The Proposed Sustainable Products Regulation and the 2022-2024 Working Plan
When it comes to energy-related products,1 sustainable product policy in the European Union (EU) is largely implemented through the ecodesign and energy labeling legislative frameworks. Product-specific laws have been adopted under each framework. For example, various household appliances are the subject of individual EU Regulations concerning ecodesign2 and energy labeling. In all, about 30 product groups are regulated through some 50 measures.
While the legislative frameworks have been in place for many years, they have also been subject to periodic review and updating. For instance, the 2017 adoption of the EU Energy Labelling Framework Regulation came with the repeal of the 2010 Energy Labelling Framework Directive and the introduction of obligations associated with a product database – later known as the European Product Database for Energy Labelling (EPREL).
This article discusses the intention to update EU ecodesign legislation through the recent tabling of a proposal for a Sustainable Products Regulation. It is anticipated that this proposed EU Regulation will be adopted within the next two years. Meanwhile, a plan has been published for advancing existing EU policy concerning the sustainability of energy-related products between now and 2024. This is the European Commission’s 2022-2024 Ecodesign & Energy Labelling Working Plan – something that this article also comments upon.
The Proposed Sustainable Products Regulation
On 30 March 2022, the European Commission tabled a proposal for an EU Regulation establishing a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for sustainable products. The intent of this proposed Regulation is to replace the current Ecodesign Framework Directive (2009/125/EC). If adopted, the proposed Regulation would overhaul the existing EU ecodesign legislative framework.
In particular, the proposed Regulation would broaden the legislative scope such that any physical good placed on the EU market could be targeted (at present, the scope is confined to energy-related products), while more focus would be given to regulating product aspects other than energy performance (e.g., durability, reliability, reusability, upgradability, repairability, information requirements). Other things in contention include digital product passports, new obligations for fulfillment service providers, online marketplaces, and online search engines, and preventing the destruction of unsold consumer products.
Requirements for specific products or product groups would be set via delegated acts. It appears that the European Commission will soon consult on which products or product groups should be prioritized for regulation in the years ahead.
In the meantime, the proposed Regulation is subject to the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure, meaning that the proposal will be scrutinized by the European Parliament (EP) and the Council of the EU in the coming months with tripartite meetings between Parliament, the Council, and the Commission also taking place. The ordinary legislative procedure is illustrated in Figure 1.
It will be interesting to see whether the proposed Regulation is adopted during a first reading or if it takes a second or third reading for the proposal to make its way into law. Come what may, the adoption of a new law is at least 18 months away, while it will still take longer for product-specific delegated acts to be drafted and adopted.
For the moment, those involved in the manufacture and supply of electrical and electronic equipment (and other products) should take heed of the proposal while noting that it is likely to be two years or more before anything substantive emerges in the form of new EU sustainable products legislation. In the meantime, all existing EU ecodesign legislation continues to apply, as do scheduled legislative reviews, completion of outstanding ecodesign preparatory studies, and so on.
For readers interested in the detail, Table 1 summarizes the main changes the proposed Regulation would bring into effect. The text in this table is reproduced from a European Parliamentary Research Service briefing paper on the proposed Regulation.3
The scope would be extended beyond energy-related products, so the new Regulation would apply to any physical good placed on the market, with a few exceptions, such as food, feed, medicinal, and veterinary products (Article 1(2)).
Products on the internal market would have to comply with ecodesign requirements, which would be set out later, in delegated acts, for each group of products separately (Article 3). Ecodesign requirements would aim to improve product durability, reliability, reusability, upgradability, reparability, possibility of maintenance and refurbishment, presence of substances of concern, energy use and energy efficiency, resource use or resource efficiency, recycled content, possibility of remanufacturing and recycling, possibility of recovery of materials, environmental impacts and expected generation of waste materials. Product groups would be prioritized based on their potential contribution to EU climate, environmental and energy efficiency goals, and their potential for improvement without disproportionate costs (Article 16). The ecodesign requirements would continue to be prepared by an expert group comprising Member State representatives and other interested parties, such as industry, small and medium-sized enterprises, trade unions, traders, retailers, and consumer and environmental organizations. The group would be renamed the Ecodesign Forum (Article 17).
|Performance and information requirements||
The Regulation distinguishes between performance requirements, such as durability and ease of repair (Article 6 and Annex I), and information requirements (Article 7). Information requirements should include at least requirements related to the product passport and to substances of concern. They could also include information on the performance of the product (with the Commission being required to determine classes of performance to enable consumers to compare products); information for consumers on installation, use, maintenance, and repair; and information on treatment facilities for disassembly, recycling, or disposal, etc. The required information would have to be provided on the product, on the product packaging, the product passport, a label, in a user manual, or on a website or application.
The Commission would be empowered to adopt rules on labels indicating the performance of a particular group of products. For those products where no rules on labels are adopted by the Commission, using labels that mimic such labels and that could mislead or confuse consumers would be banned (Article 15).
Delegated acts for specific product groups would require a product passport to be available for each product. The product passport could include information on performance and information requirements; information related to traceability of the product; the declaration of conformity; technical documentation; user manuals; and information about the manufacturer, importer, or authorized representative. The delegated acts would determine which information would be included and who would have access to what (e.g., consumers could have access to different information than manufacturers, importers, repairers, recyclers, or national authorities) and who would be allowed to update which information (Article 8). The information would be stored in a registry set up by the Commission (Article 12) and would be accessible via a data carrier (such as a barcode) on the product, its packaging or documentation (Article 9).
Two or more economic operators would be able to submit a self-regulating measure establishing ecodesign requirements as an alternative to the adoption of a delegated act, provided that their market share in terms of volume is at least 80% of the units placed on the market (Article 18).
|Destruction of unsold goods||
Companies that discard unsold consumer products would be subject to transparency requirements and would have to publish, for instance, the number of discarded products, the reasons for discarding them, and how many of the discarded products were prepared for reuse, remanufacturing, recycling, energy recovery, and disposal. Companies would need to disclose the information on a publicly accessible website. The Commission would be empowered to ban the destruction of particular groups of products that have significant environmental impacts. In principle, these rules would not apply to SMEs, but a delegated act for a particular group of products could still specify otherwise (Article 20).
|Incentives for sustainable products||
Member States would be allowed to provide incentives for consumers to make sustainable choices, in particular when more sustainable products are not sufficiently affordable, by, for instance, introducing eco-vouchers and green taxation. The incentives would have to be targeted at products in the two highest classes of sustainability performance (Article 57).
|Green public procurement||
The Commission would be empowered to adopt delegated acts establishing ecodesign requirements applicable to public contracts, including mandatory technical specifications, selection criteria, award criteria, and contract performance clauses or targets (Article 58).
|Obligations for online marketplaces||
The Regulation would specify the obligations of online marketplaces concerning market surveillance. They would be required to cooperate with the market surveillance authorities to ensure effective market surveillance measures; inform the market surveillance authorities of any action taken in cases of non-compliant products; establish a regular exchange of information on offers that have been removed; and allow online tools operated by market surveillance authorities to access their interfaces in order to identify non-compliant products. Online marketplaces would be required to design and organize their online interfaces in a way that would enable dealers to comply with the requirements of the Digital Services Act regarding pre-contractual information and product safety information. Member States would be required to empower their market surveillance authorities to order an online marketplace to remove products that do not comply with the ecodesign requirements (Article 29).
|Prevention of circumvention||
Products that can detect if they are being tested in order to alter their performance and achieve a more favorable result would be banned (Article 33).
|Market surveillance plans||
Every two years, Member States would be required to draw up an action plan for market surveillance activities in relation to ecodesign and communicate these plans to the Commission and other Member States (Article 59). The Commission would be empowered to adopt delegated acts laying down the minimum number of checks by market surveillance authorities on specific products or specific requirements (Article 60).
The Commission would be required to carry out an evaluation of the Regulation eight years after its adoption (Article 69).
|Entry into force||
The Regulation would enter into force 20 days after its adoption and would be applicable immediately. However, since this would be a Framework Regulation, new ecodesign requirements would be applicable to specific groups of products only after the adoption of product-specific delegated acts.
Table 1: Key changes envisaged within the proposed Sustainable Products Regulation
The 2022-2024 Ecodesign & Energy Labelling Working Plan
Coinciding with its proposed Sustainable Products Regulation, the European Commission published its new Ecodesign Working Plan. Specific to the next two years, the Plan also outlines what is in the cards for energy labeling.4
Ecodesign Working Plans consider the potential for setting and/or furthering ecodesign requirements for different products. To date, the Commission has published three working plans, and it published its fourth in April of this year – although its scope has been broadened to also consider the potential for energy labeling this time round.
According to the Commission, the 2022-2024 Ecodesign & Energy Labelling Working Plan “strengthens the focus on the circularity aspects of ecodesign, following the example set in the previous Working Plan and in line with the Circular Economy Action Plan 2020.” To this end, “new product-specific requirements on material efficiency aspects can and will be explored. This should result in further improved circularity and overall reduction of environmental and climate footprints of energy-related products, as well as stronger EU resilience.”
The Commission intends to prioritize the review of the following product groups:
- Heating and cooling appliances—This is based on the Council of the EU’s request that the Commission “accelerate the ongoing work on heating and cooling appliances by rescaling energy labels as soon as possible.” Meanwhile, the Commission affirms that the work will “be a critical contribution to the decarbonization of buildings and the Zero Pollution action plan as part of the overall Green Deal objectives, and these products are those with the highest energy consumption of all regulated products.”
- Other product groups with energy labels up for rescaling—The EU energy label was subject to rescaling in 2020 and, in 2021, the provision and display of rescaled energy labels became a legal requirement in the case of household washing machines and washer-dryers, household dishwashers, electronic displays, refrigerating appliances, and light sources. The Commission is now keen to pursue the “timely rescaling and updating [of] the remaining ‘old’ energy labels… tak[ing] full advantage of the new features offered by EPREL.” Among the other product groups likely to be targeted when it comes to the rescaling of existing energy labels are air conditioners, domestic ovens and cooker hoods, household tumble dryers, space heaters, residential ventilation units, solid fuel boilers, and more.
- Other product groups with the potential for significant additional energy savings—This includes product groups that represent significant additional savings potential in terms of energy or material savings, that are long overdue, or where particular circumstances imply a clear or urgent need for revision. For example, the Commission names water pumps, fans, and external power supplies.
Products Targeted for Future Ecodesign Preparatory Studies
The Working Plan explains that the Commission has identified 31 product groups that could be targeted for ecodesign and energy labeling. It advises that, together, these product groups present “new potential use phase savings in 2030 in the order of 1 000 PJ, or 278 TWh, i.e., circa 2% of EU primary energy use in 2020.” However, given that the Commission must work within time and budgetary constraints, it has shortlisted five of the 31 product groups for which it “envisages initiating exploratory studies.” These are identified in Table 2, which is a reproduction of what is found in the European Commission Communication that accompanied the publication of the Working Plan.5
|Product Group||Energy Saving Potential 2030 (related to use phase or material efficiency)||Considerations|
emitters (radiators, convectors, etc.)
|170 petajoule (PJ) (use phase)||Highest energy saving potential, important for Renovation Wave7/building decarbonization.|
|Professional laundry appliances||33 PJ (use phase)||Studied in the past and now considered more mature in view of progress in technical standardization.|
|20 PJ (use phase)|
Power Supplies (EPS)
|12-27 PJ (embedded)||Link to Common Charger initiative8, will be done as part of the review of the existing EU External Power Supplies Ecodesign Regulation.|
|11 PJ (use phase)||After 2030 the potential savings increase, to in 2050 almost 76 PJ annually. Hence, it is reasonable to consider setting requirements before large volumes of potentially inefficient chargers are installed.|
Table 2: Product groups shortlisted for ecodesign preparatory studies
Of further note is the Commission’s stated wish to “further assess the possibility and appropriateness of establishing more product-specific requirements” when it comes to:
- Recycled content;
- Durability, firmware. and software; and
- Reducing or eliminating uses of scarce, environmentally relevant, and critical raw materials in energy-related products.
Here, the Commission states that “the requirements are theoretically applicable to all energy-related products; dedicated preparatory studies will be needed to help identifying the product categories that are most relevant for potential regulatory approaches.”
The Commission states that “there are important functionalities that need to be addressed in 2022,” all with a view to “operationalis[ing] several EU policies, including in relation to public incentives, sustainable private sector investments, green public procurement, and reduced VAT rates for certain energy-labeled products.” The envisaged functionalities include:
- Introducing a dedicated web portal that will be the single access point, providing targeted information for citizens, national authorities, suppliers, dealers, and policymakers;
- Improving the user interface and tools available to market surveillance authorities to better streamline their activities;
- Transforming the structure of the technical documentation to streamline registration activity by suppliers and facilitate analysis thereof by compliance authorities; and
- Starting the implementation of revised regulations for some product groups and possibly adding new ones (e.g., smartphones and tablets).
In addition, the Commission asserts that “it will be necessary to consider the conditions for, and modalities of, granting access to EPREL or some of its features to operators and possibly authorities from specific third countries, notably those that are part of the customs union or the Energy Community.”
Over the next two years, the Commission intends to step up its support to Member States “to contribute to a more effective and uniform application of market surveillance in the field of ecodesign and energy labeling.” This effort is likely to include:
- Continuous improvement of IT tools such as the Information and Communication System for Market Surveillance (ICSMS) and EPREL;
- Giving technical and logistical support to Administrative Cooperation Groups (AdCos);
- Financing joint or concerted actions and campaigns;
- Engaging with the Member States on ways to improve market surveillance, including what resources they make available; and
- Proposing new legal provisions that will improve market surveillance.
The Commission will also continue to support economic operators’ (e.g., product manufacturers) efforts to comply. Some examples of this effort cited by the Commission include the operation of functional mailboxes where questions can be addressed, and the publication of specific guidance documents, FAQs, and other information on the Commission website. It will also consider providing EU funding to set up an “industry-driven compliance support facility.” Seemingly, the idea here is to increase outreach and provide more timely and targeted assistance to help suppliers and retailers more easily understand and meet their obligations.
The new Working Plan is an ambitious one, especially when one considers that it succeeds the Third Ecodesign Working Plan that was originally set to run until 2019 and, in the Commission’s own words, “about 40% [of this Working Plan] is still ongoing and will be rolled over to the current planning period.” So, there is much to do.
The EU’s longstanding ecodesign legislative framework is on the cusp of change.
While the European Commission’s proposed Sustainable Products Regulation will be subject to scrutiny and amendment by both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU in the months ahead, it will almost certainly be adopted. It is also highly likely that it will lead to the implementation of new measures relating to product durability, reliability, reusability, upgradability, and repairability. To this end, interested readers may find developments in European material efficiency standardization6 something worth following.
Concerning the 2022-2024 Ecodesign & Energy Labelling Working Plan, it will be interesting to see what progress is made. If anything, the Commission’s delivery fell short of its stated ambitions when it came to previous Working Plans. However, the Commission appears to have set itself both realistic and achievable goals for the next two years. We will have to wait and see what happens.
- These are any goods or systems “with an impact on energy consumption during use which is placed on the market or put into service, including parts with an impact on energy consumption during use which are placed on the market or put into service for customers and that are intended to be incorporated into products.”
- Under the legislation, this is a term that refers to “the integration of environmental aspects into product design with the aim of improving the environmental performance of the product throughout its whole life cycle.”
- Šajn, N. (2022) Ecodesign for Sustainable Products, Brussels: EPRS. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document/EPRS_BRI(2022)733524
- To obtain a copy of the Working Plan, please visit https://energy.ec.europa.eu/ecodesign-and-energy-labelling-working-plan-2022-2024_en
- Accessible from https://energy.ec.europa.eu/ecodesign-and-energy-labelling-working-plan-2022-2024_en
- A European Commission strategy that is intent upon renovating building stock to improve energy efficiency while driving a clean energy transition. It envisages the overhaul of 220 million buildings standing today by 2050. https://energy.ec.europa.eu/topics/energy-efficiency/energy-efficient-buildings/renovation-wave_en
- See https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_4613
- CEN and CENELEC were mandated by the European Commission to develop general, wide-ranging standards on material efficiency aspects for ecodesign. CEN-CENELEC Joint Technical Committee 10 handled this, and it has developed and published various generic standards in the EN 4555X series. For example, EN 45552:2020 General method for the assessment of the durability of energy-related products.