23 March 2018
Parliamentarians Call for Broadening of Ecodesign Rules to Include “Obsolescence”
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) representing the main European Parliament political groups have called for a review of EU rules on ecodesign. On 26 February 2018 the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety debated a report that was produced by MEP Frédérique Ries on the implementation of the Ecodesign Directive (Directive 2009/125/EC). The report has called for 200 amendments to be made to the Ecodesign Directive.
The Ecodesign Directive provides consistent EU-wide rules for the environmental performance of products, including household appliances. Most importantly, it establishes minimum mandatory requirements for energy efficiency. A Consultation Forum composed of stakeholders from industry and civil society supports the work of the European Commission in implementing the Ecodesign Directive.
Three main themes emerged from the contributions to the Report: the need to update the Ecodesign Directive in light of the EU’s increasing emphasis on the circular economy; the challenges of so-called “built-in obsolescence”; and the environmental impact of mobile phones. The term built-in obsolescence refers to the planning or designing of a product with an artificially limited useful life, so as to reduce or stop its functionality after a certain time-period.
The report follows on from a non-binding resolution passed by the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection in May 2017 and which called for the European Commission to take stronger action against obsolescence in consumer goods. It also called for an EU-wide definition of planned obsolescence for goods and software, and the introduction of “appropriate dissuasive measures for producers”.
The Report noted that the Ecodesign Directive has generated savings equivalent to 175 million tonnes of oil per year since its implementation in 2009, and called for greater action to keep pace with technological innovations. The Report also proposed to make express reference to “fighting planned obsolescence” in the context of the aims of the Ecodesign Directive. Planned obsolescence has rapidly become a cause for concern amongst MEPs and reflects broader interest in a whole-lifespan approach to environmental impacts.
The Report was broadly welcomed by the main parliamentary groups. The EPP (a centre-right party) welcome the shift in perspective towards “the re-use of materials” rather than simply energy savings. The Social Democrats (who are centre-left) highlighted the European Commission’s role in market surveillance and oversight. In particular, they called for a centralised database for ecodesign and called for a clearer link to be made between ecodesign and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (Directive 2010/31/EU). The latter EU law is also undergoing a process of revision, with a package of amendments due to be adopted at the next European Parliament plenary session on 17 April.
The Parliament’s Greens repeated calls for a more comprehensive approach to resource efficiency. This was also touched on by the European Commission’s sustainable industrial policy expert Cesar Santos Gil. Mr Santos sounded a note of caution, observing that much of the environmental impact “of non-energy related products typically happens in the productions phases, and it is quite difficult to enforce production-related requirements”. He acknowledged the challenges posed by mobile phones in particular, including the low levels of repair.
As also noted by a number of MEPs during the debate, consumers often replace an otherwise functioning mobile phone because the battery wears out. The mobile phone market is a clear example of the difficulties of regulating a market characterised by rapid developments and frequent innovation. The European Commission also urged reflection before intervening too hastily in upstream markets. Mr Santos said that broadening the scope of the Ecodesign Directive would make it “a very powerful instrument that bans something from coming to the European market – this is not something we want to do lightly”.
The report will not amend any EU legislation directly. Instead, MEPs will vote on the report at the next meeting of the Environment Committee on 25 April. If passed, the report will then form the basis of a non-binding parliamentary resolution which will influence future legislation in the ecodesign field.