Meet IIIEE researcher Carl Dalhammar
The potential of ecodesign:
Increasing efficiency by requirement
From a sustainability point of view, the EU Ecodesign Directive has been very successful in improving the environmental performance of products – but there is more work to do. IIIEE researcher Carl Dalhammar is currently searching for concrete suggestions as to how the Swedish Energy Agency can advance their governance for resource efficiency.
Your research is about ecodesign and life cycle thinking. How do you define these terms?
“Basically ecodesign is any design made with the purpose of increasing a product’s environmental performance, taking the life cycle environmental impacts into account. Since 2005, EU’s main law for promoting life cycle thinking is the Ecodesign Directive. It is based on life cycle thinking, which is an increasingly applied holistic perspective stating that in order to define the environmental impact of a product, you must consider not only its production, but all phases of its life. This includes all stages from resource extraction and refinement, component and product manufacturing to transport, use of the final product, and the waste phase.”
So what is the aim of your research project?
“I want to show how the Ecodesign Directive may help to achieve set EU objectives related not only to energy efficiency but also to resource efficiency. This includes the setting of stringent requirements for energy efficiency, and various design requirements that can make the product easier to recycle. There is huge potential in working with requirements.”
What has the Ecodesign Directive changed so far?
“It has reduced energy consumption for both producers and consumers, and it has reduced consumer costs. The directive says that ecodesign must not lead to increasing costs for consumers, which has been verified. A freezer or a washing machine with an energy efficient design gives consumers smaller electric bills. Led-lamps are more expensive to buy but still lower the total cost for the consumer, since they last for very long and are extremely energy efficient. – – And regarding the producers, they too lower their costs as their production is performed with energy-efficient equipment. Also important is that the directive has helped to clear the market of the worst performing products, which is something both consumers and most producers appreciate – if they are aware of it.”
You show that the Ecodesign Directive can be a tool for a more resource-efficient and circular economy. How?
“It can be used to increase product durability, and set for example duplex printing as default. There is also potential to set standards that can improve recycling, for instance through better labelling of components or design that reduces the cost of recycling.”
How successful would you say that the Ecodesign Directive has been?
“From a sustainability point of view, very successful. Few people choose a TV or a laptop based on their energy efficiency. But with mandatory energy efficiency standards for product groups such as electric motors, boilers, white goods, and TVs, we manage to obtain significant energy savings. I would also say the manufacturers have become more positive towards the directive, as they have seen that it can give them market advantages.”
What more needs to be done?
“There are several ways in which the Ecodesign Directive, and how it is applied, can be changed in order to set even stricter standards, and accommodate even greater environmental improvements. The European Commission and the research community are looking into options to induce design for improved recycling, durability, and component re-use. But then we also need standards that manufacturers can use to prove legal compliance. We also need to understand how we should regulate products that are parts of larger systems, such as windows in buildings.”
Text and photo: Sara Bernstrup Nilsson
Assessing the potential of ecodesign: Promoting ecodesign for advancement of innovation, competiveness and environmental improvements
- IIIEE researchers: Carl Dalhammar
- Project time: 2013 - 2016
- Budget: SEK 4.4 million
- Funding agency: Swedish Energy Agency
- Academic partners: National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) (JP), Copenhagen University, Aalborg University (DK)
- Business partners: Teknikföretagen, corporations
- NGO partners: European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
- Government partners: SWE Energy Agency, Nordic Council of Ministers
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