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A voluntary Community ecolabel award scheme was first set up through a regulation in 1992.[1] [2] [3] [4] By creating a scheme for awarding a label (the flower) to products that meet certain criteria, the Regulation aimed to provide consumers with better information on the environmental impact of products and to promote the design, production, marketing, and use of products with reduced environmental impacts during their entire life cycles. The national implementation of the Regulation soon revealed several problems and deficiencies affecting the scheme. This led, in 2000, to the adoption of a new regulation intended to increase the effectiveness and streamline the operation of the labelling scheme.44 After less than ten years that was also replaced, this time by Regulation 66/2010 on the EU Ecolabel.45 It is based on the equivalent of the current Article 192 TFEU, thereby forming part of EU environmental policy. Like before, a wish to increase the effectiveness and streamline the operation of the ecolabel scheme prompted the adoption of a new legal act. This time there was also a need to ensure coordination with the new Directive 2009/125/EC on ecodesign requirements for energy-related products.4fi The new Regulation extended the possibility of using the EU ecolabel to more product categories and added substituting hazardous substances with safer onces as an additional aim of the scheme. By this time the EU ecolabel scheme had become part of the new EU sustainable consumption and production policy, aiming to reduce the negative impact of consumption and production on the environment, health, climate, and natural resources.[5] [6] [7]

The EU Ecolabel scheme applies to any goods or services, with the exception of medicinal products and medical devices, which are supplied for distribution, consumption, or use on the EU market, whether in return for payment or free of charge (Art 2).

The ecolabel may be awarded to products that meet certain criteria developed for specific product groups. These criteria are to be based on the environmental performance of the products, taking into account the latest strategic objectives of the EU in the field of the environment. They shall be determined on a scientific basis considering the whole life cycle of products. In determining such criteria, inter alia the following shall be considered: the most significant environmental impacts; the potential to reduce environmental impacts due to durability and reusability of products; and the net environmental balance between the environmental benefits and burdens, including health and safety aspects, at the various life stages of the products. Where appropriate, social and ethical aspects are also to be considered, for example by making reference to relevant ILO standards. According to the 2015 Circular Economy action plan, the Commission is to put increasing emphasis on circular economy aspects, such as reparability, durability, upgradability, and recyclability, in future product design requirements.4®

With some exceptions, the ecolabel may not be awarded to goods containing substances or preparations/mixtures meeting the criteria for classification as toxic, hazardous to the environment, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction (CMR), in accordance with Regulation 1272/2008,49 nor to goods containing substances that qualify for inclusion in the so-called ‘Authorisation List’ (ie Annex XIV) of REACH (ie Regulation 1907/2006). (Art 6.)

Each Member State must designate a body or bodies responsible for carrying out the tasks provided for in the Regulation (‘competent body’). Through the Regulation a European Union Ecolabelling Board (EUEB), consisting of representatives of the competent bodies of all the Member States and of other interested parties, is also set up. Following consultation with the EUEB, the Commission, Member States, competent bodies, and other stakeholders may initiate and lead the development or revision of EU ecolabel criteria. Doing so is associated with significant costs and should be carried out in close cooperation with the Commission. Anyone leading the development of ecolabel criteria must make sure that draft criteria are developed in accordance with a procedure laid down in Annex I. The final criteria and the related assessment requirements for a product group are then adopted by a Commission decision in accordance with the regulatory procedure with scrutiny^0 (Arts 4, 5, and 8.)

Product group criteria are usually valid for a period of three to five years. The criteria are reviewed prior to their expiration and may be revised. As of 2015 there were more than thirty product groups for which criteria have been adopted, including computers, detergents, textiles, and various kinds of paper.

Any producer, manufacturer, importer, service provider, wholesaler, or retailer (‘operator’) who wishes to use the EU ecolabel may apply to a competent body in the Member State where a product originates, or, in the case of products that originate outside the EU, to a competent body in any of the Member States in which the product is to be or has been placed on the market. Provided that the documentation is complete and the competent body has verified that the product complies with the relevant criteria and any assessment requirements, it shall assign a registration number to the product. The competent body shall ensure that the verification process is carried out in a consistent, neutral, and reliable manner by a party independent from the operator being verified based on international, European, or national standards. The competent body shall also conclude a contract with each operator covering the terms of use of the EU ecolabel. If the product criteria are subsequently revised, the contract must be renewed.

Only once the contract has been concluded may the operator place the ecolabel on the product. The ecolabel may be used on the products for which it has been awarded and on their associated promotional material. Any false or misleading advertising or use of any label or logo which leads to confusion with the EU ecolabel shall be prohibited. (Arts 3, 9, and 10.)

The Commission has established a catalogue of products which have been awarded the ecolabel.51

It should also be mentioned that rules on the labelling of products as organic, thereby indicating that specific environmental standards have been met in their production, have been laid down in Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products.52

  • [1] Council Regulation (EEC) No 880/92 on a Community eco-iabel award scheme [1992] OJL 99/1.
  • [2] Regulation (EC) No 1980/2000 of the European Parliament and of the Council on a revisedCommunity eco-label award scheme [2000] OJ L 237/1.
  • [3] [2010] OJ L27/1.
  • [4] 46 [2009] OJ L285/10. On this Directive, see section 11.8.
  • [5] Communication from the Commission on the Sustainable Consumption and Production andSustainable Industrial Policy Action Plan (16 July 2008) COM(2008) 397 final.
  • [6] 48 Communication from the Commission—‘Closing the loop—An EU action plan for the CircularEconomy’ COM(2015) 614 final, 4. On the action plan see further section 12.1.
  • [7] Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 ofthe European Parliament and ofthe Council on classification,labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EECand 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 [2008] OJ L 353/1.
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