In the coming months, it appears likely that the European Commission will formally approve two voluntary agreements (VAs) as part of their Ecodesign Directive program. If the VAs are approved, it would mark a departure from the current mandatory standard approach (known as Implementing Measures) and they would become the Directive’s first voluntary efficiency specifications.
While the Ecodesign Directive permits the creation of VAs when certain conditions are met, they need a high level of environmental ambition and must demonstrate that they are likely to deliver the policy objectives faster or cheaper than mandatory requirements.
The two categories now being discussed are complex set-top boxes (Lot 18) and imaging equipment (Lot 4). The idea of VAs for these products was proposed by groups of manufacturers and service providers who claimed that self regulation is preferable because of product complexity and because development involves the cooperation of hardware, software, and service providers. Companies behind the voluntary agreements include Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, and Samsung (for set-top boxes) and Dell, HP, Xerox, and Toshiba (for imaging equipment).
The proposed voluntary agreements also describe the monitoring and reporting process. Monitoring will be done by a steering committee made up of signatories and European Commission members. Meetings will be open to representatives of member states and other legitimate stakeholders. The monitoring will be based on reports submitted by independent inspectors.
Manufacturers of set-top boxes and imaging equipment argue that the VAs will meet criteria set out in Annex VIII of the Ecodesign Directive and will offer energy savings similar to those of a mandatory regulation. In addition, the VAs will require less administrative costs. Some European, non-governmental, environmental organizations disagree and have criticized the VA’s efficiency levels as not stringent enough.
Will these first two VAs open the door for more voluntary specifications, bypassing tougher mandatory regulations? Stay tuned…