The most important point that characterizes the current European strategy can be identified in the so-called “Europe 2020” strategy (pdf, 175 KB) which has identified three priorities that must characterize the entire political action of the EU:
- smart growth: developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation;
- sustainable growth: promoting a more resource efficient, greener and more competitive economy;
- inclusive growth: promoting an economy with a high employment rate that fosters social and territorial cohesion.
To address these interrelated priorities, the EU has identified seven “flagship initiatives” that should characterize the Union’s commitment between now and 2020.
The seven “flagship initiatives” are identified by the following titles:
- The Innovation Union
- “Youth on the move”
- An European digital agenda
- A resource-efficient Europe
- An industrial policy for the era of globalization
- An agenda for new skills and jobs
- European platform against poverty
The challenge of main interest for the activities carried out by the Ministry of the environment is certainly that which concerns “the efficient use of resources”; a challenge which, moreover, is closely related to other of the 7 challenges (industrial policy, innovation, new jobs, etc …).
In the light of the objectives defined in the strategy and the seriousness of the problems indicated, the promotion of a more efficient economy in terms of the use of resources is certainly one of the main pillars that will have to support the whole Community action. In this regard, the European Commission has defined a “Roadmap towards a resource-efficient Europe” (pdf, 169 KB).
This Communication, which represents a real strategy of action, identifies as a pivotal action the “Transformation of the economy” and in particular the theme of Consumption and Sustainable Production (SCP), which was already the main point of the “Action Plan on Production and sustainable consumption and sustainable industrial policy “(pdf, 179 KB).
The main lines of action that must characterize the initiatives in the field of “Consumption and Sustainable Production” concern two areas:
- improving environmental performance of production activities and
- improving consumption patterns.
In these two areas, which include, in part, the issue of the distribution of goods, a particularly significant role is played by the tools necessary for the analysis, evaluation and communication of the environmental performance of products and organizations. In this field the European Commission, the member states and the various international organizations have, since the 1990s, developed environmental certification tools that can be summarized as follows:
- environmental management systems (such as EMAS);
- environmental labels (ISO Type I, regulated by the ISO 14024 standard, eg EU Eco-label);
- environmental self-declarations (ISO Type II, governed by ISO 14021, eg Mobius loop);
- Environmental Product declarations (ISO Type III, governed by ISO 14025);
- mandatory brands and labelling (eg energy saving labelling)
These tools, in particular, the type I and III brands, have as their core the analysis of the life cycle of the products (LCA) that allows identifying for each phase of the cycle (from the procurement and processing of the materials necessary for their production, to the final disposal of the same), the most significant environmental impacts, thus allowing to define improvement objectives and standards to be achieved.
In recent years, the European Commission has deemed it necessary to put in place actions to try to “standardize” the various tools concerning the products, in order to make it easier for consumers (both the more expert and the less) to use them, and to make the results of the analysis (LCA) and the contents of the communications of the environmental performance of products and organizations the most comparable possible.
In particular, on the one hand it defined a standard for the construction of a European LCA database “Life cycle data network”, and with the communication on the “single market of green products”, it launched the “Environmental footprint” program ( pdf, 8.320 MB).
The Ministry of the Environment pays particular attention to the implementation of policies aimed at improving the environmental performance of products and production cycles. Both with the classical tools of “command and control”, both with the promotion of voluntary tools such as those related to environmental certification (such as the use of environmental management systems, environmental labels), or the use of market tools such as “Green Public Procurement” (now known by the acronym GPP) which makes extensive reference to environmental performance defined with environmental labels.
As already mentioned, in this area (that of improving the environmental performance of products and production cycles), it is important to develop in a coordinated way with the EU, the dissemination of tools that allow a serious analysis of the life cycle of products and the communication of the results of these analysis to all stakeholders: to public administrations and political decision-makers to better determine choices regarding the definition of policies; to consumers to allow more informed choices in their behavior (in particular regarding the purchase and use of products).
The Ministry of the Environment is therefore particularly involved in the field of “environmental certification” with various activities that mainly concern:support for traditional system certification (EMAS) and product (Ecolabel) schemes;the promotion of the dissemination of the LCA instrument and activities concerning the development of a national section of the European LCA database (on February 6th 2014, as part of the launch event of the “Life cycle data network” (pdf, 446 KB ) promoted by the European Commission, the first test of the national section was built, with the collaboration of several private companies, in the context of a collaboration between the Ministry and ENEA); with the experimentation of new certification tools, consistent with the European guidelines, aimed at enhancing the environmental value of the products of the national production chains.