DIGITALEUROPE’s supporting paper on the public consultation on the Sustainable Products Initiative
DIGITALEUROPE welcomes the opportunity to participate in the public consultation on the Sustainable Products Initiative.
This supporting paper aims at providing some background and forward-looking information in addition to the main consultation response we submitted. This paper also provides some more detailed considerations regarding our responses to the questionnaire, with the intent of helping the policy-making process achieve the overarching goal of a sustainable growth through pragmatic actions.
As an organisation representing over 35,000 businesses in the digital sector, DIGITALEUROPE and its members have been at the forefront of the transition of the digital industry towards more responsible and sustainable models for some years now. We have collectively been involved in the making of sustainable corporate and public policies at company, national, European, and worldwide level, especially in the ICT industry, allowing us to retrospectively consider the work done and share our experience.
We believe that consulting stakeholders is of the utmost importance for drafting consistent and efficient policies. The Sustainable Products Initiative is a timely opportunity to take stock of the learnings of previous legislations, such as the Ecodesign Directive, and propose an updated, future-proof framework for a green European transition.
1. ICT products
First, we wish to stress that many ICT products are already covered by an extensive sustainability legislative framework designed to reduce their environmental footprint, including the Ecodesign Directive, the RoHS Directive, the REACH regulation, the WEEE Directive, conflict minerals legislation, and so on.
This regulatory framework is reinforced by voluntary initiatives undertaken or joined by many producers of ICT products.
We believe any further legal requirement should balance their additional value to consumers and recyclers while at the same time maintaining and enabling manufacturers to conduct business and innovate. We kindly invite the Commission to thoroughly assess and demonstrate any additional needs that are required within the regulatory framework for products, seek consensus among stakeholders and establish or revisit the process to ensure a robust and predictable regulatory framework (and avoids the need for guidance after the publication of legislation).
2. Durability and longevity of products
Design and technological improvements should not be associated with premature obsolescence, particularly in the context of the digital technology industry. Innovation is the core driver of our sector. Digital solutions are transforming and contributing to the well-being and enhancement of our society and environment. The speed at which this occurs reflects the extremely competitive atmosphere in which we operate.
The technology sector is unfairly accused of implementing engineering solutions that result in planned or premature obsolescence of devices. The term is often used to refer to an alleged policy, business practice, or marketing strategy whereby manufacturers deliberately shorten the lifetime of a product. DIGITALEUROPE forcefully rejects such practices.
We would confirm that most EEE placed onto the EU market is already designed for durability and longevity, whether in B2B or B2C. The suggestion that a product would be “designed to break down after a certain amount of time” would be contrary to the purpose of any established, reputable manufacturer of EEE as it would quickly destroy their (and their products’) reputation.
Manufacturers also innovate to supply ever-more efficient products to consumers and businesses, at a competitive price, with a positive impact on their own environmental footprint and that of other activities, such as farming and mobility. While increased consumer demand has been an incentive to do so, manufacturers have long been implementing policies to enhance not only the sustainability of their products but also their Corporate Social Responsibility as a whole. We believe Europe’s leadership in the green transition should go hand in hand with the Union’s high social standards and take such factors as responsible sourcing and labour policies into account. DIGITALEUROPE members adhere to global, European, and national initiatives to promote such values.
Manufacturers also provide many services to increase the longevity of products with a very positive impact on consumers. These include after-sales and professional repair services as well as product upgrades or reverse logistics services. However, such practices and extended guarantees are not suitable for all products and businesses.
Reliability testing is a core function of product development. While all electronics manufacturers have reliability teams that test products to ensure they meet standards and quality policy, they can only address “reasonably foreseeable” causes of failure. All possible causes would be an impossible requirement. During the research and design process responsible manufacturers minimise (eliminate if possible) any potential weak points in design/construction which have a foreseeable risk of failure. Likewise, the term “expected lifespan of a product” referred in the consultation runs counter to manufacturer design processes, which focus on assuring reliability, not on planning a limited lifespan.
3. Digital Product Passport, consumer empowerment, and information disclosure
We support transparency as a means to empower consumers, end users, and recyclers, and reward investment to develop more sustainable products. Turning the sustainability of products into a competitive advantage is paramount to promote such investments. Consequently, we call for a balance between transparency and the preservation of business intellectual property as well as the interests of consumers who should not be overwhelmed by too much information.
We believe the Digital Product Passport (DPP) to be a strong instrument to empower customers and help them make informed purchasing decisions. However, to be efficient, the DPP should focus on providing information that is relevant for the target group. Some information should explicitly not be shared with audiences that are ill-equipped to act upon it. For instance, safety and liability aspects of providing disassembly end-of-life or repair instructions are best addressed by providing access in a targeted manner only to professionals. This will in turn help protect the business interest of manufacturers, including IP rights.
DIGITALEUROPE agrees with the need to have transparent information in the passport about the origin of relevant information for selected economic operators.
Altogether, DIGITALEUROPE advocates for an implementation of the DPP that would build on existing tools (such as the EPREL database, environmental labels, and so on) and aim at minimising the administrative burden on companies to avoid increasing the cost of sustainable products. This could be achieved by adopting a step-by-step and flexible approach, starting with information already available and regulated, where the DPP could be used as a link to decentralised information databases.
DIGITALEUROPE calls for a nuanced approach when determining which information is made available for which target group based on a careful assessment of rules to define truly value-adding information requirements with regards to:
How can the information enhance the sustainability of products?
What information can be horizontally implemented?
What information belongs to a specific product category?
Who needs which information?
What is the level of detail necessary to achieve its goals?
Are the efforts proportionate and not overly burdensome, under the given implementation timeframe?
4. Repair and product-as-a-service
The ICT sector is considered a priority sector for repairability. DIGITALEUROPE members already treat repair, refurbishment, and remanufacturing activities as part of their everyday business practice. To do so, they assess the best way to provide the highest standard of services to consumers against the various possible channels.
Many manufacturers, especially but not only in the B2B environment, have their own after-sales network already in place, including reverse logistics and take-back schemes. Through these activities our members are helping to reduce environmental footprint, create jobs, and deliver real benefits to the consumers. These services are also an integral part of ensuring customer satisfaction and trust in brands.
DIGITALEUROPE members and their repair networks perform millions of repairs annually. Their repair and remanufacturing facilities are situated across multiple EU Member States and form part of the circular economy backbone of the ICT industry in Europe. European policymakers should bear the existing infrastructure in mind when debating future policy interventions.
Given safety concerns as well as the highly technical and precise nature of repair, DIGITALEUROPE believes in the availability of repair options that ensure consumers have access to high quality, safe and secure repairs. The established manufacturer-associated repair networks provide consumers with convenient access to such repair options.
Furthermore, these networks are the source of jobs and high-quality service in a circular economy. They are optimised for efficiency, and thus minimise environmental impacts beyond what would be possible via consumer-led repair models. Manufacturer-associated repair networks may include reverse logistics and take-back schemes. They also maintain product production and repair data, accurately predict demand for spare parts, and minimise overstocking – which reduces resource and material consumption. Legislation should not dismiss this approach and factor in these benefits, the high-skilled jobs, and inherent consumer protection.
For many products, manufacturers have supported a balance between a design for consumer-replaceable, or recycler-removable (replaceability by professional, trained and/or accredited repair operators) components. DIGITALEUROPE believes that consumers have a rightful expectation of a repair remedy of quality, safety, and security. However, this does not mean that safe and successful repairs will be carried out automatically through regulation by the consumers themselves, nor that they should in all cases have the right or ability to do so themselves. This is especially applicable for high-complexity devices. Consumer-led repairs could impact the integrity of the repaired device while substandard repairs will shorten the life of products and run against the goals of the circular economy.
If designing ‘Right to Repair’ legislation, consideration should be given to ensure quality and consumer safety, security, and privacy, whilst bearing in mind that the original manufacturer of the product is best placed to assess whether these criteria are met. As such, the manufacturer should retain control of the choice and approval of repairers. Repairs that jeopardise the quality or safety of a product not only endanger persons and property but may have legal liability and brand implications for manufacturers.
Prospective right to repair legislation should also consider cybersecurity concerns as much as physical safety. In the highly connected and digitalised world of IT today, unauthorised access increases the risk of creating a gateway into the electronic network of the device owner, increasing vulnerability against hackers and loss of sensitive personal, financial, or professional information. Those direct and indirect losses could completely overshadow the intended environmental benefits of easing security features for the sake of repair for all.
For the very same reasons, we believe manufacturers should retain control and ownership of circular business models, which the product-as-a-service is a good example. Manufacturers already provide a cradle to grave service through leasing or service systems with high level of flexibility operated by themselves or their authorised partners. Others choose trade-in and refurbishment models or other instruments to increase the circularity of their offering.
While the details of the sustainability of product-as-a-service should be further assessed at a product category level, the control by the manufacturer of product-as-a-service will increase efficiencies and reduce costs. It will advance the sustainability profile through the manufacturer’s expertise and quality standards, balancing the energy use with the reuse, refurbishment, and remanufacturing of parts and products, while considering the individual consumer or end-use case. Material waste or e-waste will be reduced and managed responsibly and securely when ownership is maintained by the manufacturer.
We are of the opinion that the European legislative initiatives should provide the framework to ensure harmonisation and a level playing field during the green and digital transitions. We believe this can be best achieved by making the most of the EU’s ability to provide incentives and more sustainable products to consumers within the Single Market while limiting the burden on companies and ensuring fair competition.
The ICT sector has already proven the effectiveness of commonly agreed voluntary measures and regulation imposing a goal but providing companies the freedom to choose the path to encourage sustainable products development while maintaining a fair and innovative competitive landscape. Accompanying initiatives such as implementation measures (e.g., the Ecodesign Directive) and guidelines also help increase consistency across the market while labelling provide customers with greater transparency and comparability.
Hence, we support initiatives that avoid fragmentation of the single market such as EU-wide voluntary commitments and information requirements, taking product specificities into account. Such information and commitments should be based on standards to ensure fairness, consistency, transparency, and comparability.
We believe that sustainable supply and demand should be fostered through:
The increase in high quality recycled content supply at reasonable cost;
The empowerment of consumers through increasing environmental literacy and using targeted information disclosure.
As regards circular business models, we support incentives that would make them more attractive for entrepreneurs and companies, including funding instruments and tools such as standardised measurement methods to convince investors of the financial as well as the environmental benefits. Business decisions regarding the choice to develop such models and which should however only rest on companies, based on their own market assessment.
6. Policies, enforcement, and standards
Preserving the ability for the sector to self-regulate under the framework of the Ecodesign Directive is essential to continue to allow for the development of flexible and cost-effective measures, particularly when dealing with technology that evolves more quickly than regulation.
Additional measures, such as voluntary labels based on generally recognised standards or market incentives such as green public procurement criteria, may be considered only if they maintain the integrity of the Single Market, do not hamper fair competition. Furthermore, preserving the ability for the sector to self-regulate under the framework of the Ecodesign Directive is essential to continue to allow for the development of flexible and cost-effective measures in particular when dealing with technology that evolves more quickly than regulation.
Furthermore, before mandating via a regulatory tool on the use of specific Green Product Procurement (GPP) requirements, we invite first a more careful consideration and revision of the consultation procedures applied to each of the GPP categories, as we believe that some recent GPP product specific guidelines were not properly consulted with relevant stakeholders before approval.
Conformity should be self-assessed to reduce the administrative and financial costs for all, while allowing voluntary third-party certification, if deemed relevant by the companies. Market Surveillance Authorities (MSAs) must oversee controls, with the European Commission providing support to MSAs and Members States to ensure consistency.
When it comes to enforcement, we strongly believe any risk of fragmentation of the Single Market should be avoided, the burden on companies be relieved and fair competition protected. Therefore, we call for enforcement to be consistent across all Member States and products to be covered equally to avoid discrepancies and margins for interpretation, with product specificities taken into account. Based on our experience from the Ecodesign Directive, we have witnessed the need to provide guidelines to MSAs to facilitate the understanding of multiple policies covering very complex value chains. Likewise, national legislations should aim at strengthening the Single Market to put the EU as a whole at the forefront of the green transition.
Customer safety is paramount to our businesses and, as such, it cannot be jeopardised. Consequently, we strongly support the destruction of counterfeit goods as well as those posing a safety or health risk.
Regarding additional measures to fight against other types of unsold goods, the EU policies should be consistent and avoid any “one size fits all” solution.