Rules for sustainable products are one side of the coin. Enforcing them is the other

By Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC

It is encouraging for consumers that the EU is working on rules to make products sustainable by design. But if policymakers are serious about delivering, they should not forget about the “on the ground” aspect, argues BEUC’s Monique Goyens.

This year, the European Commission made great strides to make sustainable products the norm. Such efforts came in the form of an ambitious proposal called Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR). It includes measures to improve products’ durability, repairability, resource and energy efficiency, and recyclability potential.

A no brainer when lack of longevity is reported as a major concern for consumers.


Ecodesign 2.0


This plan aims to revise the current EU Ecodesign rules thanks to which our washing machines, fridges or TV screens rely on less energy to perform just as well. A study we published in 2016 estimated that Ecodesign can save EU households over 300 euros every year. Six years on, considering the skyrocketing electricity prices, one can only imagine the even higher savings brought about by such measures.

The ongoing revision aims to take Ecodesign to the next level and make our products last longer than they do now.

And it doesn’t stop at the products I mentioned above. The draft law covers almost all consumer products (except food, feed, and medicines). It also addresses a wide range of sustainability aspects, going well beyond energy efficiency. Provided the ambition remains untouched, the ESPR will be a game changer, bringing longer lasting and energy efficient products to consumers.


Looking good on paper… and on the ground?


We all agree on the need for measures to make products more resource efficient, durable, repairable, and recyclable by design. Alongside, the European Commission must roll out safeguards to make sure rules are respected and enforced by all actors involved and consumers have the necessary protections to enforce their rights in case of non-compliance.

First, the European Commission and Member States must put in place adequate market surveillance. This would ensure that Ecodesign rules are respected, and non-compliant products do not find their way into the market to begin with.

For imported products, there is an additional need for strong cooperation with customs authorities. That way, wherever the products come from, consumers can trust the environmental claims on products are reliable and that the smartphone they bought will be as easy to get repaired as the label claims.

Weak controls from market surveillance authorities risk lessening the improvements that these new Ecodesign rules are set to bring for consumers and the environment. What’s more, putting more money into market surveillance provides a good return on investment.

Such costs will always be significantly lower than the financial benefits resulting from bringing more energy-efficient, durable and repairable products on the market.1

Then, online marketplaces should have the same responsibilities as brick-and-mortar shops. Today, unsafe and unsustainable products from third countries are able to enter the EU market incognito via online platforms. A spot check by our member organisations found that two thirds failed to comply with the most basic safety rules. One can only expect that Ecodesign requirements -which are more sophisticated than safety ones to check for compliance – will also be a blind spot. With more and more consumers buying products online, the issue is massive, and requires urgent action.

If, despite those safeguards, products breaching Ecodesign rules still make their way into the market, consumers must have the necessary protections to enforce their rights. In other words, consumers who buy products that cannot be easily repaired or fail too early, must be able to get compensation.

To make this happen, the EU Commission must better link Ecodesign with the relevant consumer rights instruments.2 This would certainly convince companies to take the rules seriously and deter them from placing faulty products on the market.

Be it for products’ sustainability or any other policy areas, getting a law adopted is only the first part of the marathon. The second part is making sure that such laws deliver on the ground. And you know what they say about marathons: the last part is the hardest. So, law makers had better get ready now to get to the finish line, which is to make sure consumers get truly more sustainable products.