The Parliament’s environment committee voted almost unanimously in favour of measures to improve the energy efficiency of products such as washing machines, hairdryers, computers and heaters last month (see related story).

The initiative aims to improve the environmental performance of products throughout their life-cycle by systematic integration of environmental aspects at the earliest stages of design. EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs claimed that: “the Directive will deliver long-lasting and increasing energy savings beneficial to consumers that will also contribute to a reinforced security of energy supply for the Community.”

By implementing EU-wide rules for eco-design, disparities among national regulations should be removed so as not to pose a problem to intra-EU trade.

However, the directive does not introduce directly binding requirements for specific products, but merely defines conditions and criteria for setting requirements regarding environmentally relevant product characteristics such as energy or water consumption, waste generation, and extension of lifetime.

It is this lack of minimum compulsory standards that has attracted the ire of environmental group WWF. Since it is a framework directive, the group says, the Commission will have to introduce implementing measures that lay down precise eco-design rules. However, industry can adopt voluntary agreements and self-regulatory initiatives as an alternative to these measures.

“This is the biggest loophole of the new law. Voluntary agreements and the rejection of an independent verification on their implementation is nothing more than an incentive for producers to avoid making the required innovations and is bad for climate protection. It is an invitation to cheat,” said Dr Stephan Singer, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF.

Despite this, WWF appreciates that the agreement will make the Commission introduce early implementing measures to reduce energy waste for products with high-standby losses, which waste the most power. The group also welcomes that the development of new electricity-consuming appliances in Europe should have as a reference international best practices.

“That is the minimum we could expect,” said Singer. “This directive is a key legislation for the EU to combat climate change. In Europe, electricity production represents about one-third of CO2 emissions and electricity demand is continuously rising.”

According to the European Commission, by 2010 about 180 million tonnes of CO2 could be prevented with new and energy-efficient appliances in Europe.

By David Hopkins

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