Introduction to Ecolabels and Environmental Product Declarations
Types of ecolabels and environmental
Type I labels: Third Party Certified
Type II labels:
Informative environmental self-declaration
Type III labels: Third
Party Environmental Declarations based on LCA
Single issue ecolabels
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
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 (e.g.
GECA) and 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
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
ISO 14025- Environmental Product declarations - (Type III
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
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
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
- Corporate Social Responsibility
Informative environmental self-declaration
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
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
- use language which the average member of the public can
- explain the significance of the benefit
- be able to be substantiate the claim.
information booklet has also been produced to help consumers
understand environmental claims.
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
- 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
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
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
- is of a particular quality
- has been manufactured in a particular location or by using a
- 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
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
International Organization for
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
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