Hardgoods Industry: Environmental Legislation & Standards

The global expansion of the hardgoods industry is creating incredible opportunities for business growth and an unprecedented pressure on communities and ecosystems across all continents.

The hardgoods production has significant impacts on the environment and human health causing extensive pollution, increasing land degradation, destructing wildlife habitats, over-exploiting natural resources, contaminating water, and accumulating hazardous waste. Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a recognized tool for assessing all the direct and indirect impacts of goods production, consumption, and utilization that must be accounted for to evaluate the environmental performance of your business.

The industry impacts include:

  • Emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG) that accelerate global climate change
  • Pollution with eutrophying substances like nitrogen and phosphorus
  • Contamination with toxic waste dangerous to human health and ecosystems
  • Depletion of nonrenewable resources including fossils and metals
  • Exploitation of biotic resources such as wood leading to deforestation and ecosystem degradation
  • Industrial use of land leading to erosion and natural habitat destruction
  • High freshwater demand for production resulting in water scarcity, and contamination of waterways.

Intensive energy demand is a significant factor, as the household consumption accounts for 60% or more of the product life cycle impacts,  reaching up to 70% for industrialized countries. Manufactured products, particularly electrical appliances, are among top three contributors to the carbon footprint of rich countries due to their high energy use. As the products are traded globally through complex supply chains, it can be difficult to assess their total impact contribution. Emerging economies across Asia are exporting large amounts of products, so a substantial share of the environmental burden from their consumption by the Western countries is translocated to the Asian countries where the products are being manufactured.

The human health impacts are related to the emissions of greenhouse gases, chemical air pollutants, ozone-depleting, and radioactive emissions. The environmental health risk factors are associated with the production emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, fine particulate matter, Nitrogen oxides, Sulphur dioxide, and ammonia that are dangerous to human health. Unsafe water, sanitation, and hygiene contribute 3.7% of the global burden of disease, lead exposure accounts for 0.9%, urban air pollution 0.4%, climate change 0.4%, occupational exposure to particulates 0.3%, and carcinogens 0.06%.

International Legislation

As the nations grow more aware of these ecotoxic effects on their economies and wellbeing, the environmental legislation is becoming ever more stringent. To make the industry safer and sustainable in the long run, the governments are introducing strict mandatory restrictions and industry regulations. The European Union has successfully adopted Ecodesign and energy labeling to improve the resource efficiency of goods production. Product life cycle analysis is applied to identify and eliminate the least efficient products from the market, driving environmental innovation, stimulating industrial competitiveness, and sustainable investment. The Ecodesign Directive provides rules for all member states aimed at improving the environmental performance and energy efficiency of products including household appliances, electronic goods, information and communication technologies. National market surveillance authorities verify that products sold in the EU follow the requirements of Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Regulations.

Such a holistic approach removes barriers to sustainable trade, boosts product quality, and ensures environmental protection. A number of countries outside the EU have developed similar legislation including the USA, Australia, Japan, China, and Brazil. Hong Kong, which annually generates 70,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment, has now introduced the Producer responsibility scheme (PRS) as a key policy tool for sustainable waste management. The concept is based on the principle of “polluter pays” and “eco-responsibility” requiring manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers to share the responsibility for collecting, recycling, treatment, and disposal of end-of-life products to avoid and reduce their environmental impacts at the post-consumer stage. Starting from August 2018, suppliers of regulated electrical equipment (REE) including computers, televisions, printers, scanners, monitors, as well as washing machines, air-conditioners, and refrigerators, must be registered by the Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong before distributing REE. Registered suppliers must fulfill a set of statutory obligations such as submitting returns to Department, providing recycling labels, and paying recycling levies. Sellers must further provide their consumers with recycling labels, a receipt for recycling levies, and arrange a free equipment disposal service.

National and international environmental certifications provide various useful tools for the hardgoods industry players to identify, evaluate, improve, and verify their environmental performance and help fulfill their legal obligations. TCO Certified, an international sustainability certification for IT products, sets out sustainability criteria for to ensure safety, environmental and social responsibility during the whole life cycle of the IT product from design, to manufacturing, use, and recycling. This certification requires detailed verification of the key aspects of sustainability performance.

The Green Electronics Council has developed a global rating system known as the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) that rates electronic products on a life cycle basis. EPEAT allows evaluating, comparing, and choosing electronics based on their environmental attributes specified for different categories including PCs, displays, televisions, printers, copiers, scanners, multifunction devices, fax machines, and more. The system aims to eliminate toxic substances from the manufacturing, promote use of recycled and recyclable materials, facilitate product design for recycling, extend product longevity, improve energy efficiency, boost corporate performance, and implement sustainable product packaging strategies.

Mandatory Product Labeling In China

The General Administration of Quality, Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) is the main body in China regulating all aspects of product quality including energy efficiency standards and environmental compliance. All manufacturers must submit energy efficiency information for their products to the China Energy Label Center before putting those products on the market. The Energy Label currently applies to four products including air conditioners, household refrigerators, washing machines, and unitary air conditioners.

The Certification and Accreditation Commission of China (CNCA) gives accreditations to testing laboratories and overseeing any certification schemes including the voluntary energy efficiency endorsement labeling program operated by the China Quality Certification Center (CQC).

The National Energy Conservation Law requires all enterprises manufacturing, importing, or selling energy-using products which fail to meet MEPS to stop production. The products that fail compliance and any associated gains are considered illegal and get confiscated, and the responsible persons are fined 1-5 times of money equal to the illegal gains. The Industrial and Commercial Administrative Department can also revoke the enterprise’s business license. High penalties are imposed for products covered by mandatory label requirements in cases when the labeling is irregular or missing, or the record product energy efficiency parameters have not been registered under the China National Institute of Standardization (CNIS) database before labeling, or if the labeling is misleading or false. These programs proved to be successful significantly reducing the energy consumption of appliances in China.

Voluntary Standards

Customers all over the world tend to have more trust in products with environmental labels or recognized certifications. Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers can attract more clients and gain a strong competitive advantage on the modern market by implementing international voluntary standards for environmental management.

The ISO 14040 Standard utilizes the product life cycle assessment (LCA) methods for developing the life cycle inventory analysis (LCI), the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA), the life cycle interpretation, reporting, critical review, and intended application. LCA is a remarkable tool for strategic planning that allows companies to identify opportunities for improving the product design and environmental performance throughout their life cycle. It also helps to market their achievements using ecolabelling schemes, environmental claims, and environmental product declarations (EPD).

EPD is a useful tool compliant with the ISO 14025 Standard for Environmental labels and declarations that verifies information about the environmental impacts associated with a product, enables objective communication, and product comparison based on the LCA. EPD includes product and company information covering raw material acquisition, energy use and efficiency, material and chemical content, emissions to air, soil, and water, as well as waste generation. ISO 14044 provides guidelines and specifies requirements for all stages of the LCA, establishes the relationship between the LCA phases, and conditions for use of value choices and optional elements.

ECOLOGO certifies products, services, and packaging for reduced environmental impacts based on their LCA. ECOLOGO Certifications are voluntary and multi-attribute, indicating that a product has undergone adequate scientific testing, exhaustive auditing, or both, in order to prove compliance with third-party environmental performance standards. These standards set metrics for a wide variety of criteria for environmental health and safety, materials management, energy efficiency, manufacturing, operations, product performance and use, product stewardship, and innovation.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standard provides guidance for designers and manufacturers for establishing a continual improvement process addressing key product quality categories including renewable energy and carbon management, material health and reutilization, water stewardship, and social fairness. The assessment allows choosing the safest materials by evaluating the potential hazards of chemicals used in production, maximize the percentage of renewable and recycled content and ensure the materials can be safely reused, recycled, or composted at the product’s end of life. The Standard also promotes renewable sources of energy and offsetting carbon emissions from the manufacturing, addresses industrial water impacts and chemicals in the wastewater. Additionally, the certification verifies fair conditions for employees, supply chain and the local communities.

Complying with voluntary environmental standards and obtaining certifications like ECOLOGO can bring multiple benefits for any business. Demonstrating your commitment and leadership in sustainability will attract new clients and elevate your customer perception using smart sustainable branding and marketing strategies. It will also reduce your production costs, facilitate sustainable procurement, and establish a green supply chain.

Professional Help

API household goods specialists can help you prove your customers, partners, and investors that your products meet world-class environmental, social, and quality standards. Our experts will help you assess, improve the environmental performance of your manufacturing activities, identify and verify the production impacts, conduct product life cycle assessment, calculate carbon footprint, prepare your business for environmental certification, and ensure legal compliance.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you make your business more sustainable.

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