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Examining the new Ecodesign Regulation

What is it, what actions do you need to take, and when should you be taking them?

In recent years, legislators have passed down a glut of regulations that organizations have had to figure out how to deal with. While all have their merits, it’s almost a given that some get a little lost in the noise. However, every now and then a regulatory development occurs that has the power to change the design and manufacturing landscape as we know it, and for good. 

That happened on 23rd April 2024. The European Parliament approved a new Ecodesign Regulation to make products sold in the EU more reusable, repairable, upgradeable, and recyclable. 

Let’s take a look at what it means, who it will impact, and the actions you need to take. 

What is the new Ecodesign Regulation? 

After a somewhat tumultuous journey through the legislative corridors of the European Parliament, the version of the Ecodesign Regulation for Sustainable Products (ESPR) that passed on 23rd April was both final and unanimously agreed upon. It is a framework that will significantly alter how goods are introduced and sold in the EU. 

The intention behind it is clear. As Italian lawmaker Alessandra Moretti said, it is “time to put an end to the ‘take, make, throw away’ model that is so harmful to our planet, our health and our economy”. 

The new rules will update the current 2009 directive, which exclusively concerned energy-related products, in terms of efficiency and circularity. They call on the Commission to give priority to resource-intensive sectors such as iron, steel, aluminium, textiles, furniture, tyres, detergents, paints, lubricants, and chemicals. It’ll also enforce a Digital Product Passport to aid informed consumer choices. 

A key element of the Green Deal, ESPR is part of the broader circular economy package, which aims for the EU to use and reuse materials far more efficiently. The package also contributes towards the EU’s goal of having net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and should reduce harm to the environment. 

As Moretti summarized: “Sustainable products will become the norm, allowing consumers to save energy, repair and make smart environmental choices when they are shopping.” 

The text now needs the final approval from national governments to enter into EU law. 

Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European consumer organisation, concluded that “the framework needs to be implemented quickly. It is essential that the European Commission and member state market surveillance authorities allocate resources to the development and application of the new rules.” 

What happens next? 

ESPR is due to be published in the Official Journal of the EU and enter into force by July 2024. The first delegated acts spelling out specific ecodesign requirements may not come into force until the second half of 2025. The first ecodesign requirements are expected to apply to textiles and steel, and are likely to enter into force by mid-2027.   

In addition, the EU is expected to publish a three-year working plan prioritising ecodesign requirements per product in March 2025, providing further guidance as to when products will come under increased scrutiny. 

However, given design and production cycles, manufacturers of products, especially those on the European Commission’s priority list, should begin to familiarise themselves with the ESPR’s requirements now and assess what needs to be done to ensure their products are compliant. If they don’t, they could risk losing access to the EU market as well as losing significant ground to better prepared competitors. 

Without doubt, these requirements represent a pivotal moment for the manufacturing industry, challenging stakeholders across businesses to rethink their production methods. Those companies who are able to adopt a proactive approach to ecodesign will be ahead of the curve. Companies who leave it leave to the last minute – those who lack urgency until the regulation is live – will find it hard to catch up. 

Indeed, at Makersite, we’re already seeing mature companies like Microsoft taking the necessary steps. For the last two years they’ve worked to rebuild and refine their Surface Pro 10, using Makersite’s automated LCA models to identify and evaluate hotspots in their supply chain. In doing so, they reduced its carbon footprints by up to 28% within a 24-month timespan. 

This is the gold standard. It is what all businesses should be aiming for. It takes a long time to get to where you need to be. If we look back at similar regulatory developments that went on to facilitate a sea change in manufacturing approaches and consumer awareness (like nutrition labels in the early 1970s, for example), it’s obvious that it won’t take long for something like ESPR to reach critical mass.  

Within a decade, it’s extremely likely that it will have reached mass adoption in Europe. It’s a plan as ambitious as it is comprehensive. And it’s one where a forward-thinking approach – utilizing a solution where environmental impacts can be determined in just minutes – will make all the difference. 

What actions should you take – and when? 

Now is not the time to hold back. Those organizations who wait for final approval will find themselves firmly on the back foot. Businesses who seek to get their houses in order immediately will reap the rewards further down the line. 

The impact of ESPR on companies’ core operations will be significant. Beyond specific traceability elements, the requirements will directly affect products at all stages in the value chain, including recyclability, the use of recycled contents, and durability. 

ESPR will require that companies look at products and their value chains, create transparency and evaluate impacts at that level, and report on that – all on a regular basis. It’s not something that can be done one product at a time. It needs a different approach. 

Today, most organizations are not set up to deal with reporting on that scale. But in order to succeed, they need to equip their engineers and designers with tools that offer instantaneous feedback on the environmental impact of design alterations in order for them to ensure that sustainable products not only adhere to the new regulations but become the norm. 

In order to comply with the regulation, businesses now need to take the proper steps to collect realistic data and create the necessary infrastructure to drive innovation, all while obtaining real-time insights into the impact of changes on the environmental impact of products.

In order align with ESPR and reduce a product’s environmental impact quickly, organizations need to be able to immediately see how material, manufacturing processes or supplier changes impact a product’s sustainability. Outdated methods – like manually conducted LCAs – will invariably fall short of providing those essential real-time insights which are critical when it comes to making efficient and significant progress in product sustainability.

As we stated earlier, ESPR aims to improve products by emphasising durability, energy efficiency, recyclability, and more. With access to immediate insights, design teams can align their efforts with ESPR objectives, in turn enabling them to test and discover a significantly higher number of possible solutions to improve their products. Those who do so are likely to dramatically outpace peers yet to embrace a new approach, with those lagging behind likely to find themselves waiting weeks or even months to find out if their new ideas positively affect their products’ environmental impact.

The journey to sustainable product design is paved with challenges, but each obstacle is an opportunity to innovate. Whilst new regulations might seem daunting, time consuming and even frustrating they also represent a chance to make meaningful change and to take alead over competitors not ready or aware enough to act quickly.  

Don’t let poor data, slow LCA execution speeds and external dependencies stop you from discovering the most sustainable version of your product.

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