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Are environmental claims believable?

5/21/2015

 

GETTING INNOVATIVE ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGIES FASTER TO MARKET

Marketing is increasingly about making environmental claims; promising lower energy consumption and less waste and emissions. So the buyer needs to know whether these claims can be trusted. This is where a joint European approach to verifying such claims comes in.


As emission, waste and consumption reduction targets become stricter, the environmental friendliness of products and systems is becoming a major competitive factor.

"The European ETV method provides a way of verifying a product's environmental friendliness based on consistent criteria. It is a system based on which everyone plays by the same set of rules and a technology manufacturer can show that it cares about the environmental friendliness of its technology," says Matti Lanu, Vice President at VTT Expert Services Ltd.

VTT Expert Services verifies claims related to environmental technology in Finland in accordance with the methods of the ETV pilot programme.

ETV or Environmental Technology Verification is a method initiated and overseen by the European Commission, for verifying claims made about European technology. It is used in 28 countries and has three technology sub areas, as follows: Water treatment and quality monitoring; materials, waste and resources; and energy technologies. Corresponding methods are being used in Canada, the USA, Japan and Korea.

The Danes have been pioneers in ETV in Europe, but now that the European Commission has begun to champion the method and has drawn up an ETV programme, its impact is spreading from the national to the EU level.

"For example, ETV is mentioned as a criterion in calls for applications for the EU Horizon 2020 project, in order to ensure that the results enter the markets faster and in order to support the commercialisation of European innovations," explains Lanu.

Forthcoming technologies will break the mould


In particular, ETV is expected to boost the environmental friendliness of new technology. In this way, it differs from certification use – a means of verifying that a manufacturer's products fulfil and continue to fulfil certain general criteria set in advance.

ETV requires that the environmentally friendly technology being assessed has an innovative dimension. The technology must also be close to market entry, so as to ensure that it does not change fundamentally during the process.

"The ETV method tackles a problem inherent in innovative technology: new technology does not necessarily fulfil old standards and specifications. New companies find it difficult to break into the market with new, innovative products without some kind of independent evaluation of the claims they are making," Lanu adds.

Lanu believes that standards should lie closer to the heart of research – both as a basis for R&D and when presenting the results. In many cases, existing standards only apply to the final product, which means that new innovations fall foul of outmoded standards.

"However, standards form a bridge between the R&D phase and the markets, as all users of mobile phones and DVD players know," Lanu points out.


Credibility across Europe


Companies can use ETV as a single procedure for achieving credible verification – all over Europe – of the environmental claims they make for their technology. While ETV is completely voluntary for companies, it is the only consistent way of proving the truth of their environmental claims on the European markets.

A total of 13 verification bodies are involved, which have been nationally accredited in line with the ISO standard. Accreditation allows these bodies to operate on a Europe-wide basis.

The ETV method is used so as to verify numerical claims. When a single technology is presented to an organisation for evaluation, the procedures used are based on a commonly agreed approach. Information and outcomes are documented on a common basis and the documentation is circulated by an international technical working group. This provides a guarantee of the system's credibility. As a result, a certificate verifying the performance of the technology manufacturer's product is posted on ETV's website and the company can use this as a marketing reference.

"We act as a third party independent of manufacturers and officials and have experience of and expertise in handling claims about environmental friendliness", Lanu states.    At VTT, the EU-ETV approach can also be combined with research projects. In such cases, VTT Expert Service acts as an organisation independent of the research-centre, while still benefiting from the strengths of a large research organisation.

Is Finland falling behind?


Innovation has been shown to play a major role in the development of environmentally friendly technologies. The aim of the ETV method is to expedite the market-entry of innovative European products by creating a common method of verifying environmental claims. This method also promotes the market entry of SMEs in particular, since verifying the features of small companies' products is a much more important but more laborious process than in the case of large, well-known firms.

Lanu also emphasises the importance of Finnish companies adopting the method and using it to strengthen their position on Europe's highly competitive markets.

"We will miss our chance if the idea fails to gain a foothold in Finland. In Denmark and Poland it has been adopted on such a large scale that the public sector and society in general have come on board.    Dozens of technologies are now being assessed by the EU's ETV programme."

This article has been published in VTT's Impulse magazine.  Click here to read it.

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