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Sustainable Production and Consumption Patterns

Protecting the environment with a view to sustainable development also means focusing actions on prevention, to keep damage which is hard to repair from being done. Certain products have a particular impact on the environment. So alternative production and consumption patterns need to be promoted throughout the life cycle of such products. Using a combination of legal, economic and socio-cultural tools, DG Environment intends to change the behaviour of all the stakeholders concerned: industry, consumers, the public authorities, etc. DG Environment therefore takes a particular interest in the environmental impact of products like cars, electrical and electronic equipment, packaging, construction materials and so on.

NEW PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION PATTERNS:
A "PRODUCT POLICY" FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE WAY OF LIFE

Product policy and sustainable development * Changing our habits * Products concerned * Measures * The need for coordination

For decades now, human activities have been generating alarming forms of pollution and an ever-growing volume of waste. This process undermines ecosystems and biodiversity, has an (in)direct impact on health, and harms natural resources, without which no development is possible. Recognition of this situation at the United Nations Rio summit in 1992 led to a new direction in environment policy. Among other things, this concern has led to the adoption of a "product policy" based on a change in production and consumption patterns.

 

Product policy and sustainable development

It is not enough just to repair the damage caused to the environment, and in time even that would become impossible; we now need to adopt a preventive approach. And that is the whole basis of product policy. It ties in with the concept of sustainable developmentEn 1987, la Commission mondiale sur l'environnement et le développement (dite Commission Brundtland) a défini le développement durable, comme un développement qui répond aux besoins du présent sans compromettre les possibilités des générations futures à satisfaire leurs propres besoins, et qui vise à réconcilier le développement économique et social, la protection de l'environnement et la conservation des ressources naturelles. Le développement durable a été consacré par le Traité de l'Union européenne comme l’un de ses objectifs prioritaires., i.e. balanced growth that takes account of both environmental factors and economic and social needs (see also OECD - Sustainable development (WEB)).

Society as a whole must move towards a form of development that is no longer synonymous with degradation of the environment. Towards a type of development that makes it possible to produce an equivalent quantity of high-quality goods and services, to meet the needs of present and future generations, while consuming fewer resources and generating the smallest possible volume of waste and pollutant emissions. (see website CCID - Sustainable Developemnt (FR/NL) (WEB))

 

Changing our habits

Following on from the commitments made in RioLa Conférence des Nations Unies pour l’Environnement et le Développement (CNUED) - le « Sommet de la Terre » - tenue à Rio de Janeiro en juin 1992, a permis de lancer trois Conventions : sur les changements climatiques, sur la diversité biologique et sur la lutte contre la désertification. - la Convention sur la Diversité Biologique (CBD), entrée en vigueur fin 1993, vise à la conservation de la diversité biologique, l'utilisation durable de ses éléments et le partage juste et équitable des avantages découlant de l'exploitation des ressources génétiques. Elle vise à protéger la diversité en raison de sa valeur intrinsèque et de la valeur de ses éléments constitutifs sur les plans environnemental, génétique, social, économique, scientifique, éducatif, culturel, récréatif et esthétique. Elle cherche à anticiper et prévenir les causes de la réduction ou de la perte sensible de la diversité biologique à la source.- la Convention Cadre des Nations Unies sur les Changements climatiques (UNFCCC), qui a généré ensuite le protocole de Kyoto, a pour objectif de stabiliser les concentrations de gaz à effet de serre , dans l'atmosphère pour lutter contre le réchauffement de la planète. Elle est entrée en vigueur le 21 mars 1994.- la Convention des Nations Unies sur la Lutte contre la Désertification (UNCCD) a été adoptée en 1994 et est entrée en vigueur fin 1996. Son objectif est d'écarter les menaces de souffrances humaines et de catastrophes écologiques liées à la sécheresse et à la désertification. (see also The Rio de Janeiro Convention on biological diversity (WEB)) and confirmed in JohannesburgLe Sommet mondial sur le Développement durable a été organisé à Johannesbourg durant l'automne 2002. faisant suite au « Sommet de la Terre » de 1992, il est aussi couramment appelé « Rio+10 ». L’objectif était d’évaluer les progrès réalisés depuis Rio, et à promouvoir des actions à tous les niveaux visant à aider l'éradication de la pauvreté, changer des modes de consommation et de production non viable et de garantir une gestion durable et la protection des ressources naturelles. Le résultat de Johannesbourg comprend outre le Plan de mise en oeuvre de Johannesbourg, accompagné de nouvelles cibles concrètes et d'échéanciers pour les actions, la Déclaration politique des Chefs d'Etat. Johannesbourg a également vu le lancement d'un accord de partenariat entre les gouvernements, le secteur privé et la société civile.Rapport final : http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N02/636/94/PDF/N0263694.pdf?OpenElementPlus d’info : http://www.un.org/french/events/wssd/ (see also Sommet Mondial sur le Développement Durable (FR) (WEB)), Belgium is gradually piecing together a product policy based on the law on product standards (.WORD) (21 December 1998) and Federal Sustainable Development Plans (.PDF)

Product policy in Belgium is also based on various works of the OECD (WEB) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (WEB) and, at European level, on the 6th Community Environment Action ProgrammeLe 6ème Programme d’Action pour l‘Environnement (6ème PAE) de l’Union européenne est entré en vigueur en juillet 2002. Il définit les priorités et objectifs de la politique environnementale de la Communauté jusqu'en 2010 et au-delà, et détaille les mesures à prendre pour contribuer à la mise en œuvre de la stratégie de l'Union européenne en matière de développement durable. and the Strategy for sustainable development. (see also the evaluation of the 5th Environment Action Programme (in French) (.File HTM)) and the Strategy for sustainable developmentEn 1987, la Commission mondiale sur l'environnement et le développement (dite Commission Brundtland) a défini le développement durable, comme un développement qui répond aux besoins du présent sans compromettre les possibilités des générations futures à satisfaire leurs propres besoins, et qui vise à réconcilier le développement économique et social, la protection de l'environnement et la conservation des ressources naturelles. Le développement durable a été consacré par le Traité de l'Union européenne comme l’un de ses objectifs prioritaires.. (sse also "European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development "(.PDF))

In addition, in February 2001 the European Commission published a "Green Paper on integrated products policy (WEB)". This discussion paper served as the basis for drafting the communication on integrated product policy, published in June 2003.

Product policy takes products’ entire "life cycle" into account, aiming to limit environmental impacts at every stage in this cycle: extraction of the raw materials, production and packaging, marketing, purchase, use and recovery of the products, recycling or disposal of waste. It is intended to change the habits of all players in society who in one way or another are involved in this process - manufacturers, distributors, consumers, public authorities - while at the same time influencing supply and demand via a number of legal, economic and “socio-cultural” instruments.

Product policy thus has a key role to play in the dynamics of sustainable development. The establishment of a market that is friendlier to the environment and health will spur innovation in technology and management, which may in turn encourage the exportation of products and development.

 

Products concerned

Federal powers on product policy relate to the placing of products on the market. A scientific study has identified categories of products based on their environmental impact: vehicles, packaging, electrical and electronic appliances, and construction materials. Products emitting ozone precursor gases such as those containing solvents (paints (in French) (.PDF), detergents) and heating appliances were also regarded as having priority, given the significance of the ozone (HTML) issue during the summer and the international and Belgian commitments on the subject.
It is a little known fact that federal powers also cover services. The main thrust of federal action In this area is to promote services that can replace physical products, such as public transport, car pooling or new communications technology applications.

 

Measures

Product policy combines mandatory measures, aimed at discouraging the practices most damaging to the environment, and incentives to encourage voluntary adoption of good practices. It uses three types of instruments:

Legal instruments: these are binding in order to obtain quick results on top-priority issues. These include implementing decrees for the elimination of heavy metals from batteries, packaging, etc.

Economic instruments: these sometimes offer incentives and sometimes impose restrictions. They include direct taxation (tax cuts for energy-saving investments) or indirect taxation (eco-taxes, excises, VAT, etc.), premiums and subsidies (LPG premium, etc.).

"Socio-cultural" instruments. These act over the longer term by encouraging a voluntary approach. They include labels such as the European ecolabel (HTML), environmental advertising and labelling, sectoral agreements (environmental conventions between industry and government), public procurement based on "eco-consumption" criteria, etc. In addition, there are measures to educate and raise awareness about environmental protection and sustainable development (notably in schools).

 

 The need for coordination

Devising an effective product policy entails active participation by all the social players, but the measures also have to be coordinated at the various levels. This coordination is all the more important as responsibility for the "life cycle" of products is shared between many departments within our institutional system. For example, industrial policy is the prerogative of the regions, which are therefore responsible for production processes and waste treatment. Whereas the local authorities have an important role to play in terms of environmental awareness-raising and support for local initiatives.
DG Environment orchestrates this coordination with the institutional players. Coordination with the regions is carried out within the “Sustainable Production and Consumption Patterns” Steering Group of the Coordinating Committee for International Environmental Policy (CCIEP (HTML)). This Steering Group brings together the Belgian experts working in this area. The Group, coordinated by DG Environment, organises exchanges of information between the various levels of government and supervises the preparation of the opinions that Belgium delivers for international and European institutions.
Secondly, in order to take account of the positions of the social players, DG Environment regularly organises information panels, inviting representatives of business, distributors, consumer associations and environmental protection organisations to take part. These round tables also offer an opportunity to review the state of scientific knowledge concerning the impact of products on the environment and health.
Member States’ product policies obviously have to take account of the rules of the single internal market. Product policy is relatively new at the European level and is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, Belgium is one of the most active Member States in this area and is continuing to promote efforts to bring more environmentally-friendly products to market.

Federal Public Service (FPS) Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment
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Belgium

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Published on 06/05/2010 – Page last updated on 06/05/2010

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