30 June 2017
EU Pilot Project Compares Environmental Footprint of “Green” Products
Hong Kong traders may be aware that currently there are over 400 different “green” product labels in use throughout Europe. These labels are based on different methods of certification, without a single recognised way to measure the environment-friendliness of one product against that of another product.
Since 2013, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, has been developing the Product Environmental Footprint pilot project (the project). The JRC provides independent investigatory support for EU policies. Through its research capabilities, the JRC aims to contribute to a healthy and safe environment, secure energy supplies, sustainable mobility, and consumer health and safety.
It was reported in May 2017 that the project establishes a comparison of different products of the same type based on data gathered under the EU’s complex framework of chemicals legislation, the REACH Regulation. This comparison covers 24 product categories or industrial sectors, ranging from batteries, paints, detergents, IT equipment, t-shirts, leather, olive oil, pasta, and wine.
The goal of the project is not to evaluate a product in itself but to assess whether one product is “greener” than another. With consumer awareness rising, products and services with a small environmental footprint are in high demand. Hong Kong companies looking to highlight the environment-friendliness of their exported products may be particularly interested in monitoring the project.
The project’s purpose is to create an easy and consumer-friendly way to unite product labels under a single system that will compare the environmental impact of each. While the REACH Regulation is mostly concerned with the safe use of chemicals including hazardous chemicals which are (still) not banned, the project also aims to reduce the impact of products containing hazardous chemicals on both the environment and human health.
For one example of this concern in practice, detergents available in stores may be marked with green labels that have been approved through different certification requirements. According to these labels, the products may appear to be equally safe, but in reality one might contain or release fewer toxins than the other. The project will therefore allow consumers to compare available products like detergents and determine which ones are less harmful.
To distinguish between two products of the same kind, the JRC uses the method of life-cycle assessment. This method, as explained by the JRC, is a quantitative tool that helps assess the environmental sustainability of products and organisations.
The approach is systematic in nature, assessing goods and services in terms of their impact on the environment, human health, and resource consumption. It considers the full life cycle of a product, from the raw materials, processing, transport, retail and use stages, through to the recycling and waste management stages.
Absent the REACH Regulation’s registration obligations, finding reliable and consistent data as a basis for comparison of 30,000 different chemicals used in the production of consumer products would have been a daunting task. Hong Kong traders with EU interests should be aware that under the REACH Regulation, companies who manufacture and import substances over one tonne a year (either on their own, in mixtures or in certain articles) into the EU are obliged to compile or be part of a registration dossier for submission to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
The registration dosser must contain all data on physicochemical, toxicological, and ecotoxicological information as well as on manufacturing and actual use of any substance. Companies must also provide safety guidance and advice on their exposure and risk management measures.
Hong Kong companies and associated EU retailers implicated in this registration process should reap some benefit from their efforts in generating the required information. The enabled product comparisons could help them assess the overall impact of their exported products and determine how they rank among competing products in the EU.