Sustainable product design has a key role to play if the targets of the Green Deal are to be fulfilled. On 30 March 2022, the EU Commission presented a new package, which not only improves product standards, but shall also provide consumers with sound information, enabling them to make environmentally friendly purchase decisions and to avoid greenwashing.
The EU Commission’s most recent package on circular economy to make products on the EU market more sustainable and to provide better information to consumers is comprised of two Communications and proposals to amend four Directives and Regulations respectively: the Ecodesign Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive, the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the Construction Products Regulation as well as a Communication on Textiles and a Communication on Sustainable Products.
The current Ecodesign Directive regulates the energy consumption of certain products as well as their labelling, e.g. refrigerators, air conditioners or television sets. Based on the now proposed amended Ecodesign Directive, the range of requirements regarding durability, reusability and reparability shall be significantly expanded. In addition, a digital product pass providing information on environmental sustainability shall be introduced, making conscious purchase decisions easier for consumers and simplifying repairs. The Directive extends the existing framework to all physical goods – only foods and feeds or medicines remain exempt. The implementation follows via Delegated Acts, in which the EU Commission lays down the specific requirements for products and product groups. As regards formulating concrete rules, the EU Commission prioritises textiles, furniture, matrasses, tyres and paints among others.
In addition, the amended Consumer Rights Directive shall oblige retailers to provide the consumer with information on the lifecycle and reparability of products. If for example the producer of a consumer good offers a commercial guarantee of durability of more than two years, the seller must provide this information to the consumer. In case of energy-using products, the seller must also inform consumers when no information on a commercial guarantee of durability was provided by the producer. Furthermore, the seller must also provide all relevant information on repairs or other relevant repair information made available by the producer (e.g. the availability of spare parts). For smart devices and digital content and services, the consumer must be also informed about software updates provided by the producer.
Amendments shall also be made to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive by including further practices in the so-called “blacklist” of banned unfair commercial practices to combat greenwashing. Apart from a lack of information on restricting life cycle characteristics and vague details on environmental properties (e.g. “environmentally friendly”, “eco” or “green”), these practices also include labelling appliances with a voluntary sustainability seal, which is neither based on a testing method by a third party nor has been issued by authorities.
Finally, the package includes a separate Communication on the Textile Sector, which is responsible for a tenth of the global CO2 emissions, thereby being one of the top three pressures on water and land resources. In Europe, on average 11 kg textiles per person are thrown away each year. To make this sector more sustainable, the Communication includes a number of objectives, which reach from longer-lasting design requirements for textiles to a mandatory minimum use of recycled fibres up to avoiding overproduction. In order to prevent the release of microplastics, innovative materials shall be promoted. In general, research in the textile sector shall be supported by investments. Apart from that, export restrictions of textile waste in the global South have been envisaged for the aimed at life cycle-oriented business models.
While the European Consumer Organisation BEUC welcomed the package as an important step towards more sustainability and boosting consumer confidence, the European trade union IndustriAll was disappointed with a lack of social elements within the scope of the textile strategy. The AK will scrutinise the proposals and participate in further negotiations in EU Parliament and Council to achieve important improvements for consumers and employees.