Issue: October 2018, Sustainability – An Export Success? – Environmental protection and human rights: the international dimension

In Focus

Learning from experience

Sustainability criteria in ASEAN countries

Learning from others’ experience: it’s a useful approach that has stood the test of time. Over recent decades, Germany has gained a wealth of experience with a variety of strategies and tools that support sustainable consumption and production. The lessons it has learned in the process can benefit other countries – for example, on issues such as the introduction of sustainability criteria for products and services under eco-labelling schemes and public procurement. This is particularly worthwhile for countries which are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and are experiencing rapid growth: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. Their surging demand for energy and resources means that swift action on sustainability is essential.

“The developed countries have already travelled a long way along the path to sustainability – why should the emerging economies have to repeat the experience?” asks Siddharth Prakash, a Senior Researcher at the Oeko-Institut. “They’re in a position to make use of solutions and mechanisms that have already proved their worth.” In his view, this includes minimum environmental standards and economic incentive schemes for climate protection, as well as the promotion of eco-innovations in the market, with a focus on both products and services. “Of course, not every policy that works well in Germany can be transferred one-to-one to other countries,” he concedes. “It’s about working with these countries to find solutions that are appropriate for the context and meet local needs.”


In the ASEAN countries, action on sustainable development is urgently needed as its primary energy demand has soared over the past two decades: from 273 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) 18 years ago to 620 Mtoe in 2014. Projections indicate that primary energy demand will increase to 1,350 Mtoe in 2040. “Sadly, awareness of equitable and sustainable production and consumption is still in its infancy in these countries,” says Siddharth. “And of course, economic interests often stand in the way of ambitious environmental and human rights protection, as happens in Germany too.”

There is already major potential to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provided that the right instruments are deployed. Refrigeration and air conditioning systems show how this can work. In Thailand, for example, they already account for around 25 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, with 80 per cent of this coming from air conditioning. What’s more, a threefold increase in emissions from this sector is projected for 2030. “These systems are very worrying from a climate perspective, also because of the harmful coolants that they use,” says Prakash.

Here in Germany, eco-labels, coupled with appropriate sustainability criteria, have proved their worth and can help to guide production and consumption along a more sustainable pathway. On behalf of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) the Oeko-Institut – in partnership with HEAT GmbH – therefore carried out the Blue Angel for Stationary Room Air Conditioners project, establishing the bases for the development of a Blue Angel eco-label for indoor air conditioning units. “We established basic award criteria that are applicable not only in Germany but in the Asian markets too.” And with success: “In March 2018, the first Blue Angel for an air conditioner with very low greenhouse gas emissions and high energy efficiency was awarded to a Chinese company,” he says.

The aim of projects like these is to harmonise environmental standards not only in a few selected countries but across the board. “This also makes it easier for companies, as it means that they don’t have to comply with a different set of standards for each country, so their investment is more secure,” says Siddharth Prakash. “The long-term vision is the adoption of a single set of global eco-labels whose criteria have been developed collectively.”

But it’s not only about products: complex services are another area where, within the framework of the German Environment Ministry’s Environmental Technologies Export Initiative, the Oeko-Institut – in cooperation with GIZ, Germany’s development agency – provides advice to local decision-makers on developing environmental standards and guidelines for sectors such as energy services and retail. “Energy consumption in services is soaring in the ASEAN region, not least because of economic growth and ongoing urbanisation,” says Siddharth Prakash. The Oeko-Institut sees Germany’s Blue Angel eco-label as a trailblazer. The scheme has now developed various sets of award criteria for complex services in order to send a strong message about the need to counter the surge in energy demand. “That’s why we are now looking at the suitability of ambitious Blue Angel standards for selected services in the ASEAN region,” he explains.


The Oeko-Institut’s researchers do not just work on the basics. Since 2012, they have visited the ASEAN region several times a year to work on a variety of projects and share their sustainability expertise in-country. Some of these visits take place within the framework of the German Environment Ministry’s International Climate Initiative (IKI) or the Environmental Technologies Export Initiative. “We run workshops on policy strategies and mechanisms for more sustainability, but also on practical methodologies. That enables us to share our experience in integrating social criteria, life cycle costs and eco-audits into public procurement, for example.”

Another goal of the projects supported by GIZ is to identify and train key stakeholders locally, who will then apply their newly acquired knowledge and pass it on. Stakeholders include representatives of ministries, environmental agencies and national procurement bodies, as well as staff from eco-label organisations and industry associations. However, the knowledge-sharing and skills-building do not stop here: ideally, they should create a pool of skilled multipliers who can share their expertise and thus benefit many more people and institutions in future.


Siddharth Prakash joined the Oeko-Institut in 2008 and is a Senior Researcher in the Sustainable Products and Material Flows Division. His research work focuses mainly on sustainable production and consumption and the sustainable resource economy and addresses themes such as sustainable product assessment and labelling, and social and environmental standards in global value chains.


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