Ecodesign for sustainable products regulation

8 July 2024

ESPR: Redefining Sustainability in EU Product Design

As 2024 progresses, the business landscape is on the brink of transformation with the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) coming into effect on July 18, 2024. This regulation, a cornerstone in the EU’s green deal, is a game-changer, set to replace the existing European Ecodesign Directive (Directive 2009/125/EC), and introduces a comprehensive framework for sustainable product design and circular economy practices across the internal market.

Its goal? To make sustainable products the standard in the EU market. This article delves deep into what ESPR entails for businesses, its history, future, possible impacts, and how it links to LCAs and other important sustainable practices.

Overview of the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR)

The Current EU Ecodesign Directive: A Foundation to ESPR

The European Eco design Directive (Directive 2009/125/EC) established ecological standards within the EU for designing more than 30 product groups, including household appliances, electronics, and industrial equipment. This directive not only focuses on improving the energy efficiency of products but also considers other environmental aspects throughout their life cycle.

The Role of Energy Labeling in Ecodesign 

Working in tandem with the Energy Labeling Regulation, it targeted energy-intensive products by setting design requirements and labeling standards. According to the European Commission’s calculations, the EU Ecodesign Directive saved around EUR 120 billion in energy expenditure. Which leads to It demonstrates the efficacy of ecodesign and energy labeling. This outstanding result demonstrates the efficacy of ecodesign and energy labeling in encouraging a more sustainable market.

Incorporating Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) in Ecodesign 

Ecodesign, a sustainable design approach, uses environmental data, ideally from Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), to reduce a product’s environmental impact across its life cycle. 

LCA analysis is a crucial step in starting your ecodesign journey, since it provides insightful data that includes the entire life cycle.This holistic approach to product design ensures that environmental considerations are integrated at every step, paving the way for substantial reductions in resource use and waste generation.

Let us now go into the potential replacement of the European Ecodesign Directive. 

What is the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation ? 

The ESPR, proposed in March 2022, represents a significant leap from the current Ecodesign Directive. Officially coming into force on July 18, 2024, this regulation mandates stringent sustainability criteria for a wider range of products, aiming to enhance product longevity, repairability, and overall environmental performance.

Which Products are Governed by the Sustainable Products Regulation? 

As mentioned before, the proposal builds on the existing Ecodesign Directive. Which currently only covers energy-related products. The ESPR expands the EU’s existing ecodesign rules, which currently apply to electric appliances, to a wider range of products, including textiles, footwear and furniture. Additionally, for intermediary products, the priority lies in iron and steel. 

Enhancing Sustainability and Circularity in Product Design 

In the past, the eco design directive has been key in reducing energy consumption and saving costs for EU consumers, with an annual 10% reduction of energy usage by products in 2021 alone. Building on the success of its predecessor, the ESPR redefines product design with a broader focus on: 

  • Durability and Reparability
    Developing products that last longer and can be easily repaired or upgraded.
  • Circularity
    Minimizing waste by ensuring components and materials can be reused or recycled.
  • Resource efficiency
    Reducing the environmental impact through efficient use of energy and resources.
  • Recycled Content
    Promoting the use of recycled materials in new products.
  • Environmental Footprint
    Efficiently assessing the environmental impact of products, including their carbon footprint, through methods such as Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs.)

The Digital Product Passport: A Step Towards Transparency 

A key innovation within the ESPR is the introduction of the Digital Product Passport, which provides crucial information on products’ sustainability attributes such as durability, recycled content, and repairability. This initiative enhances consumer awareness, facilitates repairs and recycling, and brings transparency to the environmental impact of products.

Digital Product Passport

Global Reach of ESPR – Impact and Compliance Beyond EU 

The ESPR’s influence extends globally, impacting all products entering the EU market. This alignment with international trade rules encourages global partners to elevate their product sustainability standards, fostering a worldwide transition to a circular economy. It encourages global partners to elevate their product sustainability standards, fostering a transition to a circular economy and establishing a framework for global sustainable production.

The Transition Phase: Continuing the Legacy 

Until ESPR is fully implemented, the current Ecodesign Directive continues to guide product sustainability. The transition period serves as a bridge, gradually shifting focus from energy efficiency to comprehensive sustainability, in line with the EU’s working plan.

Anticipating the Impact of ESPR on Industries

As the ESPR approaches full implementation, industries are preparing for a significant shift in product design and manufacturing processes. This section explores potential adaptations and challenges industries may face in anticipation of these regulations.

Preparing for ecodesign: Potential Industry Adaptations 

  • Electronics and Appliances:
    As a sector likely to be heavily impacted by ESPR, electronics and appliances are progressively focusing on energy efficiency and reducing hazardous substances.
  • Textile Industry:
    Anticipating the inclusion of textiles in ESPR’s scope, this industry is starting to shift towards sustainable materials, reduced water usage, and minimizing waste in production. The concept of a circular economy, emphasizing recycling and upcycling, is becoming more prominent in product strategies.
  • Furniture and Homeware:
    In preparation for ESPR, this sector is exploring sustainable sourcing and designing products for durability and recyclability. Trends like modular designs for easy repairs and upgrades are gaining popularity.
  • Food and Beverage Industry:
    This industry is likely to see changes in product packaging under ESPR, with a push towards sustainable packaging options and reduced food waste. There’s also a growing focus on sustainable sourcing of ingredients and reducing the carbon footprint of production and distribution processes.
  • Cosmetics and Personal Care Industry:
    The cosmetics industry is adapting by reformulating products to reduce environmental impact, such as using biodegradable ingredients and sustainable sourcing. There’s also a movement towards eco-friendly packaging solutions and reducing the use of water and energy in production processes.

Proactive Approaches to Ecodesign Adaptation Challenges

  • Cost Implications:
    Adapting to ESPR is expected to require significant initial investments, particularly in developing products, finding sustainable materials, and changing production processes, a challenge that is especially acute for SMEs.
  • Supply Chain Readiness:
    The need for supply chain adjustments in line with Ecodesign standards is prompting industries to start reevaluating their material sources and production practices, a complex task for those with extensive global networks.
  • Regulatory Anticipation:
    Keeping pace with the developing ESPR framework and preparing for eventual compliance is a current focus. This includes proactive product redesign and setting up systems for future compliance monitoring.
  • Consumer Engagement:
    Industries are starting to consider how to align their sustainable product initiatives with consumer expectations regarding performance, cost, and convenience. This involves not only redesigning products to meet environmental standards but also educating consumers about the benefits and importance of sustainable choices.

Preparing for ESPR: Embracing Life Cycle Assessment

Integrating Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) into product portfolios is crucial for businesses preparing for the ESPR. LCAs provide essential insights into environmental hotspots and potential improvements, ensuring compliance with ESPR criteria and fostering eco-innovation. And of course the outputs of conducting an LCA can be used as a valuable input for your digital product passports.

Life Cycle Assessment

Implementing LCA for Enhanced Sustainability

Conducting LCAs across product ranges enables companies to identify and address critical areas of resource use, emissions, and waste generation, aligning with ESPR’s sustainability criteria and positioning businesses as leaders in eco-friendly innovation.

Beyond Compliance: Innovation and Consumer Trust

Beyond regulatory compliance, LCA serves as a catalyst for developing eco-friendly, energy-efficient products, building consumer trust through transparent environmental performance data, and preparing businesses for the Digital Product Passport.

The Evolving Role of LCA in ESPR

While LCA is a cornerstone of the ecodesign philosophy, its role within the ESPR framework is continually evolving. Businesses must stay agile and informed about these changes, ensuring their LCA practices are in line with the latest requirements and best practices.

By doing this, they not only comply with regulations but also become leaders in sustainable product innovation.

This integration of LCA into business operations is not just a regulatory requirement; it’s a strategic move towards a sustainable future. Aligning with future goals of ESPR and setting a new standard in product design and environmental stewardship.

Conclusion: Pioneering a Sustainable Future with ESPR

As the EU adopts the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), industries are set for a transformative shift in product design and sustainability. Leveraging advanced LCA capabilities, businesses can not only comply with the evolving regulations but also lead the way in sustainable innovation, driving the market towards a greener, more resilient future. 

The ESPR not only signifies a step towards enhanced environmental responsibility but also underscores the need for businesses to adapt, innovate, and align with evolving consumer expectations in sustainability. It marks a pivotal moment in the journey towards a more eco-conscious and circular economy.

At Pilario, we simplify the transition to sustainable practices. Our SaaS platform, backed by industry leaders like AB InBev, L’Oréal, Heineken, and Ball Packaging, features certified LCA models that make embracing eco-design and calculating your environmental footprint easy. Our user-friendly SaaS tool helps businesses integrate sustainability into their strategies, turning challenges into opportunities for a greener future. Want to learn more? We are happy to discuss this in a call.