Stickers on household devices provide information about energy efficiency. The foundation for this is the EU Directive on energy labelling. The EU Ecodesign Directive may be less visible to the user, but it is significant for manufacturers. It defines the "minimum environmentally relevant requirements" on product design. Before the EU recognises specific regulations relating to individual products, the member states draft a national statement. In Germany, it is BAM that is taking the lead. Dr. rer. nat. Floris Akkerman, deputy director of the Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Section, is an expert in this area.
How do the two EU Directives differ?
The Ecodesign Directive is intended to create a 'push effect' in the market: using minimum requirements, the EU is creating ecological specifications on product design for manufacturers. If manufacturers do not fulfil these specifications, their product will not stay on the market. In contrast, with energy labelling the EU is encouraging market players to achieve the best possible energy class. It expects to exert 'pull' effects, as customers will be able to consciously select the most energy-saving technology. The Ecodesign Directive covers more than just energy efficiency: it is about the consumption of raw materials and impact on the environment as a whole. So overall, very relevant subject matter for society as a whole.
What does this regulation mean for the economy?
It is particularly difficult for small companies to manage the required investment costs, verifications of compliance with minimum requirements, and decision-making processes that take several years. However, there are many manufacturers in Germany – in large-scale industry as well as small and medium-sized businesses – with very innovative products that already comply with EU requirements, and have done so for some time. They are interested in stricter rules because ultimately it gives them a competitive advantage. Consumers who increasingly decide to buy energy-saving and sustainably-produced goods also want greater efficiency. The benefit to the German economy is greater than any potential disadvantages.
What does BAM do when faced with potential revisions or new regulations for certain product groups?
We research the relevant companies and authorities as well as the industry, consumer and environmental protection associations, and invite them to a consultation. This is then attended by lawyers, product designers, engineers and members of standardisation committees, who have expert knowledge of the products in question. We rely on their expertise and work with them to discuss suggestions. At BAM, we note the various criticisms, which differ depending on the interests involved. Finally, we assess the arguments and, in consultation with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Environment, and the Federal Environment Agency, we draft the German statement to be submitted to the EU. There are also consultations at the European level, where we personally present the German standpoint.
Does your position carry weight in Brussels? Have you rejected any EU suggestions in the past?
Yes – for example with industrial furnaces. After weighing up all the arguments, we have come to the conclusion that this product is not suitable for the Ecodesign Directive. The technical standards in the industry are too far apart. The EU agreed with our assessment and withdrew its suggestions.
Although all EU members are formally equal, Germany is the largest state and therefore carries a certain weight. Not all countries have the same will and possibilities with respect to staff and organisation that we do. It is not a matter of course that there are hearings at national level, as performed by BAM. Some parties submit their statement without including economic aspects. We are one of the particularly active states, and other states therefore often ally with our vote.
What support does BAM offer the affected companies?
All the information is available on our website and blog. Above all, small companies without development and legal departments can contact us directly and request information if they have questions on implementation. But we do not offer advice on specific technical solutions. There are dedicated business consultants and testing institutes who take on that responsibility.