Environmental groups boycott EU standardisation

The European Environment Bureau (EEB), a federation of 135 environmental groups, has suspended its involvement in the EU standardisation process. EEB says that industry is blocking 'greening' efforts and that the European Commission is refusing to fund environmental experts who would ensure that technical committees get adequate advice.

EEB criticises the European Standardisation Centre’s (CEN) efforts to integrate environmental concerns with standardisation, arguing that CEN’s Strategic Advisory Board on Environment (SABE) is both powerless and increasingly courting industrial approval. CEN’s Environmental Help Desk (EHD), which offers information and advice to the technical committees who develop standards (see related story), is being restricted in its work, according to EEB.

“EHD only works on request – if the technical committee requests its assistance – and about two thirds of the technical committees have actually refused EHD’s help,” Christian Hey of EEB told edie. Hey says that at least two technical committees charged with standardising in sectors with considerable environmental impacts have refused EHD’s assistance – construction materials and machinery.

Another concern of EEB’s is the decision, taken by the European Commission Environment Directorate General, not to fund an Environmental Technical Bureau. Such a bureau would be staffed by experts who would advise technical committees on the environmental impacts of standardisation decisions. Such bureaux exist for trade unions and industry to advise the technical committees and are funded by the EC.

“Our suspension of involvement is also a response to a year of intense discussion with the Commission,” says Hey. “The Environment DG said no to funding the bureau. They said they wanted to use the money on things over which they have direct control. But I don’t see the Environment DG going into the technical committees as a stakeholder. That’s what we wanted to do.”

The European Parliament requested, in 1995, that the EC fund an Environmental Technical Bureau. The EC has interpreted this request as being non-binding.

Hey believes that the stakes are rising in the area of standardisation, now that standards are being created with considerable input from industry, but with, as yet, very little input from anyone with environmental expertise. He refers to the electronic and electrical equipment standards that will be presented soon. “The components of the proposal have been designed by industry and it gives the whole standardisation process a new political importance,” says Hey.

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