The EU Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR)

What It Means for Businesses

The proposal for the new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) has landed, meaning brands all over the world must grapple with the need to understand and then implement a raft of new requirements. 

What is the new Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation?

Presented as a proposal by the European Commission on 30th March 2022, the ESPR forms part of the Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI), which includes a range of proposals released in support of the European Green Deal. 

Originally announced in March 2020, as part of the package of measures in the Circular Economy Action Plan (one of the main building blocks of the European Green Deal, Europe’s agenda for sustainable growth), the goal of the Sustainable Products Initiative (SPI) is to “make sustainable products the norm in the EU” by increasing their durability, reusability, repairability, recyclability and energy efficiency.  

The ESPR is currently working its way through the legislative process and, if adopted by the European Commission, will set out a general framework imposing ecodesign requirements on products intended for sale on EU markets. Any organisation placing goods for sale on the European market, whether or not they are based within Europe, will be required to comply with the requirements of the regulation. Additional delegated acts with specific requirements for a particular product or group of products will follow, with up to 30 new delegated acts anticipated by 2030. 

The proposed ESPR, and specifically the delegated acts that will follow it, will have a significant impact on the way in which products are designed in the future.  

Where are we currently?

The use of a variety of products is part of everyday life for all of us. Although consumers are now paying more attention to how they recycle products, there is less focus on the wide-ranging and significant negative impacts associated with the production, consumption, and eventual disposal of such products. Negative environmental impacts arise across the lifecycle of a product, from the initial extraction of raw materials, through energy-intensive manufacturing, global distribution, and the generation of waste at the end of life. 

By addressing design, which determines up to 80% of the environmental impact of a product across its lifecycle, the proposed ESPR forms the bedrock of the SPI. 

So, what’s new for Ecodesign? 

The ESPR expands the scope of its predecessor, the current and successful EcoDesign Directive 2009/125, by including products of “the broadest possible range”, rather than just energy-related products. It also covers component parts and intermediary products (food, feed and medicinal products will however be exempt). 

The proposed ESPR approach is three-pronged:  

  • Firstly, the design of products will need to be reviewed to address ecodesign requirements (performance and information), which are being introduced in response to the environmental and sustainability concerns created by products.  
  • To support sustainable production and the transition to a circular economy, the long anticipated Digital Product Passport (DPP) will be introduced, helping to allow easy and convenient access to and sharing of product data. This will require all obligated products placed on the market to be equipped with a machine-readable passport and to be uniquely identified.   
  • Finally, although the proposal doesn’t currently impose a prohibition on the destruction of unsold goods, it introduces significant transparency requirements for such goods throughout the value chain and paves the way for future delegated acts to prohibit this destruction. A ban on the destruction of (some categories of) unsold goods is already in place in Germany through its Recycling Act and in France through its anti-waste law. In addition, the same has recently been tabled in Scotland as part of its proposed Circular Economy Bill. Given this direction of travel, alongside existing concerns that the current proposal doesn’t place an outright ban on the destruction of unsold goods, it is feasible that stronger requirements could be introduced in advance of the proposal’s adoption.  

What impact will the directive have on my business?

The ESPR details the general framework imposing ecodesign requirements on products intended for sale on EU markets. However, it is the additional delegated acts that will contain specific requirements for a particular product or group of products. Although such delegated acts will not come immediately (and based on the existing speed of development under the Ecodesign Directive the timeline could be quite lengthy), the Commission already consulted on its first Working Plan earlier this year. This plan will identify a list of priority products for which delegated acts will be adopted. 30 new delegated acts are expected to be created by 2030.  

Of highest importance will be those products that can positively contribute to the EU’s climate, environmental and energy objectives. The initial list of identified products for the first working plan includes textiles, furniture, mattresses, tyres, detergents, paints, lubricants.  

Once any product specific delegated acts are in place, the performance and product information requirements for obligated products can be extensive. Performance requirements could include measures related to durability, reliability, reusability, upgradability, repairability, maintenance and refurbishment, the presence of substances of concern, energy use or energy efficiency, resource use or resource efficiency, recycled content, the possibility of remanufacturing and recycling, the possibility of the recovery of materials, the environmental impacts including carbon and environmental footprint; and expected generation of waste materials. 

To comply with the information requirements, relevant products placed on the market will need to be supplied with detailed information giving the consumer visibility under each of the performance requirement topic areas. This information can be physically displayed on the product or its packaging or be standalone e.g., through a website. Given the volume of information required it is probable that product passports might be the preferred method for providing this information. 

The degree to which the proposed regulations could impact individual businesses and the products they manufacture will vary. For those organisations whose products are captured under the current Ecodesign Directive, preparations may take a similar format. 

How can businesses start to prepare?

Although the lack of concrete information for businesses at this stage might delay action, the best way to prepare for the changes are to: 

  • Ensure that you keep a watching brief on the progression of the proposal, the delegated acts and what individual member states may be saying.  
  • Consider engaging a specialist to help you pick through the risks and opportunities the proposal presents for your business, particularly those actively involved with the product groups likely to make it into the Commission’s first working plan this year.  
  • Conduct an LCA assessment of your product portfolio. The insights gained about where and why environmental impacts occur, will not only help you to report them to regulators and customers, but will also help you develop effective reduction strategies. 

It is clear that we need to rethink how we produce and consume goods if we are to move away from the traditional linear economy of take-make-dispose and implement a truly circular economy in the Decisive Decade. Part of this journey will be streamlining the regulatory framework, so it is fit for a sustainable future.  

While the ESPR will move us a step closer to making sustainable products the norm at a European level, the reality of what this will mean in practice will be determined by the subsequent delegated acts and their enforcement. It is, however, clear that the ESPR will have a significant impact on the way products are designed and managed in the future. To ensure compliance with the requirements in the regulations, businesses should consider how they start preparing for and embracing the changes. 

How can Anthesis support?

Anthesis can help you:  

  • Understand the proposed regulation and potential impacts to your business.  
  • Develop and implement a Design for Sustainability program the helps your organisation stay ahead of the proposed ESPR regulation and other drivers.  
  • Conduct a life cycle assessments (LCAs) to understand existing impacts of your product portfolio.  
  • Develop strategies to reduce the impacts of your organization’s product portfolio and meet corporate regulatory requirements and business objectives.  
  • Liaise with industry organisations and mediate with regulators during the policy development process. 
  • Develop waste minimisation strategies and implement circular business models across your products and packaging portfolio.