ECOS Annual Workshop 2015 – Standards for an energy efficient, circular economy

On the 1st of July, policy makers, stakeholders and industry came together at the ECOS Annual Workshop to discuss how standards can support an energy efficient, circular economy whilst reflecting contemporary societal needs.

Robert NuijThe event was opened by EEB EU Policy Director and ECOS President Pieter de Pous, and a keynote speech was given by Robert Nuij, Head of Sector for Energy Efficiency of Products at DG ENER from the European Commission. 

In an energetic speech, Robert Nuij highlighted the increasingly important role of standardisation to support policy, and therefore the increased relevance to societal needs. It was underlined that standards ‘’have to do it right’’, by being developed in an appropriate, timely, transparent manner, by being verifiable and enforceable, and by not trying to replace or interpret regulatory provisions.

Session 1: Should standards be mirroring reality, or prescribing it?

Panelists: Stamatis Sivitos (ECOS), Alexandre della Faille (CCMC), Professor Rainer Stamminger (University of Boon), Professor Tim Cooper (Nottingham Trent University), Sylvia Maurer (BEUC), Alexander Eisenberg (BSH Home Appliances)

In the first session, the issue of the consumer role in regulation and standardisation with regards to energy and material efficiency was discussed. The panellists exposed the multidimensional character of consumer behaviour, and how highly questionable assumptions about it, in test methods, can lead to favourable energy label product ratings. This however, misinforms consumers under certain conditions, such as with the case of the ‘eco-modes’ in water heaters. In addition, cases where the incorporation of consumer behaviour can improve the quality of standards, but also reveal challenges, were showcased (e.g. aspects related to water and energy consumption, washing time and other parameters in the case of washing machines).

Considering the evidence and examples of consumer behaviour provided above, there are a number of recommendations for the future:

  1. Consumer behaviour is diverse, and sometimes influenced by culture, but there is a strong need for consumers to have access to correct information in order for them to be able to make quality decisions;
  2. There is a need to raise consumer expectations with improving standards, which would provide assurance and certainty;
  3. There is a need for more research and harmonisation of definitions/theoretical frameworks around circular economy.

The key message of the first session was that standards and regulations cannot prescribe or mirror consumer behaviour, but should rather reflect and consider it. For that purpose, incorporating consumer studies, and specifying testing methods to better reflect consumer behaviour is crucial for the development of regulations and standards which are representative of real-life conditions; upcoming legislative opportunities (e.g. the revision of the Energy Labelling Directive or revision of domestic appliance Ecodesign regulations) should be grasped to address this issue. Furthermore, in a society facing increased environmental and resource challenges, new business models and economic instruments should be explored.

The panellists’ presentations are available here

iFixit demonstration – How to change the battery of a mobile phone

iFixit demonstrationThomas Opsomer gave an on-site demonstration of how some mobile phones are designed for planned obsolescence, by making it nearly impossible to change the battery and extend the lifetime of the product. He argued that the assumption that the majority of consumers want to regularly upgrade their mobile phones is incorrect, referring to how two of iFixit’s best-selling products are the iPhone 4 battery and a battery replacement toolkit. Regarding on-going regulatory work, the need to further investigate mobile phones and other resource demanding ICT products in the next Ecodesign Working Plan 2015-17 was underlined. Moreover, the necessity for the systematic consideration of durability and other material efficiency aspects in the preparation of future product specific Ecodesign regulations was also stressed.

 

Session 2:  Moving towards a circular economy: Life-cycle consideration in standards, from renewable material to reuse and recycling

Panellists: Dania Cristofaro (ECOS), Horst Fehrenbach (IFEU), Mathias Gustavsson (IVL), Maria Gustafsson (SIS), Lionel Weidman (ENVIE)

The second session explored land as a scarce resource, and the ambition of the circular economy to promote bio-economy and renewable materials. The panelists presented and discussed the potential implications and limitations of existing requirements in standards related to bio-energy, bio-based products (products fully or partially derived from biomass) and reuse/recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

Considering the examples discussed for enabling the circular economy, there are a number of key messages for the future:

  1. Sustainable production of biomass is key to enhance the circular economy ensuring that it does not compete with food, environmental protection, and local needs;
  2. Transmitting sustainability information along the supply chain of biomass used for bio-energy and bio-based products (often global) has been the aim of the international standard under development at ISO level. However, this does not imply per se that the biomass is sustainable, as there are no minimum thresholds established. The use of the standard is voluntary but the scope is much broader than existing certification schemes;
  3. The concept of bio-based products has been promoted in the EU (and in the US) to enhance the use of renewable materials in our economy. The European standards under development will make it mandatory to inform consumers about the bio-based content of products, while information concerning the recyclability and sustainability will be voluntary. This approach is risky as it might promote the use of unsustainable biomass and products that, despite being bio-based, are not recyclable at all;
  4. Legal requirements concerning recyclability exists in the EU for WEEE products with annual targets, but this is not the case for reuse, where member states are asked to create supporting conditions. A standard is under development for reuse of WEEE and hoping it will increase the reused products market, and not impose excessive burden or costly requirements on those operators.

The take away message is that legal requirements concerning sustainability, recyclability and reusability of products will be needed if the above mentioned standards are not ambitious enough. Life cycle considerations are not yet a reality in many standards, including those related to biomass.

The panellists’ presentations are available here

For more information about the ECOS Annual Event, please contact:
Christoforos Spilitopoulos - Energy Policy Officer – Standardisation  
Dania Cristofaro Pollution Control Officer – Standardisation 
Honey Kohan - Communications Officer