The voluntary scheme, called Building the Single Market for Green Products, will make use of the EU Joint Research Centre's “lifecycle assessment” method (LCA) for calculating the environmental performance of a product.
A three-year testing period will follow the Commission adoption of the measures which are intended to lead to product-specific green rules and benchmarks, easing the application of environmental footprint methods by companies, and assessing different compliance and verification systems.
The Commission will also weigh different strategies for communicating the green credentials of products and organisations to consumers, including packaging and pricing signals.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said on 9 April "to boost sustainable growth, we need to make sure that the most resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly products on the market are known and recognisable. By giving people reliable and comparable information about the environmental impacts and credentials of products and organisations, we enable them to choose. And by helping companies to align their methods we cut their costs and administrative burdens.”
Companies now wishing to highlight their green credentials must handpick from the many different methods recommended by governments and private organisations, which often confuse consumers and incur high costs. The communication proposes EU-wide standards as well as recommendations for companies and organisations on how to carry them out.
Two European industrial associations wrote to Commission President José Manuel Barroso in March to express their concerns at the use of environmental footprint methodology in EU legislation.
The consumer organisation ANEC and the automobiles association ACEA - whose members include BMW group, Daimler, Ford of Europe and Fiat - said the methodology risked exposing companies to unfair competition and market distortion as consumers may base their buying decisions on unreliable and misleading information.
ACEA’s secretary-general, Ivan Hodac, said: “LCA ignores the complexity and diversity of products and supply chains: the current ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ of the suggested methodology overlooks the diversity and variety of the different products made available to consumers. The making of an engine, for example, consists of a multitude of different components, parts and materials that are sourced in complex, multi-layer, global supply chains”.
Eurocommerce, the European retail and international trade group, said it supported the environmental methodology but called for the Commission scheme to remain voluntary.
Christian Verschueren, director-general of Eurocommerce, said of the EU paper: “This is a step in the right direction. It should provide all actors with clear guidance to help them calculate their environmental footprint."
According to a recent Eurobarometer poll, 48% of European consumers said they were confused by the wealth of environmental information and various certifications on the market. The Comission calculates that there are more than 400 environmental labels in use in Europe alone.
The Commission points out that a company wishing to market its product as 'green' in UK, France, Italy and Switzerland would need to apply different schemes in order to compete based on environmental performance in the different national markets. In the UK, it would need to apply the PAS 2050 or the WRI GHG Protocol.