How EU legislation contributes to sustainable practices

Published on 2021-02-25


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Federica, a Lawyer in the EU Regulatory field, explains how EU Policies can promote sustainable practices without this being in contrast with the pursuit of profit.


In 2015 I moved to Brussels to work for a European trade association in the waste sector and therefore dealing with the package and all the related legislation, which was adopted and these included, for example, a wide range of directives concerning products and the disposal of products.

It was a new world for me and I became very passionate about the field because I think it is essential to give our input in this area. For this reason, I decided to continue and accept a position on the European Commission. I worked here for just a year because I received an offer from an international law firm and I decided to join. Then I developed my career in the field of business: I became a lawyer specializing in certain products in particular.

I prefer working in the private sector rather than the public one. Although that experience was very useful to understand how things work and also best approaches situations or regulatory bodies. And it was very essential also in my daily life today.

I was working with policy, so I was doing some advisory work and meet MVPs. So I can say that the beginning of my career was focused a lot on policy and now is more on specialized products like chemical products, lifestyle products, including medical devices, cosmetics.

The most important environmental regulations 

Creating a list of the most important regulations is an ambitious objective because the commission initiatives are pretty wide, especially in the environmental sector.

The most important action is the one taken in the European Green Deal: the aim is to create a climate-neutral economy by 2050. This is a very challenging aim, especially because the green deal was stable in September 2020 and another goal is raising the target from 40% reduction of greenhouse gases emissions to 55%.

We are seeing a lot of work in the field and this includes our vision of the circular economy package that I mentioned before, the chemical strategy, Farm to Fork strategy as well and so many others, which are including a new climate law, the revision of certain directives which are already in place like the renewable energy directive or energy efficiency directive.

There are many different pieces of legislation: we find both regulations and directives, which are being reviewed, so many initiatives, which I find extremely interesting also as regards grants in the green deal sector and as well as sustainable products initiatives, in this case, it concerns more eco-design and energy labelling.

Grants to support sustainable development 

This is the right moment to invest in the field of sustainable development. The European institutions are aware at the same time of the needs, of course: we are facing a crisis, but it was important to see how the European leaders decide to not leave the project, but instead to insist on it and consider it as a good way to recover from the crisis.

For example, the European Commission is also bolstering for green innovation, so in the IP protection for startups and SMEs, and this is a really important value on activities which are essential for our economies to recover and also invest in the young generation, on smaller business activities, on startups and sometimes it's essential to understand where we are going. 

I always find it very interesting to see which are the developments at the European level because they show an advance of what we will see at the national level. So for example, there will be a lot of investments in technologies, for climate change adaptation, as well as water waste treatment or carbon capture and storage, and so many others.

Green economy and IP 

What has been anticipated, but it's not official yet, is that maybe the European institution is going to launch a unitary pattern scheme that will allow smaller companies to have access to patent registrations at a lower price. And at the same time, this will be accompanied by the possibility of small companies working together and investing together in this kind of project. So I think this is essential to develop new networks and where smaller companies can also work together with and cooperate for the development of new techniques. 

The lawyer's task in the regulatory field 

With this job, every day is different from the other one. My main focus is for example, on chemical products, sanitary products and disinfectants. There was a lot of work this year about ventilators or masks, so also personal protective equipment. 

Our activity is very different from one day to the other because we follow clients' needs to obtain the authorization of certain products, in particular for the approval of the substance. So then the product can be placed correctly in the market. I work a lot for EU and non-EU companies.

When we receive questions from clients, often they try to struggle in between legislations, which can become very complex especially when it's also at the national level. So I help them by giving some guidance, qualification of products, find out the correct definition. Consequently, the legal requirements are essential to navigating the regulatory field. And at the same time, we have them to ensure that the less burdensome measures are taken, because sometimes it's essential to verify that the European decision or the regulatory body decision is correct.

We need to represent the client's needs before the competent authorities. 

The impact of what I do sometimes can be very direct, sometimes less. To give a more practical example, I followed up the process for the adoption of the single-use plastic directive that was adopted in 2019. This piece of legislation became very notorious at the European level because there was a lot of discussion between member states. 

Maybe you remember that France was the first country to adopt - before the European Union did - some restrictive measures on the national level on single-use plastics. So in that case, the activity was very linked to advocacy to the European institutions.

You could not see the daily impact of this activity, but at the same time, this was very essential to represent the client's interest before the institutions, which is something that normally at the national level is not very well perceived. So sometimes there is a gap between what we perceive at the national level and what is going on at the EU level.

The direct impact on their activity is, for example, a product that is banned can be authorized and placed again on the market. So then the most practical effect of a lawyer in the regulatory field is to protect the product and represent the clients before the institutions and defend the product with relation to the restrictive measures related to the product.

The impact of EU regulation in different countries

The environment is a shared competence between the EU and the member states. In particular, since the nineties then Italy received a lot of European legislation in the field. There was a paper where WWF said that a high percentage of Italian legislation is essentially EU legislation: most legislation nowadays is a consequence of EU initiatives and these regards the agriculture fields, the energy field and the chemical field

Some fields are harmonized, this means that the same standards should be assured, but they miss to assure that products are safe and sustainable and they can be placed on the market so that the aim, in this case, is to boost at the same time innovation for safer sustainable products. 

To know the countries that are doing best at the national level for what concerns environmental standards we could check data and see infringement procedures. 
Italy is among the worst countries in terms of adoption promptly and in an efficient manner of certain environmental legislation.
For example, we were late with some legislation compared to other countries, but also disregarded the Eastern countries. And when we say that a country is polluting more than another country, it is not the country that is polluting, but it's people that are consuming more or consuming with less respect to the environment.

To incentivize more climate-friendly decisions from the businesses, national member states should put the environment at the top of their agendas or at least among the most important issues, and the same should be for businesses themselves. Normally the perception is that the environment doesn't deserve status as a real business issue, but it's not the case anymore at least.
For a national member state, it is very important to try to remove barriers. It's easier to say than to do it, of course, but better regulation is for sure the first thing that should be pursued. This simply means sometimes to make some clarification: what is the applicable framework? So associations or lawyers can help with that, but the institution should do their part as well.

Secondly - we know this well for Italy - sometimes permissions and certifications should be obtained more easily. There is so much bureaucracy that sometimes discourages companies from being compliant with environmental standards.
For example, you can think about the recycling regulation: if you want to reuse a material, which has waste from the process, it's kind of complex to have authorization.  Is a very important issue that is not yet solved in other countries either and there are still ongoing discussions also at the EU level. This will be part of the circular economy action planning. 

They are also trying to improve these areas of secondary raw materials and how these can be placed on the market again. For example, I was mentioning before more widely the Green Deal in terms of the EU taxonomy regulation - which is another important piece of legislation - we see there that, for example, we have a waste to energy, which is a specific stream to produce energy, and we still don't know whether the heat can be included or not in the definition of green activities. 
It's a transversal area and each product or activity really can fall under different policy areas.

It's fundamental to try to put some pressure on the authorities and try to get some clarity and some help, which can be also in the forms of incentives and grants. 
In addition, startups should be more aware of the European projects that are open to everyone, so they can benefit from them because most of the time some financial instruments are not used. 

The European standards - the legal requirements which are established at the EU level - entails products, which are to be marketed in the EU market, need to comply. 

The indirect effect is that other legislations are influenced such as China, which aims to achieve a zero-carbon target by 2060 and also Biden has announced that it will invest trillions in the green economy. So, best practices are always very good initiatives for global improvement.

The economic consequences are fundamental because if you place a product in an EU market, which is not compliant, it will be withdrawn. Internal market legislation is quite clear in the environmental field. 

An association that helps the legislation discussion

Right now I'm working on also including new sectors, for example, I'm working on battery storage, energy storage because it's another coming issue with the use of electric scooters and all the related activities. 

At the same time, I just created and I'm going to launch the Green Innovation Network, which is essentially a nonprofit organization based in Milan. The association aims to give a contribution to reducing the gap we discussed before the national perception of the European policies and the understanding of the European and national framework in the sustainability field.

I hope this can give a contribution to the discussion, to have a better community, one where people and startups can engage. And sometimes, when necessary, also speak with one voice.

About the author

Federica Rizzo

Federica Rizzo is an Italian Lawyer and EU affairs specialist and Chair of Green Innovation Network, a non-profit based in Milan. She currently works between Brussels and Milan on several projects regarding sustainability and EU regulation in the environmental sector.

The EU Green Deal is a great opportunity for companies who are ready to overcome the regulatory challenges and benefit from the combination of circular economy and digital solutions in a timely manner.