"Ecolabelling" is a voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labelling that is practised around the world. An ecolabel identifies products or services proven environmentally preferable overall, within a specific product or service category. GEN members operate some of the world's strongest ecolabels. There are different classifications of label, as listed below.
In contrast to "green" symbols, or claim statements developed by manufacturers and service providers, the most credible labels are awarded by an impartial third party for specific products or services that have been independently determined to meet transparent environmental leadership criteria, based on life-cycle considerations.
The roots of ecolabelling are found in the growing global concern for environmental protection on the part of governments, businesses and the public. As businesses have come to recognize that environmental concerns may be translated into a market advantage for certain products and services, various environmental declarations, claims and labels have emerged, such as natural, recyclable, eco-friendly, low energy, recycled content, etc. These have attracted consumers looking for ways to reduce environmental impacts through their purchasing choices, but they have also led to some confusion and scepticism. Unproven or irrelevant claims have been branded "greenwash".
GEN member ecolabels provide clarity for consumers and prove authenticity. From its beginnings in 1994, GEN has grown, in two decades, to embrace more than 33 organisations circling the globe, and stretching from Norway to New Zealand.
The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) has identified three broad types of voluntary labels, with ecolabelling fitting under the strongest Type 1 designation.
a voluntary, multiple-criteria based, third party programme that awards a license that authorises the use of environmental labels on products indicating overall environmental preferability of a product within a particular product category based on life cycle considerations
informative environmental self-declaration claims
voluntary programmes that provide quantified environmental data of a product, under pre-set categories of parameters set by a qualified third party and based on life cycle assessment, and verified by that or another qualified third party.
Although differing in strength and authority, the different label types have been identified by the ISO as sharing a common goal, which is:
"...through communication of verifiable and accurate information that is not misleading on environmental aspects of products and services, to encourage the demand for and supply of those products and services that cause less stress on the environment, thereby stimulating the potential for market-driven continuous environmental improvement."