Integrated product policy
The Commission is presenting a strategy for strengthening and refocusing product-related environmental policies with a view to promoting the development of a market for greener products and, ultimately, to stimulating public discussion on this topic.
Green Paper of 7 February 2001 on integrated product policy (presented by the Commission) [COM(2001) 68 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
In principle, all products and services fall within the scope of this Green Paper.
The proposed strategy calls for the involvement of all the parties concerned at all possible levels of action and throughout the life cycle of the products. Eco-design must be promoted by the manufacturers so as to ensure that the products on the market are more environmentally friendly. Distributors should put green products on the shelves and should inform consumers of their existence and benefits. Consumers should preferably choose green products and use them in such a way as to prolong their shelf life and reduce their impact on the environment. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could play a role in identifying problems and solutions with a view to creating products that are more environmentally friendly.
The integrated product policy (IPP) strategy focuses on the three stages in the decision-making process which strongly influence the life cycle environmental impacts of products, viz. application of the polluter pays principle in fixing the prices of products, informed consumer choice and eco-design of products.
Fixing the prices of products
The environmental performance of products can best be optimised by the market once all prices reflect the true environmental costs of these products. This is not normally the case, but application of the polluter pays principle would enable these market failures to be corrected by ensuring that the environmental costs were integrated into the price.
The main idea advanced in the Green Paper as a means of implementing the polluter pays principle is differentiated taxation according to the environmental performance of products, e.g. the application of lower VAT rates to products carrying the eco-label or the introduction of other environmental taxes and charges.
The principle of producer responsibility has already been integrated into the Directive on end-of-life vehicles and into the proposal on waste electrical and electronic equipment, but it also needs to be extended in scope to cover other sectors.
Informed consumer choice
This Green Paper sees the process of educating consumers (including children) and companies as an important way of promoting demand for more environmentally friendly products, thereby making for greener consumption.
Another way of ensuring informed consumer choice consists in providing consumers with understandable, relevant and credible technical information either through labelling on the product or through other readily accessible sources of information. In order to minimise the environmental impact, attention should be drawn to the appropriate conditions governing the use of these products. The Internet and other new information technologies open up prospects for data exchange, including assessment and best practice data.
Already, the European eco-label represents a source of information for consumers, but its scope needs to be widened to take in a broader range of products. Public funding of this kind of eco-labelling should be increased, both at European and at national level.
Other instruments likely to promote environmentally friendly consumption are green claims, self-declarations and ISO Type III labelling. In the near future, the Commission will be presenting guidelines on the formulation and assessment of environmental self-declarations. The Green Paper draws attention to the desirability of cooperation at Community level with a view to promoting greater use of ISO labelling.
The fact that public procurement contracts represent 12 % of the European Union's GDP will serve as a potential encouragement to manufacturers to increase the production of green products if such contracts focus on the purchase of environmentally friendly products. The European Commission is looking into the possibility of publishing two communications, one on the subject of public procurement contracts and the environment and the other on good environmental practices in the public procurement contracts sector. It is also looking into the possibility of setting an example to others by greening its own public procurement contracts and registering under the EMAS scheme.
Eco-design of products
With a view to extending eco-design across a broader range of products, steps must be taken to produce and publish information on the environmental impact of products throughout their life cycle. Life Cycle Inventories (LCIs) and Life Cycle Analyses (LCAs) are effective instruments to this end.
The Green Paper notes that eco-design guidelines and a general strategy for integrating the environment in the design process could be used as instruments for the promotion of the life cycle concept within companies.
Taking account of the environment in the context of the standardisation process is highly desirable. The use of the new approach to promote eco-design is also a potential sphere of action.
The Green Paper proposes the setting-up of product study groups made up of the parties concerned, whose task will be to try and achieve environmental objectives and remove the obstacles associated with each specific group of products.
The eco-management and environmental audit schemes, such as the EMAS systems, are important instruments in the quest to ascertain and control the effects of products on the environment. They have a potential role to play in the promotion of IPP.
Other Community instruments, such as the research and development programmes and LIFE, are listed as instruments that could help to promote IPP. To this end, it would be desirable to include IPP in the 6th Framework Research Programme of the European Union.
A study launched by the European Commission is looking at standardisation and accountability of environmental information with a view to featuring the environment in the financial reports of companies.
Participation in the debate
In the context of the Green Paper, the European Commission has organised consultation meetings with the parties concerned. Details of these consultations, together with summaries and conclusions, will be made available on the Environment DG's Internet website.
The results of this public debate forms the basis of a Commission communication on the IPP published in June 2003.