In this opinion, the EESC calls for society to begin an economic transition from over-exploitation of resources and a throw-away culture to a more sustainable, job-rich era, based on quality rather than quantity. In order to cope with the fundamental shift to a new economic model with major systemic consequences in many areas, it is recommended that a new cross-cutting and permanent body be set up in the EESC to analyse these developments.
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The EESC fully backs the objective of switching to a greener, resource-efficient and circular economy. It is happy to see that the Commission has come forward with a broader set of proposals covering all the stages of the product lifecycle compared to the previous circular economy package; however, it raises concern over the lower level of ambition, which is likely to lead to lower economic and environmental benefits.
The opinion familiarizes the public with the phenomenon of collaborative consumption (CC). The document presents the conceptual approach and describes briefly best practices in CC. The EESC proposes also a general strategy for the sound development of CC in the EU. Given that CC covers mostly bottom-up initiatives, studies are needed before the appropriate regulations, rights and responsibilities of all the stakeholders involved can be established.
Towards more sustainable consumption: industrial product lifetimes and restoring trust through consumer information
Planned obsolescence is associated with a form of industrial production that relies on a minimum renewal rate for its products. Although product renewal is necessary, certain abuses need to be addressed. The EESC would like to see a total ban on products with built-in defects designed to end the product's life.
To address planned obsolescence, protect consumers and boost the transition to a circular economy, in 2013 the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) called for a total ban on products with built-in defects designed to prematurely end a product's life. It recommended that better information to consumers on the lifespan of products should be established. On the basis of this opinion – the first European text on this topic – the European Parliament voted in July 2017 on a resolution for
a longer lifetime for products: benefits for consumers and companies.
The functional economy focuses on the use of a product rather than its ownership. Specifically, with the functional economy model, a company sells the right to use a product of which it maintains ownership. The famous example is Michelin, which no longer sells tires for fleets of company cars, but supplies "mobility services" consisting of repairing, retreading and in some cases exchanging tires. The economic outcome is that the company has an interest in making its products last as long as possible because the price is based on usage (in this case, the number of kilometres driven) and thus in reducing waste.
This study is based on a simulated shopping tool combined with an on-line questionnaire. 2 917 people took part across four European regions: France, Spain, the Czech Republic and the Benelux countries. The results clearly demonstrate that displaying the lifespan of the products for sale led consumers to change their behaviour when making their purchases. This effect was evident regardless of how the lifespan was displayed.
Le CESE publie aujourd'hui une nouvelle étude intitulée "les effets de l'affichage de la durée d'utilisation des produits sur les consommateurs", qui établit un lien manifeste entre l'affichage de la durée de vie des produits et le comportement des consommateurs. Ce phénomène est très net. La progression des ventes de produits labellisés durables est spectaculaire: 128 % pour les valises et 70 % pour les imprimantes par exemple. Les smartphones, avec une hausse de 41 %, sont moins concernés. Il est à noter que l’importance du caractère durable du produit aux yeux des consommateurs est proportionnelle au montant qu'ils sont prêts à débourser.
New attitudes towards consumption: best practices in the domain of built-in obsolescence and collaborative consumption
The study analyses the collaborative consumption and planned obsolescence in the context of circular economy, shared and the common good. The analysis is done from a holistic view of the interactions and interdependencies in the various economic, environmental and social spheres.