EU just passed a Common Charging Port law - and it is massive for our Planet
If you’ve read the news about the EU Parliament last week, you must have heard about “the end of thermal engines by 2035”. Was it the only massive pledge to tentatively save the planet in this corner of the world? Nope.
There was another significant law that passed last week. It might not seem significant — I even read people mocking the decision, meaning they have not done their homework about Sustainability, but anyways — as it’s “just” an agreement to shift towards a common charger port in the EU zone.
I will tentatively explain why this law is important, our daily life, future structural changes for innovation and our planet.
A simple, clear rule; Unification of charging methods
So to make sure I got it right, I went straight to the source — AKA EU Parliament, to understand what the law is really about. It says;
By autumn 2024, USB Type-C will become the common charging port for all mobile phones, tablets and cameras in the EU, Parliament and Council negotiators agreed today.
In essence, the law covers a 4-dimension unification;
- First, it basically says that only one single charger will be allowed in the EU zone for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. Same rule will apply to laptops with an extension of 40 more months for the strict enforcement (late 2026) -> Unification of ports
- Second, the charging speed is expected to be harmonised for devices that support fast charging -> Unification (or at least orientation) of innovative technologies
- Also, buyers can choose whether to purchase new device with or without charging device, and the interoperability is naturally on the way -> Unification of consumer “business cases”
- Finally, this is to be enforced for all manufacturers, meaning it does not apply for EU players only -> Unification for all players no matter the origin
It’s worth mentioning the law is a part of a broader EU effort to make devices/electronics more sustainable there, to reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier. That’s reassuring to see this overlooked topic be taken care of at the European level as it’s not so much considered on a domestic scale in general. Indeed, most countries put this problem at the bottom of their priorities, even though France enforced 18 months ago a very interesting national-wide repairability index for electronics.
Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s see what it means each paty involved…
Great news for consumers, but…
For the users, it’s just plain great news. Enabling unified charging ports means simplification. No more low battery during parties because your friends have an iPhone and you have a Samsung!
Joke aside, buyers will be able to choose whether they want to purchase new electronic equipment with or without a charging device. According to the article, EU estimates that this law will lead to more re-use of chargers and will help consumers save up to 250 million euro a year on unnecessary charger purchases.
Consumers will be provided with clear information on the charging characteristics of new devices, making it easier for them to see whether their existing chargers are compatible. This also encourages more transparency from device manufacturers. Something we desperately need in this segment as consumer pressure is not strong enough to make the industry shift (yet).
The true impact of this law on consumers might be seen in the long long shot because it’s just the beginning of regulations in the consumer electronics space.
I will briefly mention this below, but EU orienting innovation may harness it. There is no harm per se, but let’s just remember this as it’s not common in the EU to act against liberalism and free competition (the latter is actually one of the core values of EU).
A structural change for brands and manufacturers
If it’s being plain good news for Consumers, well, that’s a totally different story for Brands & Manufacturers.
We heard about Apple quite a lot in the news following this decision, and for good reason: the company’s iPhones have used the Lightning charging system for 10 years or so. And it does not seem they have many options apart from replacing it fully. Now the question for Apple is either; create a separate connector for EU and wireless charging for the rest of the world, or just follow the European way? Let’s take the bets, but Apple is not super keen on splitting their offer (for cost, supply chain and product design reasons mostly)— and they aren’t too happy about it…
We are (Apple) concerned that regulation mandating just one type of connector for all devices on the market will harm European consumers by slowing down the introduction of beneficial innovations in charging standards, including those related to safety and energy efficiency.
Anyway, coming back to the Common Charging port law, what does it it mean for brands?
- Less money in; as consumers won’t have to purchase branded chargers. When you think about it, it might be good news for them as their price should not change much (not at all?) even though they will remove the cable. To be determined in the future…
- A door opening to system interoperability; This is quite a taboo in the electronics and smartphone operating system industries (so both hardware and software). For companies with a big name like Apple, this interoperability jeopardises the entire “all over the house” suite of devices and systems.
- Less innovation; Technology goes more and more wireless and enforcing USB-C is not following this trend. Unification is definitely good but is EU somehow restraining innovation? Maybe, maybe not. Hard to say, but probably that this is not the groundbreaking innovation the world absolutely needs to make the Earth a better place. Sorry Apple, but your statement is, though understandable, not aligned with where innovation should be at.
- “A new Disruption effect”; The consumer electronics space is driven by innovation “rom within the segment” and creating needs for consumers. Here, for one of the first time, this — very young — industry is bearing the burden of external pressure. Obsolescence (see below in the “Environment” section) is concerning more and more governments and people, for the best. In my humble opinion, the consumer electronics segment must get used to this kind of law. And this one might not be the hardest to cope with!
One final aspect that cannot be underestimated. This EU law might lead some global unification of charging ports. We make fun of EU and their annoying (let’s stay polite here) regulations, but in the end many countries follow them; GDPR is gaining popularity in many countries, Singapore is on the way to follow Green Taxonomy, … I would not be surprised to see other markets shift to this by 2030. And this causes a way bigger “issue” than the mere European market.
Reflecting on the paragraph above about Apple, it got me thinking. For some time now, EU has declared — soft — war to GAFAs and tech giants. This law is not huge itself for them, but when you stack all the recent regulation applied for them, it starts to be quite clear; corporate tax alignment within EU, GDPR set of rules via the “Brussels effect” (not only aimed at the US giants, but definitely impactful), investment for “European tech giants” (Long, long way to go though). At the core of this movement; Margrethe Vestager. A Danish politician who joined the EU Parliament in 2014, as the European Commissioner for Competition in 2014. By the way, her “longevity” speaks for itself and shows there is a European consensus in the fight she is leading.
A low-hanging fruit for the planet, to pave the way for bigger changes
In terms of environmental impact, there are two ways to see it;
- Direct and immediate impact; less e-waste
- Longer term impact; a structural change for eco-designed devices
For the direct and immediate impact, it’s easy to see. More regulation on charging ports will decrease automatically disposed of and unused chargers that are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes to 13,000 of e-waste annually (though some studies estimate this number to a tenth of it). That’s not a lot compared with the 54+ million tonnes worldwide, but we can consider this impact as a low-hanging fruit, and there should be no shame to enforce such low.
What I mean by this, that this is law is a bit gimmick but that’s the kind of low-hanging fruits we need to activate first; something with a direct impact, and not too inconvenient for stakeholders. Despite brands having to adjust their product design, there is mostly only winners.
Speaking of product design, this is where the impact of this law should be bigger, but longer to assess. I mentioned earlier that this law is part of a bigger plan in EU. And it’s fairly clear in the numerous statements I found. This action plan is part of the European Green Deal and claims the transition to a circular economy that shall reduce pressure on natural resources, and decrease EU dependencies towards foreign countries (did you just say Russia?). Indeed;
The new action plan announces initiatives along the entire life cycle of products. It targets how products are designed, promotes circular economy processes, encourages sustainable consumption, and aims to ensure that waste is prevented and the resources used are kept in the EU economy for as long as possible
While up to 70-80% of products’ environmental footprint comes from the manufacturing phase, there is a need to rethink electronics consumption and leave the ‘take-make-use-dispose’.
I truly believe this new law aims at paving the way for the “right to repair” movement and encouraging eco-design devices. Eco-designed can mean a lot of things; easier to repair, recycle, longer lifespan, … No matter how you shift the law around, it’s absolutely clear that there is no “grey area”. It is just a good move overall for planet. And as it’s an EU regulation, we can hope some countries will have the — good — idea to follow this path.
A quick comparison with the new EVs law
To reflect on the “end of thermal engines” decided last week as well in EU, this common charging port seems absolutely insignificant. But when you think this through, I think it’s better news. Why;
- It’s done and dusted! When you carefully read the EU statement, the EVs (Electric Vehicles) law has not been accepted yet, far from it
- It’s 100% good for the planet! I have very mixed feeling about EVs as I basically think it’s a way to shift from one addiction (oil) to another (metals). My personal idea set aside, EVs will never be fully green as you have to extract “stuff” from the Earth’s crust. Nobody can say otherwise. This common charging port law is not as ambitious but at least it’s not vicious. The impact is real, no matter the POV or studies.
- It’s a first step towards an exciting circular world, and again, there is nothing to oppose to this! Forcing a manufacturing industry to go more circular with a teensy-weensy of regulations (that’s my French genes speaking probably) should not be a taboo subject. Especially when you open doors to lean innovations (AKA process/governance innovation, not technological innovation).
In the end, some might say I’m being a Doomsdayer, or an anti-growth & innovation weirdo, but I am fine with this! All hail the low-tech!
See you next time,