Feedback from the EUEW within the Roadmap on the Sustainable Products Initiative
The European Union of Electrical Wholesalers (EUEW), founded in 1955, is a 17-national organization representing the interests of the electrical wholesaling channel which distributes domestic and industrial products including lamps, lighting fixtures, electrical wires and cables, household appliances and electronic components.
The EUEW wishes to contribute the views of the European electrical wholesalers within the framework of the Inception Impact Assessment Roadmap on a Sustainable Products Initiative (“SPI”) as published by the Commission on 14 September 2020 and open for feedback until 16 November 2020.
This Initiative puts forward overarching principles on product sustainability, among others, the following specific measures:
Expanding the scope of the Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC) to cover a wider range of products beyond energy-related products, enabling minimum sustainability and information requirements to be set at the EU-level for the specific product groups and where priority will be given to addressing electronics, ICT and textiles;
Extended producer responsibility to provide more circular products and intervening before products can become waste;
Introducing new requirements on mandatory sustainability labelling;
Disclosure of information to market actors (using digital product passports);
Establishing rules for setting mandatory minimum sustainability requirements on public procurement of products;
Introducing requirements to address social aspects throughout the product lifecycle;
Introducing measures for production processes to facilitate the use of recycled content and remanufacturing, as well as track the use of hazardous substances;
Banning the destruction of certain unsold durable goods.
As an intermediary linking the upstream and the downstream of the value chain, wholesalers constitute a knowledge hub in the ecosystem, enhance the implementation of innovation and surely welcome initiatives aiming to provide a basis for ensuring high environmental performance of all products and services on the EU market.
In this quality, the EUEW wishes to share the following opinions:
Opinion 1: Difference between B-2-B and B-2-C
In the SPI a lot of attention is paid to the consumers that benefit from products that are more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable, and energy-efficient.
The Commission is invited to take into account that industries are different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for a circular economy. B-2-B relationships have different market conditions than B-2-C relationships.
The EUEW recommends therefore that implementation should be done sectorial taking the difference between the B-2-B and B-2-C markets into account, and with involvement of the sector stakeholders and their entire ecosystem.
Opinion 2: No one-fits-all definition of a sustainable product
The EUEW recommends to consider there is no one-fits-all-definition of what makes a product sustainable: some products become sustainable based on better performance compared to competing products in life cycle assessments. Other products are qualified as sustainable as throughout the products supply chain attention was paid to responsible labor, community and worker health and safety practices. Another category of products qualifies as sustainable due to their design with careful attention to material selection, processes used, logistics optimization and packaging choices or due to their focus on carbon footprint, recycled content, or for example water or energy efficiency.
It is therefore recommended to set out clear standards on how a product becomes sustainable.
Furthermore, all products are different. Life Cycle Assessment methodology can be used to evaluate sustainability, but implementing it to all products will create a remarkable cost increase and a burden to manufacturers. Market surveillance is certainly needed as sustainability claims without proper market surveillance would prove to be inefficient.
Opinion 3: Coherence and Consistency with other legislation
Electrical installations in buildings fall under the Construction Product Regulation, which is currently under review.
The review intends, among others, to include the harmonised assessment of the environmental performance of construction products into the regulation.
The Sustainable Product Initiative should not only look into the eco-design regulatory framework and take into account product specific aspects, which will be considered under the Construction Product Regulation. There will be the need to ensure coherence and avoid duplication of legal requirements.
As far as the Sustainable Product Initiative intends to render reparability mandatory and claims for the delivery of spare parts, repair instructions etc. are regulated in connection with it, the EUEW estimates it being imperative to ensure that such rights can be incorporated into the existing sales law without contradiction. Sales law contains a finely balanced system of warranty claims and counter rights of the seller. There are clear responsibilities and conditions for the assertion of claims. This system must not be impaired by a right to or obligation to repair. In particular, wholesalers should not be the obligated party in such reparability claims, but the manufacturer directly. As it is for example currently the case in the delegated regulations on ecodesign. Otherwise, there is a risk that wholesalers will be forced to act as a spare parts store and an extended factory customer service. This would pose considerable logistical problems for wholesalers in particular.
Opinion 4: The concepts “recycling“ and “repair” and binding targets and timeframes
When assessing the recyclability of products, the entire product life cycle (which is product related and depends on the product’s frequency of use) should be considered, including the conservation of resources through multi-recycling as well as possible positive effects through product application and optimization.
Apart from an evaluation of the recyclability based on the existing treatment infrastructure, the principle of innovation must be taken into account. Innovation and development in the field of waste and recycling technology will lead to the development of new solutions for products that are not recycled today. Therefore legal criteria of recyclability are regularly to be revised and recyclability must therefore not be assessed solely based on rigid design criteria.
Further, binding targets for the use of recycled materials presuppose that there are adequate markets for such materials. Regulations on this should therefore not be made generally, but rather product-specific.
The same is valid for repairs and maximum timeframes for repairs. Repairs should be encouraged wherever possible. However, regarding the regulation of mandatory repair times, it must be noted that products are inherently very different and the estimated lifetime of a product depends on the frequency of use, which makes a one-size-fits-all approach impossible. Different types of failures require more or less complex repairs. Therefore the EUEW shares the opinion it could be problematic to legislate on maximum timeframes for repairs. Guidelines for a recommended expected life cycle and/or number of operations could be included in product Ecodesign regulation. However these should remain recommendations and as a benchmark for generally accepted useable life of a product.
Opinion 5: The concept of “responsibility” throughout the ecosystem
Electrical wholesalers act as intermediary linking the upstream (manufacturer) and the downstream (installer) of the value chain. Ultimately it is the end-user that benefits from the installed product. Where the SPI analyzes in depth the question on how to improve sustainability of product, the SPI remains rather vague about the responsibilities to be given to the various actors of the eco-systems. Questions such as which party shall bear the end liability in terms of recyclability and repairs and/or if and how such liability can be transferred from one actor to another actor being part of the ecosystem need further to be clarified.
Opinion 6: Product data should be enriched with ecological data
Regarding disclosure of ecological information to market actors, the coexistence of duplicate and contradictory sets of models and tools should be avoided, especially as the tools are already available and developed by the industry and multiple databases all need to be maintained. Harmonization of labelling should be encouraged, and available product data should be enriched with ecological data.
The availability of the relevant ecological information can be solved with the existing various databases being established at European level, like the SCIP database for the notification of substances of concern under the waste directive and the EPREL database for appliances, which require an energy label. In order to reduce the burden on the industry, it should be avoided to create and to maintain databases for different aspects related to product sustainability.
Building Information Modelling (BIM) can play an important role for construction products as it facilitates the consideration of sustainability and circularity aspects in buildings. In the same context the electrical wholesalers would like to draw the attention to ETIM International. ETIM (European Technical Information Model) is a classification standard for technical product categories initially established for electrotechnical products and has been expanded to HVAC, plumbing and building materials. It is an existing and easy to use standard that should be favoured as the primary standard for the delivery of product information. It is giving structure to the flow of technical product information within the value chain and facilitates effective interaction between B2B professionals worldwide. In case additional information or technical features are required, this information can easily be added to the ETIM standard. Information on ETIM International can be found on their website.
The question also raises on ownership of the product information? Will ownership be and always stay with the manufacturer ? Is a transfer of liability be envisaged and if so, to whom will it be transferred and when shall such transfer of liability take place ? It is recommended the proposal addresses such questions and logically gives the end responsibility to the manufacturer. Attention should also be paid and encouragement should be given to the block chain technology enabling exchange of product data in full transparency and traceability.
Opinion 7: The responsibility for sustainable product design falls to the manufacturer
Manufacturers are the main responsible actors when it comes to making products sustainable, the bulk of the responsibility rightly falls to manufacturers. Importers (or any economic operator putting a product on the EU-market for the first time) have currently also a role and should have a role for the future as well. However, the manufacturers determine the design choices made for the product and thus, together with production methods, this does not fall under the control of the wholesalers. Wholesalers may inform but cannot control the correct use of a product which influences its lifetime either.
Opinion 8: The SPI enhances new opportunities for the wholesaler
Thanks to initiatives such as the SPI new opportunities for the wholesalers arise. In its role as an intermediary linking the upstream with the downstream of the value chain wholesalers may play a role in reverse logistics. A new range of products will be qualified and labelled as sustainable. Given their sustainable character and forthcoming obligations, such products will most probably have higher prices. It is there advisable that positive benefits, such as tax breaks or subsidies, support this range of products in order to encourage, in general, the more frequent use of sustainable products as well as the reuse of elements.
Opinion 9: Banning the destruction of durable goods
The SPI puts forwards a ban on the destruction of certain unsold durable goods. Such ban could be problematic for old, obsolete or perhaps non-competitive products. Therefore it is suggested that such ban on destruction should be removed as unpractical. A ban could be a future objective but enhancing recycling as a practical way of using the material content should be enhanced, at least during a transition period and especially for products having a good sustainability index.
In that respect the EUEW also emphasizes the importance of digital tools providing better visibility to markets. Tools enable value chain players to match production to demand and avoid overproduction and excessive stocks. There is a remarkable potential in saving raw material and improving environmental footprint.
Opinion 10: Wholesalers represent an important part of the solution towards a sustainable future
Electrification is the key measure to reduce CO2-emissions and build a more sustainable world. At the same time this requires production and installment of electrical products that need to have a high degree of circularity as ciritical material resources are required to produce these products.
The EUEW is looking forward to support a Sustainable Product Initiative that stimulates the path to a sustainable electrification in close cooperation with the industry and policy makers.
Implementation of the SPI should be done sectorial taking the difference between the B-2-B and B-2-C markets into account;
Clear standards on how a product becomes sustainable are to be set out;
Legal criteria of recyclability are regularly to be revised and recyclability must not be assessed solely based on rigid design criteria. Legislating on maximum timeframes for repairs can be problematic;
Responsibilities to be given to the various actors of the eco-systems are to be worked out;
Product data should be enriched with ecological data and in order to reduce the burden on the industry, it should be avoided to create databases for different aspects related to product sustainability;
The responsibility for sustainable product design should fall to the manufacturer;
Positive benefits should support the upcoming new range of sustainable products;
With regard to a ban, such ban should be removed as unpractical and recycling should be enhanced;
Wholesalers represent an important part of the solution towards a sustainable future.