Our current production and consumption modes are major causes of excessive use of natural resources, environmental degradation and climate change.
A major change is required in our lifestyles. In this context, the involvement of each stakeholder - companies, consumers and public authorities - is crucial.
Throughout their life cycle (from extraction of raw material to end of life, while undergoing production, transportation and use), the products have impact on the environment (e.g.: loss of biodiversity, air pollution, water pollution, etc.). In addition, our society is consuming material goods with greater intensity whereas these are having an increasingly shorter life.
Therefore, we have to rethink our production and consumption modes in order to make them more sustainable.
This thought process is conducted at all levels of power by:
- international organisations
- the European Union
- the federal State
At the international level, a 10-Year Framework Program for sustainable consumption and production was adopted in 2012 at the "Rio+20" UN International Conference.
The European Union
In 2008, the European Union adopted an Action Plan for sustainable consumption and production and sustainable industrial policy. This plan emphasizes on the need for a successful product policy, on support for eco-innovation in order to ensure that European companies adapt to future markets and on support for competitiveness of eco-industries.
Action triggers of the Federal government
The Federal environmental policy has significant triggers through its exclusive authority on placing products and services on the market.
The outline of this policy aims to:
1. Ensure a minimum level of environmental quality for products and services
2. Work on calculating the environmental impacts of products
3. Help consumers in choosing environment friendly products
4. Work with the distribution
5. Launch sustainable public procurement
In order to implement this policy, the Directorate General of Environment regularly meets the companies, consumer groups, environmental NGOs and trade unions.
The DG Environment aims to gradually level up the market and protect all consumers. Products that respect both human health and the environment should become the norm and no longer be reserved for well-informed people.
Standards for product categories that have the greatest impact on the environment and health will take priority. They pertain to three topics: housing, transportation and food.
Setting of these standards is governed by both European and national legislations.
For several years, the DG Environment has been involved in the development of methodologies to calculate the environmental impacts of products both at the national and European level.
When these environmental impacts will be quantified and known, each stakeholder in the chain (producers, distributors, consumers) will have a clearer view of the improvements that can be made at its level. In fact, while producers make choices pertaining to product design, raw materials and production methods, the distributors influence transportation, production of own-brand (products sold with private label) and the selection of the types of products placed on the shelves. Finally, the consumers decide whether or not to buy a product.
The EU Ecolabel is the only official environmental label supported by the public authorities in Belgium. This label allows consumers to easily identify products that comply with a series of environmental and health requirements. These criteria are independently monitored by federal authorities.
Distributors (wholesalers, stores and other retailers) have become important players in the market. It is through them that selection is made of products offered to the customers.
In 2011, two agreements were signed with the sectors in order to increase the diversity and range of products meeting specific environmental criteria. The first of these agreement relates to wood based products; the second governs the detergents.
Through their procurement policies, governments can influence the market and initiate change. It is in this perspective that sustainable procurement guides have been developed to assist governments in their selection.