Introduction to Ecolabels and Environmental Product Declarations
Types of ecolabels and environmental declarations
Type I labels: Third Party Certified Environmental Labelling
Type II labels: Informative environmental self-declaration claims
Type III labels: Third Party Environmental Declarations based on LCA
Single issue ecolabels
International agencies involved in ecolabelling
Ecolabels are intended to inform us about the environmental impacts from producing or using a product. Ecolabels set minimum environmental and health standards for specific product categories regarding certain specific qualities or properties they consider appropriate, and through the process of verification (including on-site manufacturer audits), products are identified as meeting the criteria.
Ecolabels are designed to inform consumers that the labelled product is more environmentally friendly than most typically setting standards so the top 20-25% of the market can comply. The Australian Government's 'Energy Allstars' appliance rating site sets its 'preferred performer' standards so that the top 25% of products are listed. Other types rate products on their performance within this top section of the market e.g. GreenTag™ and Cradle to Cradle®.
Ecolabels are increasingly facilitating manufacturers, retailers and customers in their purchasing decisions. Whilst they are voluntary, they are becoming an important competitive factor within Australia. Ecolabels are also a means to protect consumers from dubious environmental claims or 'greenwash'.
Types of ecolabels and environmental declarations
There are many different labelling programs, run by governments, private companies and non-governmental organisations.
The Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization or ISO has set various standards covering different types of Environmental labels and declarations:
ISO 14024 -Third Party - (Type I environmental labelling)
ISO 14021- Self-declared environmental claims (Type II environmental labelling)
ISO 14025- Environmental Product declarations - (Type III environmental declarations)
Type I labels: Third Party Certified Environmental Labelling
Are multi criteria based, third party certified environmental labelling programmes run in compliance with ISO 14024. This standard is not one under which compliance can be certified, so schemes self declare compliance and ideally this should be verified by external parties with appropriate competence.
Examples of recognised Australian Type 1 Ecolabels:
Type 1 ecolabels create a standard under which products can be assessed against set criteria and compared with others within the same category, awarding labels to those that are environmentally preferable through their life cycle. Typically however, the Standards under which these labels are awarded do not assess products using life cycle assessment as is required under Type 3 Environmental Declarations, but on a number of discrete parameters such as Toxics, Recycled Content, Renewable Energy Percentage etc. which do not necessarily consider all the impacts of the whole life cycle of the products e.g. raw materials extraction and end of life impacts only what are considered by the Certifying organisation to be the major ones.
In other words, Type 1 ecolabels do not undertake a 'cradle to grave' analysis or Life Cycle Assessment of all impacts of the product.
ISO defines these as 'voluntary, multiple criteria based practitioner programs that award labels claiming overall environmental preference of a product within a particular category, based on life cycle considerations'. Product criteria are defined as 'a set of quantitative and qualitative technical requirements that the applicant, product or product category shall meet to be awarded an environmental label'.
The criteria are set by an independent body with input from a range of stakeholders and advisory and expert committees. This sets down a defined procedure along which product criteria are developed and maintained.
While ecospecifier's GreenTag™ ecolabel is a true Type 1 Mark, it does not just award a single label but rates a product compared to a Business as Usual (worst case) product commonly available and does so by creating an Ecopoint score using fully detailed and audited life cycle assessment and additional criteria not measured by LCA such as:
- Building Synergy
- Biodiversity (Timber Certification)
- More detailed Health and Ecotoxicity criteria than either LCA;
- Corporate Social Responsibility
Type II labels:
Informative environmental self-declaration claims
These are environmental claims made about goods by their manufacturers, importers or distributors. They are not independently verified, do not use pre-determined and accepted criteria for reference, and are arguably the least informative of the three types of environmental labels.
A label claiming a product to be 'biodegradable', without defining the term, is not necessarily a compliant Type II label. Under ISO 14021, all claims must be backed by bona fide and readily available third party information such as in the case of a claim for Biodegradability- independent laboratory test data from an ISO 17011 compliant laboratory (in Australia this would typically be indicated by NATA accreditation). Furthermore an explanatory statement is required to be provided in close proximity and of reasonable size, so they can be read together explaining the reasons for the claim.
Governments will often regulate these types of claims independently under consumer protection legislation. In Australia, the ACCC has issued a guideline for Consumer Protection for businesses. Entitled 'Green marketing and the Trade Practices Act: 2008', this document places the following responsibilities on Self Declared environmental claims:
- be honest and truthful
- detail the specific part of the product or process it is referring to
- use language which the average member of the public can understand
- explain the significance of the benefit
- be able to be substantiate the claim.
A Consumer information booklet has also been produced to help consumers understand environmental claims.
Type III labels:
Quantified product information label based upon independent verification using preset indices
Type III environmental declarations present quantified environmental information on the life cycle of a product to enable comparisons between products fulfilling the same function. Such declarations:
- are based on independently verified life cycle assessment (LCA) data, life cycle inventory analysis (LCI)data or information modules in accordance with the ISO 14040 series of standards and, where relevant, additional environmental information,
- are developed using predetermined parameters, and
- are subject to the administration of a programme operator, such as a company or a group of companies, industrial sector or trade association, public authorities or agencies, or an independent scientific body or other organization.
Type III environmental declarations as described in ISO 14025 are primarily intended for use in business-to-business communication, but their use in business-to-consumer communication is not precluded.
Unlike Type I labels, they do not judge products, leaving that task to consumers. The output report is known as an Environmental Product Declaration or EPD. EPDs are constituted in accordance with sets of standard Product Category Rules to ensure that EPDs of product produced by different organisations in the same functional use category use the same scope of data and metrics. EPDs developed by organisations are subject to major stakeholder review processes and then published in the public domain by country based registrars.
This supports consistency within an industry an enables comparison of products via the use of EPDs.
EPDs produced by ecospecifier are advertised for comment in a dedicated section of our fortnightly e-newsletter and published free to air in dedicated sections on respective website/s.
EPDs are the most accurate form of environmental declaration because of the PCR process and the use of ISO 14040 peer reviewed LCA.
Single issue ecolabels
In addition, there are single-issue labels granted by a third party certification agencies or government agencies, that refer to specific environmental or sometimes ethical characteristic of a product, e.g. certified organic cotton, dolphin-safe tuna fishing or sustainable forestry.
While ISO is as yet to issue public guidelines on single-issue certification, the ISEAL Alliance is an association of international standard-setting, certification and accreditation organisations that focus on social and environmental issues. The standards and verification systems of ISEAL members represent efforts to define issue-specific or single issue elements of social and environmental sustainability such as Forest Stewardship Certification or FSC and Fair Trade..
Ecolabels are also often differentiated on the basis of the organisation issuing the label.
Independent or private ecolabels
These ecolabels are issued by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or research institutions. Many of these take into account the whole life cycle of a product, which in the case of textiles, will range from the production of fibres to the disposal phase of the discarded product. Organisations may even use their own logo to endorse products, in such instances it becomes an ecolabel e.g. WWF logo when used to endorse a product. Corporations such as the Woolmark Company Pty Ltd that regulate the use of the Woolmark Certification Mark for the textile industry or the Heart Foundation Logo are other common examples
National and international labels
These are introduced by the governments of various countries. These ecolabels are of special significance to manufacturers as they provide an opportunity to enter a new market and to address a certain market niche. Examples of Government initiated labels include MEPS, WELS, WERS and Energy Star. Energy Star is a good examples of an International Label having been introduced in the USA and then in many other countries including Australia.
A Certification Trade Mark (CTM) indicates to consumers that a product or service meets a particular standard and the rules for the awarding of the Mark have been approved by an appropriate Government Department who is then responsible for oversight of the implementation of the rules. For example, a CTM might indicate that a product:
- is of a particular quality
- has been manufactured in a particular location or by using a particular process
- is made from particular materials or ingredients
- is suited to a particular task.
In Australia, ACCC approval is required before CTMs can be registered under the Trade Marks Act 1995. The Heart Foundation 'Tick' logo above is a common example.
Certification Marks can also be approved as a series, where each individual Mark denotes a different characteristic or characteristics e.g. the Woolmark Marks denote different levels of wool content
Whereas the GreenTag™ application for a Series Certification Mark (in process) will, when successful, recognise increasing levels of sustainability performance based on the GreenTag™ Standard that is underpinned by detailed, peer reviewed whole of life cycle analysis.
International agencies involved in ecolabelling:
International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies from some 140 countries formed to promote the development of standardisation. ISO's work results in international agreements which are published as international standards.
The ISO has evolved draft standards for developing its various types of ecolabelling. It is currently also developing an ISO standard for ecolabels.
Global Ecolabelling Network
The Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) is an association of organisations around the world that issue Type 1 ecolabelling certification to voluntary applicants. GEN participates in the ecolabelling activities of the United Nations Environment Program(UNEP), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), World Trade Organization (WTO), and others. Member Labels of GEN include EU-Flower label, Nordic Eco-label, Environmental Choice (Canada), Eco-Mark (Japan), Green Mark (China-Taiwan Province), Eco-Mark (republic of Korea), Environmental Labelling (China) and Eco-Mark (India), Green Label (Singapore) and numerous others. Membership of GEN is voluntary. GEN also undertakes
The ISEAL Alliance
The ISEAL Alliance is an association of international standard-setting, certification and accreditation organisations that focus on social and environmental issues. The standards and verification systems of ISEAL members represent efforts to define issue-specific elements of social and environmental sustainability.
ISEAL has published a set of criteria for how standards are set (Code of Good Practice). Member organisations involved in accreditation are committed to continuous improvement of their programs and participate in internal peer reviews against ISO Guide 17011. Members of ISEAL include the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), The Rainforest Alliance, International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and the International Organic Accreditation Service (IOAS).
Certified organic is a general term used to represent third party certified organic agricultural products including food, drinks, personal and building products. The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and Demeter are organisations devoted to issuing standards for organic and biodynamic systems of agricultural production respectively. Demeter is also a certifying agency. Member organisations of IFOAM provide certification of products their home countries e.g. in Australia via organisations including members of the Organic Federation of Australia. Numerous Australian certification organisations certify both Organic and Biodynamic products, such as Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) and The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia (NASAA).