Introduction to ecolabels
ecospecifier is not an ecolabel - we provide third party unbiased assessment of declared information provided by manufacturers (including third party test data to support environmental and health claims) against standards from many sources. One of the most useful sources of stakeholder-verified standards is Australian and international ecolabels.
For further information see Standards recognition and assessment types.
Introduction to ecolabels
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 labeled product is more environmentally friendly than most ( Good Environmental Choice Australia's process sets standards so 20% of the market can comply and the Australian Government's 'Energy Allstars' appliance rating site sets its ‘preferred performer’ standards so that the top 25% of products are listed.
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
There are many different labelling programs, run by governments, private companies and non-governmental organisations.
The Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization, as well as the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) are establishing standards for three basic types of labels, as a step to harmonising the diverse approaches taken in ecolabelling.
Type I labels:
Multi criteria based, third party certified environmental labelling programme
Examples of recognised Australian Type 1 Ecolabels:
These compare products with others within the same category, awarding labels to those that are environmentally preferable through their whole life cycle. In other words, the label assesses a 'cradle to grave' analysis or Life Cycle Assessment of the product.
The 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'.
The criteria are set by an independent body and monitored through a certification or auditing process. This sets down a defined procedure along which product criteria are developed and maintained.
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'.
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 a type II label.
Type III labels:
Quantified product information label based upon independent verification using preset indices
These list a menu of a product's environmental impacts throughout its life cycle. They are similar to nutrition labels on food products that detail fat, sugar or vitamin contents.
The information categories can be set by industrial sector or by independent bodies. Unlike Type I labels, they do not judge products, leaving that task to consumers. The idea is that the third party certification agency would use several environmental performance indicators (EPI), e.g. energy use, air emissions, water emissions, etc., to compile an environmental score for each product that consumers could use to compare different goods.
In addition, there is a single-issue label granted by a third party certification agency that refers to a specific environmental or sometimes ethical characteristic of a product, e.g. certified organic cotton, dolphin-safe tuna fishing or sustainable forestry.
This roughly translates into a Type IV label. It may be noted here that the ISO is as yet to issue public guidelines on single-issue certification.
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 or research institutions. Most 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. These can be for three categories, including NGO, e.g. Good Environmental Choice.
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.
These include EU-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).
International agencies involved in ecolabelling:
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.
The Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) is a network of non-profit organisations around the world that issue ecolabelling certification to voluntary applicants. Criteria for product analysis are based on life cycle analysis, and allow stakeholder participation. GEN participates in the ecolabelling activities of the United Nations Environment Program(UNEP), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), World Trade Organization (WTO), and others.
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, and International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM).
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 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).