VHK : : research engineers


VHK cookbooks

Theory and practice should go hand-in-hand. Over the past 30 years, VHK wrote 'cookbooks' for Ecodesign analysts and designers using proven ingredients, but we are also always eager to find and try new recipes.

VHK's Ecodesign methodology for energy-related products (MEErP, previously MEEup) has been used successfully by analysts in over 40 Ecodesign preparatory studies. The EcoReport tool, a streamlined Life Cycle Assessment tool developed by VHK, has been used in over 230 'base case' products. VHK's stock-model approach, most recently employed in the Ecodesign Impact Accounting project (EIA), is a corner stone in Ecodesign scenario analyses and forecasting.

Practice makes perfect

What all these VHK methods and tools have in common is that they use data inputs and structures that have been tested in practice. We don't see the point of theoretical methodologies with lots of empty tables where 'someone' (not the inventor) is supposed to find real input values. Being one of the users of our own recipes it is paramount that they yield transparent and verifiable results.

Another characteristic is that our methodologies are custom-made for the task at hand. We have been around at all the general methodology-discussions since the second oil-crisis and the very first circular economy exercises in the beginning of the 1980s. We know that some critical issues cannot be solved if there is no clear focus.

Robust and consensus-based

In the case of the environmental impacts within Ecodesign that focus is clear: We are assisting lawmakers and it is obvious that Ecodesign measures should be firmly rooted in EU's policy goals and legislative framework. That already includes 90% of all environmental issues debated in an academic setting, from energy to material resources, from greenhouse gases to acidifying emissions, from particulate matter to various toxic emissions, etc.. But it excludes the 10% on which there is no political consensus. For instance, the impact of land use is debated but not yet part of political consensus. This means that, at this moment, land use is currently not one of the Key Environment Performance indicators in the tools we developed for the Commission. That is not a value judgement, but simply a political reality at this moment in time.

Publically available

VHK methodologies and tools developed for the European Commission are open, freely usable and publically available. Every stakeholder and every citizen can have access and see the choices that have been made. They are in sync with the latest scientific insights but are streamlined for better understanding, also by a non-specialist audience. The tools are not in competition with what the LCA-community develops in terms of tomorrow's criteria, but capture those issues where there is consensus today and that help to make better founded policy decisions.

Ecodesign impact

There is the unfounded critique that Ecodesign is only about energy efficiency. Anyone who reads and works with the methodology and tools will know that this is not true. However, the Commission does use the principle of proportionality. This means that if some impacts are very small compared to the EU-total and the burden would be relatively high, legal action is not considered to be proportional, effective and efficient. Due to the fact that so far the focus has been only on energy-related products and not e.g. on furniture, food, textiles or buildings, many impacts in the production, distribution or end-of-life phase tend to be dwarfed by the energy consumption and emissions in the use phase. For instance, the most recent EIA study shows that the materials in all the Ecodesign-regulated products, including auxiliary materials consumed during the use phase, amounts to 14 Megatonnes (Mt) of metals, plastics and other substances annually. This represents at the most 4-5% of the total EU consumption of these materials. The energy consumption in the use phase of the same products amounts to 910 Megatonnes of oil equivalent or more than 50% of the EU total. With these figures it is not difficult to understand why the Ecodesign regulations turn out as they do, especially because many end-of-life recovery measures (re-use, recycling, reparability, etc.) may be technically in conflict with energy efficiency enhancing design options.

It is often forgotten that many products, especially in the electronics sector, have adhered to the Number One in the Waste-reduction hierarchy ('Reduce') and have gone through an impressive process of light-weighting/dematerialisation/miniaturisation. For instance, a 71 cm TV today weighs only around 6 kg and can easily be lifted with one hand, whereas 10-15 years ago a 71 cm TV weighed 40-50 kg and needed two adults to be moved into the living room. This does not mean that we should not do our best to recycle as much as possible of that 6 kg, but it does put things in perspective when it comes to e.g. prescribing certain design options that may increase product weight and/or decrease energy efficiency as a side-effect.

Short history of VHK methodology

Rob van Holsteijn graduated on innovation strategies for small- and medium-sized companies which was credited with the Klynveld Kraayenhof Award, while co-founder René Kemna graduated in 1981 on the application of energy analysis in product design, winning the Delft Hogeschoolfonds Award. In that same year René Kemna worked as a freelance consultant on innovation strategies for SMEs. While being part-time employed at the Delft University from 1982 until 1985 he was mentor of several M.Sc. projects on environmentally conscious design with prof. Johannes Eekels (TUD) and Gjalt Huppes (Centrum voor Milieukunde, Leiden University) and wrote several articles. He was member of the steering committee of the Ecodesign demonstration project by the TNO Innovatiecentrum (TNO Kathalys) in 1988, led by Tom van der Horst, and went on to participate in the PROMISE project with a project on environmentally-conscious designed halfmasks in 1989. With Han Brezet he worked on the RAREGAS project on the environmentally conscious design of heating boilers. Led by Jan van de Velde (NOVEM), with participation of Jacqueline Kramer, he worked on the EZP-experiment on energy-conscious product design (Energiezuinig Produktontwikkeling) in 1999 and environmentally conscious product development (MPO) in 1999. The Methodology for the first Ecodesign Directive on Energy-using Products (MEEuP) was developed in 2004-2005. The Methodology for the second Ecodesign Directive on Energy-related Products (MEErP) was developed in 2011.

The MEErP reports and tools can be found on ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/sustainability/ecodesign_nl under the heading ‘Support tools for experts’ (click on the ‘+‘ button to expand). For direct downloads, visit our ‘Reports’ section.

Related work on Ecodesign Impact Accounting (EIA) can be found on the European Commission, DG ENER ‘Studies’ pages.


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