How do ecolabels help the environment?

Published On: 11-Jan-2016

Ecolabels can play an important role in fostering sustainable consumption when they are based on robust specifications.

For example, the average can of conventional paint contains over 100 ingredients – most are not labelled on the can. Many of these ingredients are seriously hazardous to humans and our environment, such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous solvents, and toxic chemicals which can release harmful gases into the air in our homes after painting. Ecolabelled paints usually contain no harmful chemicals and are VOC free.

Members of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) have been measuring the environmental impact of some of their certified products. A single water tap operating to the specifications of the Korean Eco-Label Programme has been shown to save 4330 litres over a three-year period. The GEN member for Chinese Taipei (EDF) has assessed the benefit of using a Green Leaf ecolabelled air conditioner as a CO₂ reduction of 4010 Kg per year, in addition to energy savings of 6540 kWh.

The China Ecolabel (CEL) has the most certified ecolabelled products of any GEN member and the combined estimated impact of all their licensed (certified) products is massive - the avoidance of the following emissions over a one year period: 8.59 million tons of carbon dioxide; 205,000 tons of VOCs; 482,000 tons of carbon monoxide and 64,000 tons of nitrogen oxide. Perhaps even more staggering is this: products certified to the China Environmental Label were estimated to have saved 227 million tons of water and 13.3 billion kWh of electricity in 2013 alone.

Ecolabels are an easily understandable guide for healthier living, giving consumers a simple signal of how use their purchasing power to cause a real change in manufacturing, for the sake of the environment. Surveys around the world show that a very large number of today’s consumers are seeking information about companies that engage in sustainability practices. A global Nielsen survey found 55 per cent of consumers were willing to pay more for products from companies which were “committed to positive social and environmental impact.” Companies cannot ignore the momentum and are committing to green initiatives and green business.

Consumers often rely on advertising and other corporate messaging to inform their purchasing choices. However there are those who don’t know where to access reliable information, and who can become cynical and turn away from environmentally preferable products. Here is where the ecolabel is a strong, unique identifier.

In survey information provided for GEN member (and government-owned) ecolabel, Environmental Choice New Zealand, Colmar Brunton research (Better Futures 2015) found that nationwide purchasing behaviour is influenced more than ever by sustainability, but 71 per cent of consumers can’t name any brand or organisation as a leader in sustainability. 81 per cent of those surveyed agreed that the way businesses talk about their social and environmental commitment is confusing and hard to understand.

The GEN member ecolabel on a product or service offers consumers a clear and credible signal that their choice is better for the environment. The robust assessment, verified by an independent and qualified professional third party, has taken into account from a lifecycle perspective every component, ingredient and process that comes together to make up a product or service. The view extends to the formation of the components themselves right through to their disposal and breakdown of the ingredients at the end of the product’s life.

By certifying products that are proven preferable in the environment, GEN member ecolabels give consumers the simplest means of using purchasing power to help the environment.