Tag Archives: circular economy

The EU’s ecodesign policy has a PR problem

Slice of burnt toast in a toaster machine

Toasters have been in the news again this week, with more controversy, and more delays to the long-awaited ecodesign working plan from the European Commission.

The plan will cover the next group of energy-related products to be given an innovation boost through ecodesign policies, which drive up energy efficiency standards, rewarding market leaders and taking inefficient products off the market. Ecodesign has been one of the EU’s most successful policies: it is already saving each European household €330 per year, and will deliver 40 per cent of the EU’s 2020 energy savings target.

But despite the benefits, the European Commission has never succeeded in communicating the value of the policy. Instead, it has backed away from naming new products it will regulate. It delayed its working plan for 6 months ahead of the UK referendum earlier this year, in fear of how British tabloid newspapers would react. Even after the referendum, the commission has continued to keep a low profile. The delays have turned into a farce: the working plan, which was due to cover activity between 2015 and 2017 now looks like it might not start until next year.

This week the College of Commissioners met, and ecodesign was on the agenda again. Pre-meeting coverage focused on a leaked proposal to remove household goods such as toasters and hair dryers from the list, in the face of apparent concerns that using ecodesign to improve consumer goods is ‘too intrusive’, notwithstanding their positive impact on the environment and consumer bills.

Despite the backpedalling, again the commission has delayed. The unofficial word is that the commissioners will discuss the issue again in two weeks. It is clear that this decision is being taken at the highest level, with President Juncker himself getting involved, amidst fears that new proposals may provide ammunition for attacks by eurosceptics.

The commission has experienced such criticism in the past, not least when regulation that made vacuum cleaners more effective and efficient led to ‘hoovergate’ – a series of critical articles in the UK press about EU overreach. The fact that the result was vacuum cleaners that were better at picking up dust, and used less energy doing so, was largely ignored.

What is different about this proposed list is that it is the first time that the Commission plans to act to improve resource efficiency, as well as energy efficiency. This makes the potential gains even bigger: we can not only save money, but have longer-lasting, more easily repairable products.

It also provides a new communications opportunity for the Commission.

Whilst energy efficiency has delivered huge savings for European consumers, people simply don’t feel the immediate gain: they don’t associate changes in their annual energy bills to improvements in product performance, particularly when other factors, such as variations in energy cost, make this more difficult to isolate.

But the experience of products that break too soon, and of being told that replacement is cheaper than repair, is sadly all too familiar for many of us. It is frustrating to be told that a washing machine is too difficult to repair, or that a mobile phone screen can only be repaired by the manufacturer. And consumers may fear that, without government intervention, there are few incentives for manufacturers to make their products last longer if they can simply sell us a new one instead. Getting a longer life out of every day products is an easily communicated win, with a more direct impact on the consumer.

By introducing rules that improve the quality of our products, the EU can promote energy and resource efficiency at the same time. And the benefits of greater durability and repairability are clearly apparent for consumers. Green Alliance will shortly be publishing a study showing how simple changes to everyday products can make them last longer and be easier to fix if they do go wrong. We will launch this new study at an event in Brussels on 9 November, when we will challenge the European Commission to back their ecodesign policies, and unblock the publication of a new work programme.

The EU’s ecodesign policy is broken: let’s fix it, and cut-out those broken products at the same time.

Retailers need to up their game to address the global resource crisis

SupermarketThis post is by Thomas Fischer, head of the Circular Economy Programme at Environmental Action Germany (DUH)

This week we celebrated a rather tragic landmark: the point when we used up all the resources that our planet can regenerate in one year. The fact that Earth Overshoot Day happened in early August points to the gravity of resource overconsumption, but the costs are already visible in ocean acidification, water pollution, destruction of forests and nearly every other environmental problem. Fortunately, there is a solution: a resource efficient circular economy. Germany has pursued a circular economy agenda for the past decade in industry, but retailers haven’t been keeping up.

Read more

Banks are waking up to the advantages of a circular economy

the bankGreen Alliance was among the first organisations to recognise the potential of the financial sector to drive sustainability.   In 1992, alongside the Rio environment summit, UNEP brokered a Statement by Banks on Environment and Sustainable Development, and Green Alliance encouraged UK institutions to get involved.

Four years later, Green Alliance assessed progress against the pledges: it was discernible, but slow.  Twenty-odd years on, we see the seeds sown at Rio yielding results, as financial institutions start to act on the risks and opportunities presented by environmental challenges. Read more

Top 10: circular economy resources

Abstract circular backgroundA representative of a leading US company recently told me that it was seeking a bigger presence in the UK because of our “thought leadership” on the circular economy.

That is in large part due to more than fifteen years of work by WRAP and Green Alliance, two organisations I have the privilege to work with, along with the Royal Society of Arts, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and a host of progressive business organisations.

But how to access the wealth of excellent material available on the subject? For key entry points, here are my top ten suggestions to help you get to grips with the circular economy: Read more

Will the EU’s new circular economy plans live up to expectation?

illustration europeA version of this post first appeared on BusinessGreen.

After months of speculation, we will soon have clarity on a debate that’s been rumbling on for months. No, I’m not talking about who’s going to run the country, but what the European Commission means by a “more ambitious” circular economy package.  This is the set of policy and regulatory measures proposed by the Commission to minimise waste and make the most of the economic opportunities from repair and recycling across Europe. Read more

Building a circular economy, one smartphone at a time

smartphone - highways EnglandSmartphones, tablets and laptops are ubiquitous in the wealthy world, and the makers of these devices have their eyes set on selling to the next five billion consumers in emerging markets. And why not? Access to the internet is a good thing, and digital technologies can enable better resource productivity, smarter conservation, and lower waste. The fact that smart devices have been selling like hotcakes for the past decade might lead business executives to think more growth is practically inevitable. Read more

Scotland could use the oil price crash to kick-start CCS

Offshore oil platform, North ScotlandThis post first appeared on Guardian Sustainable Business.

Such was the shock of the oil price’s precipitous decline in recent months that tongues were set swiftly wagging about what the explanation could be. Killing off electric vehicles, US shale producers, or Iran’s and Russia’s economies, were all put forward as the real reason behind OPEC’s public explanation that keeping the taps open and so depressing prices is about protecting market share. Read more

Lessons from Easter Island about why we need a circular economy

Osterinsel Moai StatueThis post is by Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP. It first appeared on Guardian Sustainable Business.

We hear a lot about how we are running out of resources but, for many people, it is hard to visualise. Sometimes I’m asked: “Could it really happen?” The simple answer is yes, it could. And a lot sooner than we might think if change isn’t initiated soon. In fact, we have examples of where it has already happened. Read more

What’s the role of the environment in business success?

BuchenwaldThis post first appeared on the CBI’s The Great Business Debate.

The environment has been the bank that keeps on giving for business:  it is the source of materials, and the sink for waste products. The sheer size of our oceans and continents and the absorption capacity of the atmosphere has meant that this free business support service has been central to many companies’ success. Read more

What Wales and Scotland can teach us about the circular economy

recyclingA version of this post was first published on BusinessGreen.

With memories of the world cup fading fast, something that has stayed with me are the many scenes of jubilant fans, perhaps because these reminded me of happy times spent in Brazil during its famous carnival celebrations. But it also brought back less happy memories of street children weaving their way through the partying crowds scooping up the beer cans that fuelled the revelry. Read more

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