Europe forcing higher energy standards

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KAI RYSSDAL: Europe's getting ready to throw its regulatory weight around. In Brussels tomorrow the E.U.'s expected to adopt tough new environmental rules. Rules that would apply to anybody wanting to sell anything to an E.U. member state. Michael Kirschner's been consulting with companies doing business in Europe. Mr. Kirschner, good to have you here.

MICHAEL KIRSCHNER: Thank you.

RYSSDAL: Do you think American manufacturers have really grasped the fact that there's one regulatory body over in Europe and it's market of 480 million people speaking with one voice?

KIRSCHNER: Oh, no. Not remotely. American industry is still reactive and still trying to fight sort of with a "not invented here" approach to all this.

RYSSDAL: The task at hand tomorrow as I understand it, from the European Union, will be reducing energy consumption over there. Do I have that right?

KIRSCHNER: They're wrapping a whole bunch of legislation and regulation under a single umbrella. I've been tracking one part of that — which is the Energy Using Products Directive, which target electrical and electronic products and some other products that use energy.

RYSSDAL: Well, let's get to your area of expertise, then. We're talking about things like air conditioners and boilers and washers and dryers and those really heavy users of electricity.

KIRSCHNER: Yes, and copiers and computers and televisions . . . And, there's a couple of issues. There have been initiatives, voluntary initiatives, that they don't feel an industry has adequately taken advantage of to drive down energy use in a couple of areas. One is stand-by, you know, when something is plugged into the wall and it's got a little light on that tells you, "Well, I'm still on but I'm not using much energy." Well, Europe says that about 10 percent of total energy use in homes and offices is just consumed by stand-by power. So, if we can reduce stand-by power, that would be a substantial decrease in the use of power.

RYSSDAL: I'm not going to far out on a limb here when I say that American companies have to be in the European market — whether it's expensive for them to change their production processes or not.

KIRSCHNER: That's true, but we also have to not have a Europe-centric view of this. Europe may be leading this and may be the "thought leaders," if I can use that phrase, in terms of environment, including material use, energy use, use of toxic substances and so on. But, other countries around the world and even states like California we find adopting these types of laws. And for good reason. So, I think industry just needs to step back and say, "OK, now we do have to consider the environment when we design and development products.

RYSSDAL: Michael Kirschner is the president of Design Chain Associates. It's a consulting firm up in San Francisco. Mr. Kirschner, thanks for your time.

KIRSCHNER: Thank you, Kai.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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