EU ministers take forward product policy debate

IPP begins to emerge from the shadows as key framework for new policy making

EU environment ministers attempted to crystallise the idea of developing a stronger focus on products in environmental policies during their informal meeting held in Weimar, Germany, this weekend. Little concrete emerged formally from the discussion, but German environment minister Jürgen Trittin confirmed at the end of the meeting that the European Commission would now bring forward a green paper on the issue this autumn.

Integrated product policy (IPP) is an emerging concept for environmental policy making which aims to reduce environmental impacts over the whole life-cycle of product systems, including manufacturing, use and disposal. The current German presidency promised to focus this weekend's informal meeting of environment ministers on the topic last year, when the European Commission held a conference to spark debate on IPP at EU level (ENDS Daily 9 December).

Following the meeting in Weimar, Mr Trittin gave few details of the private discussion held by ministers. However, a paper prepared for the event by the German presidency suggests some progress is being made towards turning IPP from a vague concept into a concrete framework for policy making.

IPP presents "interesting environmental opportunities," the paper suggests. "If a product can be the source of many environmental problems simultaneously, then, so it seems, it should also be possible to 'kill several birds with one stone' by dealing with the product" through policy making.

The paper also suggests that successful implementation of product policies in countries such as Denmark without corresponding evolution in other countries could lead to trade distortions, effectively necessitating EU action. Very few chains of products are located in just one country, the paper points out. "International cooperation within this field is therefore crucial."

The presidency stresses that introducing IPP will require more shared responsibility and involvement of multiple stakeholders, including manufacturing industry, retailers and consumers. "The general rule," the paper concludes, "is to bring about a situation whereby all the market actors are involved in an ongoing effort to continuously reduce the impacts which products and services have on the environment".

There could be three complementary strategies for an IPP, the paper suggests. The first would involve policies aimed at lowering resource throughput through the economy, an idea similar to the "factor four" concept developed by the Wuppertal Institute in Germany or the concept of "eco-efficiency" developed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

A second strategy, the presidency suggested, would be to address environmentally problematic features of products, particularly by reducing and substituting problematic substances, altering raw-materials and developing eco-design. The third strategy would involve changing consumption and disposal patterns, in particular by influencing consumers through instruments such as ecolabels.

Follow Up:
German presidency of the EU, tel: +49 228 3050.

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