• Regulatory environment

Systemic regulatory change comes from a truly unified effort

European value chains involve numerous stakeholders. When decision-makers craft legislation, every part of the value chain must work together if there are to be regulations that work for everyone, says Fatma Sahin.

As a company that strives to incorporate sustainability into every part of its business, Unilever sees the key to good EU consumer product regulation, from packaging to ingredients, as being a harmonized, holistic and inclusive approach based on scientific evidence that provides flexibility for future innovative technologies.

This entails the cooperation of different Commission departments to ensure the alignment of policy areas and the integration of timelines. The Chemical strategy, for example, would need to be coherent with quality standards for recycled content.

“When drafting policies, regulators should take the life cycle of the entire value chain into consideration so that sustainability objectives can be met,” says Fatma Sahin, European External Affairs Manager at Unilever. “We all depend on one other. Tackling only one part of the chain will not help drive the systemic change we need.”

Coherent rules last longer

At the same time, assessments are needed when evaluating the viability of certain materials. This is to see if there are sustainable alternatives so that any possible problems are not simply shifted to another material. It is the role of regulators to provide the tools to stimulate the shift for all actors in the value chain to do their part within that chain through full cooperation.

All of this must be underpinned by a set of coordinated EU rules in order to be effective.

“There needs to be a true single market through clearly defined harmonized EU provisions. This is to avoid veering towards a value of or preference for ‘natural rules’ or nationalistic or discriminatory measures by member states that are impacting core EU principles, hampering the free movement of goods and leading to a more fragmented EU,” says Sahin.

A combined approach bolsters innovation

When it comes to legislative measures to ensure environmental outcomes, Unilever acknowledges that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. The best approach combines restrictive measures such as banning and provides incentives at the same time to help realize the goals and objectives of a particular piece of regulation.

"Legislators need to create incentives and provide the space where stakeholders can work together to identify what is needed to get there and what the best way is."

Sahin is of the opinion that banning a material without having any alternative in place is not going to help with ensuring a shift to more sustainable materials.

“We need incentives. Financially, we need to ensure that there is money to invest in building the right infrastructure – for instance, for waste management – and that we have competitive pricing for new and recycled materials such as plastic. In terms of policy, we need them to provide certainty around which recycling processes are accepted and recognized, for example.”

Fair competition incentivizes business

Today, technology develops quickly. Regulation can sometimes fail to keep up with technological progress and therefore become rigid or slow, which hampers innovation. To ensure that legislation can stand the test of time, Unilever calls on regulators to create policies that set clear goals, supported by clear standards and incentives.

A good balance, according to Unilever, would be to provide a policy framework where key matters are regulated and leave room for voluntary action to identify the best way, or to develop the tools necessary to achieve the ultimate goal. Once solutions are found and need to be implemented, this can be done through regulatory measures to allow for a level playing field.

“Sometimes we need bold and ambitious goals to be challenged and act faster. However, at the same time, legislators need to create incentives and provide the space where we can work together to identify what is needed to get there and what the best way is,” says Sahin. “Cooperation with all the actors of the value chain is key to ensure the right outcome.”

This article is part of a series where different stakeholders discuss the opportunities offered by digital innovation for the manufacturing sector, ahead of our virtual roundtable ‘How can digitalization deliver circular and sustainable manufacturing?’.

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