Ecolabel Focal Point The Product Policy service is charged with guaranteeing that products placed on the market are increasingly respectful of the environment and public health. Environmental impact is taken into account at every stage of the product life cycle: from inception to manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. This is consequently a long-term process.
Action at the level of the placing on the market of products comes entirely within the federal government's powers. Certain aspects of product life cycle nonetheless come within the regions' environmental powers, for example, production site management and waste treatment. Accordingly, one of the tasks of the Product Policy service is to coordinate these initiatives with the regions. This coordination takes place in the CCIEP Steering Group on Sustainable Production and Consumption Patterns Steering Group on Sustainable Production and Consumption Patterns but also, if necessary, in the Interministerial Environment Conference (IEC).
There are two categories of officials in this service: "product" experts, who are thoroughly familiar with the products, and experts in the different instruments used, whether legal, socio-educational or economic. In fact, the service takes an integrated approach to its tasks: the work of the "product" experts overlaps with that of the "instrument" experts and vice versa.
The service is comprised of a number of units:
- Product Policy Coordination
- Product Managers Coordination
- Legal Instruments
- Socio-communicative Instruments
- Economic Instruments
- Ecolabel Focal Point
Several experts are also charged with contributing to the development and implementation of measures introduced under the National Ozone Plan and the www.cidd.be.
This unit establishes strategy and determines the priorities and timeframe for actions to be developed in cooperation with other Federal Public Services (FPS) and stakeholders.
The product managers have technical and scientific knowledge of products and study their impact on the environment (at all levels). Certain products undergo particularly close scrutiny due to their environmental impact. These include: cars, electrical and electronic equipment, packaging and construction materials. Products containing solvents (detergents, washing powders, glues, cosmetics, etc.) are also taken into account, but more in connection with the issue of ozone depletion.
These are binding instruments that impose standards. They include laws and decrees adopted on the initiative of Belgium or in application of European provisions. Legal work in this area consists in checking the consistency between different legal acts, facilitating transposition, ensuring the compatibility of the measures adopted with those of the regions and so on.
This unit handles matters relating to education, awareness raising, communication and public information. Various means are used to perform these tasks: the production of brochures and leaflets, the development of information pages on Internet, the organisation of events, the preparation of learning tools for teachers, and more.
These awareness-raising efforts also target the federal administration. In public procurement, for example, the state has to set an example in its buying policy by preparing tender specifications which include environmental criteria.
For each category of products, DG Environment can make use of a range of instruments to encourage sustainable production and consumption patterns. These instruments are primarily economic: taxation (change of excise duties on energy products, change of VAT rate, eco-taxes, tax deductibility of certain environmentally friendly investments, etc.) and assistance (premiums and subsidies). These measures generally provide incentives. For taxation, policies are prepared and implemented in collaboration with the FPS Finance.
A European "ecolabel" identifies products that meet environmental criteria defined in collaboration with the European Commission, the Member States and interest groups.
Any firm interested in the label can submit a file to the Secretariat of the Belgian Committee for Award of the European Ecolabel, at the Federal Environment Administration. Three Belgian producers have already been awarded the ecolabel in the product categories "soil and culture medium amendments", "indoor paints and varnishes" and "textiles".
Imported products bearing the ecolabel can also be found on the Belgian market, for example, toilet paper, paper towels, hand towels and facecloths, washing-up liquid and so on. This mechanism will have a greater impact as it becomes better known by consumers and companies alike. That is why the unit is developing different actions to promote the ecolabel.
The heat wave during the summer of 2003 demonstrated the great danger of peaks in ozone levels for public health, and especially for the elderly.
This question is mainly the responsibility of the regions, which have competence for air quality. But DG Environment can also intervene on the environmental quality of products placed on the market (cars, boilers, paints, etc.) which release ozone precursors. At the federal level, actions can also be taken on transport and mobility, as well as on energy. A National Ozone Plan drawn up in 2003 includes federal measures which are complemented with actions implemented by the regions.