Our current production and consumption modes are major causes of excessive use of natural resources, environmental degradation and climate change. A profound change in our lifestyle is necessary. In this context, the involvement of each and every stakeholder - companies, consumers and public authorities - is crucial.
We have to rethink our production and consumption modes in a different way to make them sustainable.
This reflection process is conducted at all levels of government, including the federal level. The federal State has many levers of action for promoting sustainability via its exclusive competence for the standards and rules concerning 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 environmentally friendly products
4. Work with the distribution sector
5. Include sustainability in 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 improve 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 are treated as a priority. They pertain to three sectors: housing, transportation and food.
These standards are set in 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 are 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. While producers make choices regarding product design, raw materials and production methods, the distributors decide on transportation, production of own brands (private label products) and the selection of the types of products 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 identify the 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. The selection of products offered to the customers is in their hands.
As a result agreements were signed with the sectors in order to increase the 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. In this perspective, sustainable procurement guides have been developed to assist governments in their choices.