In recent years, there have been many developments associated with the momentum of European rulemaking — from the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) to the Directive on Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence (CSDD) associated with the environment and human rights and an EU Taxonomy system that classifies economic activities in accordance with their contribution to solving environmental and social issues — this trend continues to be closely monitored.
Aside from these examples, there is also a series of movements to empower consumers with information to make sustainable choices. A proposal that would amend the EU’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) and Consumer Rights Directive published in March 2022 seeks more stringent regulations on greenwashing and the planned obsolescence of products. In Japan, there are no strict regulations and limited interest pertaining to either of these areas, so Japanese companies need to be aware of this gap.
One example of this is a system based on repairability, or the ease with which something can be fixed. A score that can be used to assess and disclose such information is currently under consideration at the EU level.
The precedent of France’s Repairability Index
In January 2021, France introduced a Repairability Index that rates ease of repair with a score and requires that certain information be shared with consumers. The index targets five products: front-loading washing machines, smartphones, TV monitors, laptops and electric lawn mowers. This November, it will extend to four new categories: top-loading washing machines, dishwashers, high pressure cleaners and vacuum cleaners.
Products are evaluated based on the following five criteria, and companies use a label to display their score out of ten points (e.g., Microsoft’s scores for Surface laptops).
- Documentation: serial number, disassembly map, etc.
- Ease of disassembly: ease of access to parts most likely to wear out, number of tools needed for repair, etc.
- Availability of spare parts: number of years that key parts can be obtained. The easier it is for consumers to repair themselves, the higher the score.
- Price of spare parts
- Product-specific criteria: how long software updates are supported, system restoration to factory setting, etc.
Successes and challenges one year later
Now that this law has been in effect for a year, it is possible to see some progress as well as challenges that have emerged. According to a civil society organization that opposes planned obsolescence, Samsung and other companies are starting to proactively share repair manuals, and as the index gets recognized by a majority of citizens, it contributes to product evaluation at the point of purchase. Among the challenges identified are a lack of objectivity, since manufacturers base scores on self-assessments, as well as the need for an oversight mechanism.
For a scoring system at the EU level, the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) proposes that a minimum repairability requirement be established in the Ecodesign Directive, that repairability scores be clearly displayed in stores and on websites at the point of sale and that labels be developed to clarify warranty periods and promote accuracy in consumer understanding.
In France, this index is expanding into a Durability Index in 2024 that will evaluate product longevity with repairability treated as an element of the index.
I have given up on repairing items many times after being told that buying new is cheaper and results in better performance. With this type of scoring structure, a product’s repairability can at least become one factor in its selection at the point of purchase. Corporations, especially those committed to the SDGs, should lead the way to making it possible to compare repairability and durability — via displays at electronics retailers or on product comparison websites — as factors contributing to a circular economy.
Takeshi Nozawa (Author), Translation by Melody Poland
（Photo by JESHOOTS.COM via Unsplash）