Citizens, campaigners, and EU policy makers are taking steps to improve product design. The Coolproducts and European Right to Repair campaigns aim to raise the bar on ecological design, saving energy and resources as well as cutting consumer bills – but what role can designers play?

In the summer of 2019, the EU will adopt new measures, which will call on designers to make household appliances more energy efficient, more repairable and sometimes less toxic. Basically, more eco-designed.

Once adopted, these ecodesign measures will set minimum requirements on how easy these products are to disassemble, as well as what spare parts and repair information should be available. They will apply to products placed on the EU market as of 2021.

77% of EU citizens would rather repair than buy new

The objective of the Ecodesign policy is to make energy related products more efficient, easier to repair, extend their lifetimes and save resources. This is, supported by a popular demand for more repairable and durable products. According to a recent survey, 77% of EU citizens would rather repair than buy new. Unsurprising, considering more efficient and longer-lasting products can save citizens money. A general rise in repair activities, as well as initiatives such as repair cafes emerging across the globe, also demonstrate that repair is as much a social and economic act as an environmental one.

These provisions will set an important precedent, because it is the first time that repair and resource conservation have been so widely considered within the Ecodesign policy. Until now, the Ecodesign Directive, supported by the Energy Label Regulation, has – rather successfully – focused on energy efficiency. In fact, the Ecodesign Directive is one of Europe’s most successful climate change policies. By 2020, existing ecodesign measures will save EU citizens more than 450 Euros on their annual utility bills, and the measures about to be adopted will deliver additional energy savings equivalent to 5% of the EU’s electricity consumption.

For the past 10 years, the Coolproducts campaign, a coalition of NGOs, has campaigned to unlock the potential of Ecodesign, aiming to reduce the environmental footprint linked to domestic and professional products. This work includes providing technical recommendations to policy makers, as well as awareness-raising actions on the benefits of using more efficient products.

Recently, partners of Coolproducts have joined forces on the issue of product repairability, in collaboration with other important actors including iFixit, the Restart Project and Rreuse. Working under the “Right to Repair” banner – already well-established in the USA – the campaign has simple demands: design for durability and repair, availability and affordability of spare parts, and public access to repair information.

Designers are needed more than ever to push the boundaries on what is possible to support objectives such as product life extension.

At present, the Coolproducts and the Right to Repair campaigners face important challenges: ensuring the existing measures are regularly updated and that new products are covered by comparable and robust legislation. In these areas, the creativity of designers is needed more than ever to push the boundaries on what is possible to support objectives such as product life extension.

ICT products represent a particular challenge. Smartphones, whose failing batteries, cracked screens, and decreasing application performance are a common frustration for all. They are a clear omission in the EU product policy framework, in spite of repeated calls from both campaigners and consumers.

About Coolproduct

Coolproduct is a coalition of European NGOs working to ensure that ecodesign and energy labelling truly work for Europeans and the environment. Led by the European Environmental Bureau and ECOS at a Brussels level, the campaign is fought at member state level by the specialists listed below.


About the contributors

Jean-Pierre Schweitzer is a Policy officer for products and circular economy and an Ecodesign expert at the European Environmental Bureau. He has previously worked for the Institute for European Environmental Policy.

Stéphane Arditi is Coolproducts Coordinator at the European Environmental Bureau. He has a background in European Product Policy (Ecodesign), waste management, energy efficiencies and resource utilization.

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