Workshop low-noise machinery
The Belgian Presidency and the European Commission prompt reflection upon a range of policy instruments to develop the market of environmentally friendly outdoor machinery
The workshop, organised by the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and by the European Commission, brought together various stakeholders, representatives from national governments and noise experts in order to launch a dialogue on complementary measures in order to develop a market for low-noise machinery and to enhance environmental awareness and commitment.
Environmental noise, caused by traffic, industrial and recreational activities, is one of the main local environmental and health problems in Europe and the source of an increasing number of complaints from the public. Although noise produced by diffuse sources, such as outdoor equipment, is less significant than traffic noise, it contributes considerably to noise levels, especially in the urban environment, causing annoyance, deterioration of the quality of life and impacting public health.
Presently, the Directive 2000/14/EC, which defines basic requirements for outdoor machinery noise (1), is being reviewed. This revision aims to update noise emission limits of machinery and optimize working mechanisms inherent to the directive, such as market surveillance and conformity assessment.
The participants of the workshop recognize that there is also a need for complementary measures aiming to develop the market of environmentally friendly outdoor machinery. Various reasons were mentioned during the workshop. One of them is that the potential for noise reduction becomes more limited due to technological constraints, whilst innovation involves significant costs that need to be accepted by society. Unfortunately, as stated in the recent evaluation report on the Outdoor Machinery Directive, there is an insufficient functioning market for low noise products, there is no incentive for consumers and users to buy low-noise products, and there is little awareness of the existence of low noise products.
While the standard regulatory approach implemented by the Outdoor Machinery Directive sets minimal requirements for putting products on the market, efforts can also be made to identify opportunities within a broader context, beyond the directive and complementing it. “We need to think globally”, was stated in the workshop.
The workshop session mentioned possible directions for such a global approach:
- Taking into account different forms of environmental pollution from outdoor machinery. The measures should not only address noise, but should consider other pertinent environmental criteria from outdoor equipment: energy efficiency, exhaust emissions, suitability for biofuel etc. Several examples of such a multi-criteria approach have been recalled: national labels such as Blaue Engel, Nordic Swan, and the European Ecolabel.
- More integration within existing programs based on Life Cycle Analysis, such as Green Public Procurement and the Ecolabel. Some categories of outdoor machinery (garden machinery) have already been addressed by Green Public Procurement. A similar development for other types of machinery is conceivable.
- There is room for additional initiatives to be taken by Member States in order to link national measures to the instruments developed at the European level. The following examples were mentioned: the use of low-noise machinery in sensitive areas, organizing information campaigns, creating guidelines for specific sectors (such as construction or goods distribution) on the use of environmentally friendly machinery, promoting good products by means of economic incentives (such as the tax-relief program for enterprises in the Netherlands).
Further efforts could also be made at engineering level. Noise experts believe that noise exposure is increasing and needs to be tackled more rapidly: engineering solutions are needed. Among other things, the effect of noise reduction on other performance criteria should be investigated together with the costs.
The European Commission, the co-organizer of the event, has confirmed its interest in the available instruments and examples of best practices to promote environmentally friendly machinery.
(1) Directive 2000/14/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 8 May 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the noise emission in the environment by equipment for use outdoors.