Building the single market for green products
The single market for goods and services is one of the EU’s major strengths. However, it is far from being a reality for green products which have to apply different national schemes to validate their environmental performance. The absence of uniform procedures increases company costs and consumer confusion. A Commission initiative provides a solution.
Increasingly, companies and organisations are looking to display the green credentials of their products and activities. If they wish these to be sold or known in several Member States, they have to apply different environmental seal of approval schemes proposed by national authorities or large retailers.
These practical obstacles reduce opportunities for cross-border trading of green goods and have other damaging consequences as well. The hundreds of environmentally-friendly labels and schemes available confuse the public and may even engender mistrust, potentially reducing demand for green products. They also increase costs and red tape for companies which have to provide information on the same product to different organisations.
A three-year testing period is now taking place to develop product and sector-specific rules. The Commission is strongly encouraging companies, public bodies, NGOs and others both within the EU and further afield to help in the process by volunteering to participate in the product and organisation environmental footprints. The results will help determine the next phase in the development of the single market for green products.
Progressive companies and business federations, keen to develop the potential of resource-efficient and environmentally- friendly products, have raised these problems with the Commission, as have EU governments. In response, the Commission has proposed a voluntary scheme to agree common definitions of green products and organisations.
The proposal is for two methods of measuring environmental performance – one for products, and one for organisations – with a single philosophy behind them. The Product Environmental Footprint, or PEF, and the Organisation Environmental Footprint, or OEF, use clear criteria to deliver cradle-to-grave life-cycle assessments.
The scheme is designed to give the public reliable and comparable information about the environmental impact and credentials of products and organisations. This will enable them to make considered choices and reduce costs for companies.
The initiative was one of the key measures announced in the 2011 Single Market Act and in the following year’s communication updating industrial policy. It is also an integral element of the Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe as the Union implements policies to ensure green growth.