Published On: 06-Jun-2019
Eco-certification: Five Major Trends
by Angelina Davydova
At the beginning of April, the world's leading ecolabelling experts, members of the Board of Directors of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) representing organizations from Japan, the Nordic countries, Chinese Taipei, Australia, Brazil, India, China and Russia, gathered in Los Angeles. The GEN Board discussed key trends in ecolabelling, the growing environmental awareness of consumers and producers, as well as opportunities for cooperation of various ecolabelling programs, both with each other and within international organizations, including at the UN level. These experts discussed five major global trends in ecolabelling.
1. The growing role of governments and green procurement
The GEN Board noted the importance of the role of the state both in setting requirements for mandatory green procurement, in particular in the municipal and public sectors, and in supporting and developing individual certification programs. For example, the Green Mark Program in Chinese Taipei is supported by the state. The government of Japan has approved several legislative initiatives aimed at supporting the procurement of green goods for public sector organizations. In Australia in recent years, a number of laws have been adopted introducing the concept of “green public procurement” and restricting the range of goods purchased for the public sector only to products that have certain environmental indicators. In the United States, procurement requirements are generally state-level. In some regions of the country, schools and hospitals have introduced requirements to use Type 1 ecolabels. These labels are on products certified by an independent third party to meet life cycle-based environmental criteria.
In Russia, as Yulia Gracheva, a member of the GEN Board and director of the Ecological Union Vitality Leaf program says, the state has little interest in the topic of green procurement and therefore the main drivers of ecolabelling are rather consumers and producers.
2. The development of the B2B ecolabel market
The growing interest by both consumers and producers of goods in all aspects of production, transportation and packaging, including the supply chain, is leading to an ever-increasing development of the B2B market. The point is this: the manufacturing companies are requesting ecolabelling. This includes the before-mentioned Type 1 ecolabel. Yulia Gracheva cites examples of Russian retailers imposing environmental requirements on the products that they carry, in particular, the Leroy Merlin chain of household goods stores, which requires that its paint products carry the Vitality Leaf ecolabel.
3. Global ecolabelling challenges: greenwashing, unfair competition, growth in the number of labels that evaluate only one attribute
International experts in the field of ecolabelling are increasingly talking about greenwashing – marketing that promotes products as environmentally friendly when they are not. This practice deceives the consumer and provides an unfair advantage to products that have no label or a fake label. Significant increases are also being seen in the popularity of labels that assess only one aspect (for example, energy efficiency or water consumption indicators), not allowing consumers to compare products systematically, and also largely replacing general environmental friendliness with only one indicator.
The GEN Board noted that key trends in the future development of the ecolabelling sector are enhancing the transparency of global supply chains, confirming the validity of various technological solutions, harmonizing with each other and mutual recognition of various ecolabelling programs, adherence to ISO requirements, and other international programs and organizations including UN Environment.
4. The success of voluntary certification programs
“When I started working in the field of ecolabelling more than 20 years ago, we hoped that the ecolabelling path would be the following: first, voluntary programs that shape the market, then gradually increasing the number of mandatory standards,” says GEN Board Chair and manager of the Nordic Ecolabelling Board Bjorn-Erik Lonn. Now, however, we see how both types of actions coexist. Voluntary certificates promote responsible production and consumption even more successfully.” Here we can draw an analogy with the Paris Climate Agreement, in which the goals of countries to reduce emissions are also voluntary, but in recent years we have seen a significant increase in climate initiatives, including from cities.
5. Growing demand for environmental information
“Consumers are an extremely powerful force. It seems to me that they themselves do not realize their power. Making decisions about which products and goods to buy or not buy every day forms the future market, including defining demands and requirements for companies in the field of sustainability, social, and ethical factors,” says Kate Harris, the CEO of Good Environmental Choice Australia.
Nonetheless, as ecolabelling experts from India, Brazil and the United States stressed, even consumers concerned about environmental issues do not always know on what basis a choice can be made. What can be a guideline for more “green” and “ethical” purchases, how to choose goods that are the least harmful for both humans and the environment? “A key role here should be given to educational programs, as well as the development of environmental journalism”, said Linda Chipperfield, Secretariat of GEN.
“We need to understand that we live in an ever-changing world: scientific knowledge about the usefulness or harmfulness of products changes, technologies change, assessment systems change, including the environmental or sustainability estimations of certain goods. This is largely the task of journalism - specifically environmental journalism - to talk about these changes, report on important innovations, challenge established opinions, and tell readers how their daily behavior affects the ecological state of the planet,” adds Bjorn-Erik Lonn.
This is the eighth episode of Angelina Davydova, an eco-journalist's multi-part blog, who is currently at the University of California with a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship scholarship.