Waste Recycling Emissions

Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation: The rise of sustainable products across the EU

14 May 2024


Improving the environmental sustainability and circularity of products is an important aim for product manufacturers, who are being challenged to meet growing legislative requirements. The desire to improve durability, while also produce reusable, upgradable and repairable products are fundamental elements of Ecodesign. 

The Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR) is currently being consulted on by the European Commission as an approach to create more environmentally sustainable and circular products. Announced in response to the objectives of the EU Green Deal and Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP), the new legislation will replace the existing EU Ecodesign Directive, which currently only covers energy-related products, and obligates manufacturers of energy-using products to reduce energy consumption and other negative life cycle environmental impacts. Existing regulation has improved the energy efficiency performance of products. As a result, The European Commission wants to build upon and expand its scope and breadth through the current, ongoing revision.

What is the ESPR?

The ESPR will set ecodesign requirements for specific product groups to improve their circularity, energy performance (e.g. within both the manufacturing process of the product and its actual use) and other environmental sustainability aspects. It aims to widen the scope of the existing Ecodesign Directive to non-energy related products through: 

  • Covering a wider range of products
  • Broadening the scope of requirements with which the in-scope products need to comply

The new requirements will impact all products placed on the EU market, with some exceptions such as food, feed, certain motor vehicles and medical products. However, priority will be given to the high impact products identified in the CEAP, such as textiles and furniture, alongside high impact intermediate products (such as steel, cement and chemicals).

 1. susproc.jrc.ec.europa.eu/product-bureau/sites/default/files/2023-01/Preliminary ESPR WP Report_MERGED_CLEAN_.pdf

This means that any final recommendation or requirements on ecodesign stemming from this regulatory initiative, should tackle the impact of each product across these risk and improvement categories.

What does the ESPR aim to do?

At a high-level, the ESPR aims to increase the relative sustainability and circularity of products placed on the EU market. It will do this through eliminating the worst performing products and ‘cutting off the tail’, through setting stricter and tighter performance and information requirements. It will then drive the increased uptake of ecodesign principles, and further encourage the development of new, innovative products. Although there are other voluntary instruments in place that support this shift (such as EU Ecolabel and Green Public Procurement), the ESPR is the first mandatory EU regulation that focuses on incorporating ecodesign requirements into the entire lifecycle of products.

Figure 2: Sustainability and circularity shift of the ESPR

Adapted from Improving material efficiency in the life cycle of products: a review of EU Ecolabel criteria: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment (springer.com)

The framework will allow for the setting of a wide range of requirements, and has already set some preliminary performance and information requirements. These will look beyond energy efficiency and aim to boost circularity at a product level. Although the specifics of these requirements are yet to be developed, they will cover the following aspects:

  • Product durability, reusability, upgradability, and repairability
  • Presence of chemical substances that inhibit reuse and recycling of materials
  • Energy and resource efficiency
  • Recycled content and use of materials from sustainable sources.Carbon and environmental footprints
  • New information requirements - organised in a Digital Product Passport

Alongside this, the ESPR will also introduce requirements to minimise the number of unsold consumer goods, including a ban on the destruction of unsold clothing and footwear. Once the Commission adopts requirements for a specific product group, associated products will need to comply in order to be placed on the EU market.

What are the benefits?

The ESPR supports activities higher up the waste hierarchy  and will offer many benefits:

  • Reduction of overall environmental footprint of products placed on the EU market
  • Reduction of Scope 3 emissions
  • Achievement of longer product lifetimes (i.e. creating more durable and repairability products)
  • Increased circular material use rate
  • Reduction of waste
  • Maximise recycling rates

What will companies need to do?

  • Understand the preliminary analysis and requirements set by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), as these will set the tone of the conversations and eventual requirements
  • Build a position and evidence base regarding this preliminary analysis if you wish to engage in conversations with the JRC and respond to future consultations or working tables
  • Keep track on the legislative developments and understand how to stay compliant with the requirements of the regulation
  • Assess the recyclability, repairability and durability potential of their products and associated materials during product design or range review opportunities
  • Once announced, comply with the product-specific requirements set via the additional delegated acts
  • Provide a digital product passport for all in-scope products

How can we help?

Industry advisory support and evidence base development 

Our team can help your company or industry body to prepare for the upcoming regulation by detecting hotspots or opportunities with the preliminary requirements. We can also provide research to build the evidence base needed if you plan to liaise with the JRC.

Regulatory assessment and compliance

Our experts can keep track on the legislative developments for you, and determine your compliance obligations.

Sustainable product strategy development

We can review your product line and identify where you can improve the social and environmental performance of your products across their life-cycle (such as procurement, materials and product design opportunities).

Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs)

We can assess the environmental and social performance of your products to ensure evidence-led decision making and reduce the likelihood of ‘ecodesign trade-offs’.

Scope 3 reduction

Our team can develop eco-design principles and targets to support you to reduce your Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Get in touch to chat about how Ricardo’s Circular Economy Team can support you towards improving the environmental and social performance of your products.