EU ecodesign policy is in the news again.
This time the headlines are all about toasters and kettles, rather than vacuum cleaners, on which we tidied up the facts on this site in 2014.
No new regulation without watertight science
No decision has been taken – or is scheduled – to put forward new rules for kettles or toasters.
The European Commission is determined to make sure ecodesign policy is implemented in the least intrusive way possible, while delivering maximum energy savings.
So it will not bring forward proposals that would stop even the most energy-guzzling kettles or toasters from being sold unless backed by watertight scientific analysis that there would be significant benefits and no alternative way of achieving similar or better results.
After the Juncker Commission took office in 2014, it took steps to ensure even more extensive evidence-gathering and evaluation, more transparency and stronger political control over the ecodesign process.
This process meant first suspending and then deepening the work in progress, which inevitably meant lengthening the timescale.
As the Commission has made clear to journalists, though this is not always reflected in reports, the Commission agreed on 20 April that work would go forward based on two key principles.
First, a regulatory approach will only be followed when there is enough evidence to show real economic gains for producers and consumers as well as improvements in environmental impact.
Second, because this issue affects all Europeans directly, decisions on ecodesign and energy labelling proposals will always be taken in full meetings of the Commission.
The final say on such proposals will continue to rest, as it always has, with elected MEPs and national Ministers in the Council.
In addition the concept of the circular economy – of which ecodesign is a key part – has been pushed further to the fore.
Signs of success on vacuum cleaners
The European Commission has made clear all along that the aims of ecodesign policy are to save consumers money, to save energy (thus also helping tackle climate change) and to boost innovation so appliances work better.
All three of those things seem to be happening for vacuum cleaners.
Recently, trusted consumer magazine Which revealed evidence that removing energy guzzling vacuum cleaners from the market has worked both for consumers – who are now buying machines that provide the same or better suction performance as before but use less energy – and for the industry, most of which supported the new rules in the first place as a spur to innovation.
There have also in the past been major successes with fridges, freezers and television sets.
There are two main elements to ecodesign policy. The first, under the 2010 Energy Labelling Directive is labelling requirements so that consumers can compare not only the headline price of the appliances they are considering buying, but also their energy efficiency and thus their lifetime cost and effect on the environment.
The second is, in some cases and after a considerable transition period, rules removing particularly energy inefficient products from the market, under the 2009 Ecodesign Directive. Existing stocks – and still less appliances already in use in the home – are not affected, so nothing needs to be thrown away
As well as directly helping to protect the environment, the Ecodesign Directive gives predictability for companies to continue investing in innovative solutions. It means the EU is using its power as collectively the largest economy in the world to spur global progress. A number of major non-EU countries (USA, Australia, Brazil, China and Japan) have similar legislation.
So manufacturers around the globe are increasingly having to comply with similar regulations to sell on major markets, turning this into a race to the top, in terms of both quality and, through lower energy bills, the value for money of products through their lifecycle.
Of course, neither of the above Directives was imposed by “bureaucrats in Brussels”. Both were amended and voted through by the European Parliament and by national Ministers in the Council, after European Commission proposals.
Neither do the rules give the Commission a free rein simply to impose standards for specific products – whether vacuum cleaners, toasters, kettles or any others.
That requires under the Directives first a qualified majority (in other words a large majority of votes weighted by size of Member State) of experts in a committee of Member States. Either the European Parliament or the Member States in the Council then have several months to vote to block the procedure. If they do not do so the Commission formally adopts the new rules.
27% of CO2 emissions in the EU are produced by households