with significant sales and trade volumes, environmental impact and potential for improvement.

The directive has a cost-benefit ratio of 5,000, according to a study published by the Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Services (CSES).

The estimated costs to the Commission and the member states amounts to €19 million-€25 million per year, “a small fraction of the expected savings” from the measures adopted, Toulouse said.

At the same time, energy savings made implementing the directive are expected to reach a total of €127 billion in 2020 if energy prices remain at the 2005 levels and all products proposed so far are covered, according to a study by the German Ökopol Institute for Environmental Strategies.

“There are significant grounds for the dedication of additional resources at both the European and the national level. These are particularly needed to address the problems of delays and quality in the development of implementing measures and to improve market surveillance,” the CSES study says.

Additional resources ‘investigated’

A review of the directive that has evaluated the need to allocate more staff is to be published soon, said Commission spokesperson Carlo Corazza.

Solutions for shortening the eco-design implementation process and avoiding delays, including additional staff and money, “have been investigated in depth during the evaluation and review of the eco-design directive,” Corazza said.

The average time for preparing, drafting and adopting a regulation for a specific product category under the eco-design directive is four to five years, according to the Commission. In some cases, “mainly due to the complexity of underlying technical issues and lack of data”, this process has been delayed, Corazza said.

The Commission notes that its first 12 eco-design regulations adopted in 2009 are “estimated to make energy savings by 2020 equivalent to almost 14% of the EU 2009 electricity consumption” – or 380 TWhm, the equivalent of electricity generated by around 20 nuclear power plants in one year.

Read the full interview with Edouard Toulouse here.

To reduce the environmental impact of products from the design phase onwards, the EU adopted a Framework Directive  on setting eco-design requirements for energy-using products (EuP) in 2005 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

Within the framework of the eco-design directive, the European Commission is mandated to define minimum energy-efficiency performance requirements on a product-specific basis.

The first 19 energy-using product groups for which the EU executive wants energy-efficiency standards to be established - including heating equipment, lighting, domestic appliances and electric motors - was selected during a transitional phase after the adoption of the directive in July 2005.

In July 2008, the Commission adopted a proposal for a directive extending the scope of the eco-design rules to cover other energy-using products.

  • Sept. 2012: European Commission publishes evaluation and review of Ecodesign directive
  • European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS):Website

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