Sustainable Products Initiative: towards more circular business models

The Circular Economy Action Plan, a package of proposals which in turn are part of the European Commission’s landmark European Green Deal, was adopted with the aim of accelerating Europe’s transition to a circular economy model and stimulating the development of lead markets for climate-neutral and sustainable products. One of the long-awaited proposals of this plan is now here. 

On the 30rd of March the European Commission put forward a proposal to make sustainable products the norm in the EU: the Sustainable Products Initiative. This initiative addresses the lack of a comprehensive set of requirements to ensure that all products placed on the EU market become increasingly sustainable. Among its main objectives are reducing the negative environmental impacts of products over their life cycles and improving the functioning of the internal market. 

The proposed Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) draws inspiration from the successful Eco-design Directive and lessons learned from the Batteries Regulation. It lays down a framework for setting “ecodesign” requirements based on several aspects, including product durability, reusability, reparability, product energy and resource efficiency and carbon and environmental footprints. One of the main novelties is the introduction of the EU Digital Product Passport, a mandatory tool that will force end products to disclose information on components and recyclability potential.  

The proposal will enable rules to be set for any physical good placed on the market, including intermediate products. Only a few sectors, such as food, feed, and medical products, are exempted.  

The Commission will further launch by the end of 2022 a public consultation on the categories of products to be selected under the first Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation working plan.  

If adopted, the regulation could have environmental benefits by reducing pollution and resource use. It could also offer a strategic benefit to the EU by increasing its resource independence, important in the context of the current geopolitical situation. The EU sustainable product rules can be a game-changer for many industries. Orgalim, the association representing Europe’s technology industries, sees a clear competitive advantage which the EU should leverage to the fullest extent as it shifts to sustainable production and consumption patterns. BusinessEurope has also defined the package as a good step and an opportunity to further develop the European market for circular products and secondary raw materials. 

Savings related to greener design will be money “we did not pay to the Russian military budget,” said Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, referring to the bloc’s dependence on Russia for energy imports. The European Parliament gave the proposal a different review, calling on the Commission to do more. MEP Jessica Polfjärd warned that the Commission risks micromanaging industries, while MEP Anna Cavazzini called on the Commission to incentivise an absolute reduction on the material use with measures like a tax on virgin materials. MEP Tiemo Wölken hailed the package as “a milestone toward achieving the objectives of the Green Deal,” but stressed that “the devil is in the detail.” 

The construction sector has been very proactive toward this initiative. IKEA and the European Construction Industry Association agreed on the need for a clear regulatory framework with a clear and consistent distribution of tasks, calling for the exclusion of construction products from the scope of this Directive, thus avoiding duplication with the Construction Products Regulation. Another need that emerged in the consultation is a clear definition for repairable products and eco-design products. 

The Commission has now launched a public consultation open through 2 June 2022. Feedback from the survey will be summarised and presented to the European Parliament and the Council with the aim of feeding into the legislative debate.  

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