Danish product policy moves off drawing board

Stakeholders to launch plan for greener purchasing, product improvements, more ecolabelling

A Danish policy aiming to make products and services take systematic account of environmental considerations will take an important step forward next week, when government officials and stakeholders meet to agree what should be in the first full year's action programme.

Projects are to be supported to develop a set of tools based on life-cycle analysis for different sectors. Guidelines will be established for green purchasing in small and medium-sized businesses and local authorities. The plan has a special focus on waste handling and an expansion of product ecolabelling. Another important area is the formation of panels drawing up detailed recommendations for textiles, electronic equipment and freight transport.

The projects will share a budget of DKr70m (euros 9.4m) in 1999, according to Preben Kristensen of the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They reflect the first concrete expression of the Danish government's decision in 1996 to switch the focus of environmental action from processes to products, which was one of the first attempts in Europe to build what is now becoming known as an integrated product policy (IPP). The package confirms Denmark's place at the forefront of this movement.

The EPA aims to have at least 50 purchasing guidelines for professional buyers, including public purchasers, in place by 2000. Ecolabelled goods should be on sale in all essential categories, with money being made available if needed to pay for the system's expansion into new areas. The goal is to have more than 1,000 goods on sale by 2001 marked with either the Nordic Swan or the EU ecolabel, and for more than 70% of consumers to be familiar with at least one scheme's label.

The three product panels, which held initial meetings at the turn of the year, play a central part in the Danish strategy. EPA officials would like to see the initiative taken up at European level. Representing producers, consumers, non-governmental organisations, public authorities and private companies, they aim to "work from the bottom up and develop individual agendas most relevant to each particular sector, rather than the classical negotiating standpoint," says the EPA's Peter Schaarup.

The transport panel, for example, is particularly interested in improving technology as well as cooperation between buyers and sellers. "Transport too often operates at 25% of capacity, and this could perhaps be improved to 40%," says Tage Draeby, who chairs the panel.

The strategy appears to enjoy wide support, although consumer groups have some reservations. "There is still too much focus on producers. More resources need to be directed towards consumers," says Poul Wendel Jessen of the Danish Consumers' Council.

Follow Up:
Danish Environmental Protection Agency, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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