Waste Policy

6 ways embodied energy could shape policy in Europe


28 Jul 2017

Written by

Matt Franklin


There are many methods for calculating the embodied energy contained in a product. In our latest briefing paper, based on research by Eunomia we explore how an embodied energy indicator could be applied to European product policy to drive the circular economy forward, increasing the retention of valuable resources within an increasingly closed loop. 

Embodied energy is a widely used and well developed concept, defined a the ‘the sum of energy requirements associated directly or indirectly with the delivery of a good or service’. For the circular economy in Europe, the recycled content of products, or their durability and life-cycle is rarely considered from an environmental perspective in the design phase. By including the concept of embodied energy in product policy it could be used to encourage the redesign of consumer goods to retain embodied energy through the use of recycled materials, extended lifecycle, durability or repairability.

This briefing puts forward 6 initial proposals on how this concept could be included and used to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the energy embodied in our products, and to encourage improvement in the circular economy:

  1. A per household embodied energy indicator for municipal waste
  2. Indicators set for packaging waste based on cumulative energy demand
  3. An indicator (as above) could reflect the level of recycled content in a product
  4. An Indicator could also consider climate change impacts in combination with the other factors
  5. Develop Combined Indicators Covering Embodied and energy in use for specific products – particularly consumer electronics
  6. Industry benchmarks on embodied energy for specific products. Developed alongside the Product Environmental Footprint pilot studies

The use of embodied energy in product policies could also reinforce our recent calls for the increased use of economic incentives in circular economy policy. Our report ‘Rethinking Economic Incentives for Separate Collection‘ highlights a number of different products which could be subject to new incentive based return schemes. 

The full briefing on embodied energy which goes into more detail about these recommendations is available for download on our website.