The EU Ecolabel as a driver to circular economy

IMAGE: DG Environment

“The EU Ecolabel promotes Europe’s transition to a circular economy, supporting both sustainable production and consumption. Thanks to transparent ecological criteria, consumers can make conscious choices, without compromising on the quality of the products. Similarly, the EU Ecolabel rewards those manufacturers who choose to design products that are durable and repairable, promoting

innovation and saving resources”.


Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella




Closing the loop


Over the past century, the global economy has been built on a linear “Cradle-to-grave” supply chain model. Thanks to the growing advancement in the field of environmental science, we are now aware that a “take, make, waste” approach is taxing to the environment, notably via increasing levels of waste generation and mismanagement of natural resources. Closing the loop in this linear scheme can address numerous hotspots. For example, applying a circular approach to a product’s life cycle can extend its life span and improve its reparability. When reaching its end-of-life, products have the potential to be considered as valuable resources for recovery rather than as waste as functional components can be salvaged or recycled into primary products for reuse.


A European legislative framework


To stimulate Europe’s transition towards a more circular economy, on December 2nd, 2015, the European Commission adopted the Circular Economy Package, which contains measurable targets for waste reduction set for the year 2030. Eco-design constitutes the forefront of its strategy to promote reparability, durability and recyclability of products in addition to energy efficiency. Economic incentives are implemented for producers to put more environmentally friendly products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes. In short, the framework of the Circular Economy Package’s represents a fundamental change for all actors across the supply chain.


EU Ecolabel: A key factor to implement the EC’s Circular Economy Package


Since its creation in 1992, the EU Ecolabel acts as a pioneer in promoting circular economy. From the beginning, its strict product group criteria were already based on the main principles of circular economy supporting both sustainable production and consumption: products that have a lower environmental impact and contribute to sustainable development along their life cycle, in addition energy efficient, durable and repairable. Thanks to transparent ecological criteria, consumers can make conscious choices, without compromising on the quality of the products.


The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the Joint Research Center of the European Commission, based in Seville, has been technically responsible for developing a set of  criteria for each product group, to which the licence holders must comply to in order to obtain the European Ecolabel certificate. Each product group criteria document has concrete parallels with the objectives of the Circular Economy Package.







  Circular Economy is based on several pillars related to the entire product life cycle.
It shares the first five pillars with the EU Ecolabel:


  1. SUSTAINABLE SUPPLIES: The purchasing process for goods and services integrates environmental and social criteria, as the result the management of resources becomes more efficient with minimal impact on the environment.
  2. ECO-DESIGN: It improves the product impact on the environment starting from the manufacturing process to its end-of-life.
  3. RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION: It encourages the buyer to choose products according to their environmental impacts.
  4. LIFESPAN LENGTHENING: Focusing on product repairs promotes reuse over replacement, and supports second hand markets by reusing a product’s functional components.
  5. RECYCLING: Recycling enhances product value as its components are considered to be useful during the use as well as the end-of-life stage (as its parts are recycled for the creation of new materials.)



The EU Ecolabel’s long-term existence makes it a viable and established tool for implementation of the Circular Economy Package and along with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 related to sustainable consumption and production. These latter worldwide objective targets on sustainable resources management, waste reduction, and reduction of the use of harmful chemicals can furthermore be driven by the application of the EU Ecolabel criteria on product manufacturing.


Targeted criteria to address environmental hotspots


EU Ecolabel criteria targets each step of the product life cycle. For example, a guarantee of superior longevity is required also to paint products in order to reduce the number of coats of paint needed for optimal paint coverage and durability. Additionally, products using flame retardants or water, stain and dirt repellents must also demonstrate that the functional finish is durable.


Furthermore, environmental criteria for all EU Ecolabel product and service groups are dynamically assessed for relevance and stringency by panels of relevant stakeholders, representatives of Member States and technical experts within the European Commission. In August 20161, the European Commission released three freshly revised environmental criteria on computers, furniture, and footwear. Outlined within these criteria, computers and tablets have to pass robustness tests and battery longevity tests. In addition, these devices have to be more durable, repairable and upgradeable, easy to dismantle and recover resources from for recycling at the end of their useful life and which restrict the presence of hazardous substances. Within the new criteria for footwear, manufacturers will assume a larger responsibility to improve Corporate Social Responsibility within labour conditions of the final footwear assembly site for an enhanced “responsible supply chain management”. The changes to the criteria for furniture, which now extends to include other materials aside from wood products such as leather, textiles, metals and plastics, opens the door to a wider group of potential furniture manufacturers which could enhance availability of EU Ecolabel products on the market for consumers.


Availability of these products give consumers an opportunity to choose products that use less harmful chemicals within its composition that are not necessary for its optimal functioning.


An economic opportunity for companies


According to a report conducted by McKinsey for the Ellen McArthur Foundation published in June 20152; by the year 2030, circular economy would allow European Union to save 600 billion euro a year3. It is also expected to create substantial local employment opportunities within the EU. Recognising the opportunities provided by circular economy, many companies have begun to explore and integrate its principles by analysing their suppliers and improving product design. The EU Ecolabel represents the ideal starting point for many companies to carry out both global as well as EU objectives for circular economy.






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1Read the full press release here:



2French version:

English version:


3Direct download of the report « Growth Within : a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe » (June 25th 2015) :




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