Thursday, 4 April 2013

French greens call for laws to guarantee electronic product life

Europe Écologie – Les Verts (EELV - The Green party in France) has proposed a Bill to the French Senate aimed at reducing planned obsolescence and increasing the shelf life of electronic products. The move follows similar action by the Belgian Green Party, Ecolo, a year ago. Planned obsolescence is taken to mean those strategies put into place to artificially shorten the useful life of products and bring forward their disposal and replacement.

The proposal from EELV would establish a legal framework in France to penalise such practices and recompense consumers. Specific points include:

• Extending the existing EC product guarantees for IT, telecom and audiovisual equipment from the current two years to five.

• Under current EC legislation, if a defect appears during the first six months the presumption is that the fault was there at purchase, unless the seller can prove otherwise. The Bill would extend this assumption to two years.

• Making spare parts available for 10 years and encouraging green groups to stockpile parts from products that are not repairable.

Other proposals are to reduce tax on products that are environmentally designed and to oblige manufacturers to provide better information on reuse and recycling.

In the French proposal, deliberately implementing technical obsolescence would be an offense punishable by two years imprisonment and/or a fine of 37,500 euros.


Review: One of the issues that sparked off the legislation in Belgium was a report in the media of a printer that contained a microchip designed to limit printing to 18,000 pages (although internet users apparently created a programme that overcame the limit). There have been similar concerns about inkjet printers signalling that ink cartridges are empty when in fact there is still plenty of ink left.

It is this sort of cynical restriction on product life, creating huge amounts of unnecessary waste, that’s being addressed. While it remains to be seen whether any of these proposals become law, it can only be a matter of time before some legislation is introduced. Already electronic product stewardship regulations are being introduced around the world and the requirements are likely to get tougher as countries realise the environmental impact of product disposal.

Certainly, any corporate green IT strategy should take into consideration the product lifecycle at the procurement stage. There are standards and labels in place, such as EPEAT and Energy Star, to help make the right purchase decisions. But corporate IT increasingly includes consumer products chosen by employees. The sort of legislation proposed in Belgium and France would ensure that these products are capable of lasting longer - although trends in design and fashion are as much the cause of product replacement as anything else. But that’s another story.

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