A draft report published on August 24 2011 sheds light on which products may soon be affected by EU environmental rules under the EU Ecodesign Directive (2009/125/EC). Products regulated under EU ecodesign law that do not comply with the relevant requirements will not qualify for CE marking and consequently cannot be placed on the market in the European Union.

The concept of ecodesign is based on the premise that a considerable part of a product's environmental impact is determined at the design stage. By regulating the design of certain products, the European Union hopes to contribute to its 20% energy-saving target by the year 2020. Although the first directive on ecodesign concerned only energy-using products, the scope of the current directive further encompasses energy-related products (eg, bathroom fittings such as taps and showerheads, insulation products such as windows, and construction materials).

An ongoing study on the functioning and future prospects of EU ecodesign law is contemplating the further expansion of its scope to all kinds of consumer products, not just those related to energy use. The findings of this study are due to be released by the end of 2011.

The current directive, like its predecessor, merely provides a framework for setting ecodesign requirements. The task of establishing detailed implementing rules lies with the European Commission. The commission carries out its work according to a so-called working plan which sets out an indicative list of product groups considered as priorities for the adoption of implementing measures in the subsequent three years.

Although the scope of EU ecodesign law was significantly extended by the current directive, all 12 existing implementing measures concern electrical and electronic equipment (eg, lighting products, televisions, fans, electric motors, household dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerators and freezers).

The recently published draft report anticipates the commission's working plan for the period 2012 to 2014. The publication contains an indicative product list, which highlights two key points. First, the commission will issue requirements for more energy-using products, including mobile phones, electric kettles and water cookers, non-domestic hot beverage equipment and home audio products.

Second, the commission will turn its attention to energy-related products, including taps and showerheads, detergents and thermal insulation products for buildings.

In the draft report, products are ranked according to their environmental improvement potential in light of criteria such as energy consumption and market volume. Taps and showerheads, for instance, are ranked as the top priority due to a finding that there is ample room for improvement with regard to the consumption of potable water, and the existence of various complementary member state/industry measures (eg, relating to energy and eco-labelling), voluntary initiatives by stakeholders and some third-country product legislation.

The commission must publish its definitive working plan for the period 2012 to 2014 no later than October 21 2011. While its publication will give an insight into which products are likely to become subject to EU ecodesign regulation, it is merely the first step towards the adoption of implementing measures.

Once the working plan is adopted, each product group mentioned will be analysed in a preparatory study to determine the most suitable ecodesign requirement. A thorough impact study will follow and determine, in particular, energy-saving potential and costs for industry. Based on this information, the commission will prepare a draft regulation, which will be submitted for comments to a set group of stakeholders, put to vote by a special regulatory committee and finally scrutinised by the European Parliament.

It takes a number of years for implementing measures to be established. Even after adoption, a transition period may be put into place before certain eco-friendly requirements take effect. Despite this lengthy procedure, companies should be alerted to the fact that stakeholders are pushing the commission for faster regulation.

While the forthcoming ecodesign requirements will eventually impose indisputable constraints on businesses, such EU measures will provide a single set of common standards for traders to follow in the 27 member states. In addition, the commission states that it aims to keep ecodesign requirements cost-effective and avoid imposing excessive administrative burdens on manufacturers. Time will tell whether this promise will be kept with regard to the new product requirements.

Further information on the draft report can accessed at http://www.ecodesign-wp2.eu/documents.htm.

For further information on this topic please contact Reshad Forbes at Van Bael & Bellis by telephone (+32 2 647 73 50), fax (+32 2 640 64 99) or email ([email protected]).