Related People: Alistair Ho, Trainee Solicitor, Mayer Brown
Whether ecolabels are an unfamiliar concept, or your business is beginning to undertake, or already underway with, an ecolabelling project we would be interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. We have put together a short survey on ecolabels, which you can find below. We would greatly appreciate your response and opinions. If you would like to discuss ecolabels or sustainability in further detail, please get in touch with any of the authors listed above.
In June 2021, the United Kingdom ("UK") plans to host the G7 summit in Cornwall. The UK will also host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties ("COP26") in Glasgow in November 2021. COP26 is a significant milestone as it is the first five-year review of countries' promised carbon reduction targets under the Paris Agreement and an opportunity to strengthen their commitments. High on the UK Government's agenda for both events is "greening" the post-Covid recovery, informed by an Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on aligning post-pandemic recovery with climate and environment goals. This means that Ecolabels and sustainability are in particular focus this year.
In parallel the European Commission is contemplating the adoption of harmonised rules on the consumer empowerment for a green transition and the substantiation of the green claims used on products. Two legislative proposals are expected in Q2 2021 that should address the truthfulness and substantiation of the self-declared eco-claims, empower consumers and fight against greenwashing. Ultimately, the legal framework to be adopted may be based on the environmental footprint rules and methods. Sector specific work is ongoing in that regards.
Like governments, businesses are increasingly striving to be more sustainable and find ways to measure and report these endeavours. Ecolabelling is a route that consumer facing brands are embracing in increasing numbers. Ecolabels are product labels which identify products that conform to set environmental standards. There are now over 450 ecolabels globally (according to Ecolabel Index) covering various ecological factors such as water, landfill waste and bioavailability, with carbon labelling receiving the most focus recently as businesses adopt ambitious carbon targets and look to measure and showcase their efforts. With private, national, and supra-national ecolabels all varying in scope, criteria and application, businesses are faced with a difficult choice; what type of ecolabel should they choose. Given the complexity of data involved and ongoing product-level detail required, the label chosen will likely be a significant investment decision.
Types of Ecolabel
Ecolabels and environmental product declarations are loosely split into one of three types. The Geneva based International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has set various standards which cover these.
Type 1: third party certified (ISO 14024)
These are multi-criteria labels1 that 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. The majority of voluntary certifications, including the EU Ecolabel and most national labels are Type 1.
Type 2: self-declaration claims (ISO 14021)
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.
Type 3: third party environmental declarations based on life cycle assessments (ISO 14025)
These environmental product declarations (the "EPDs") present quantified environmental information on the life cycle of a product to enable comparisons between products fulfilling the same function. Such declarations are based on independently verified life cycle assessment data, life cycle inventory analysis data and, where relevant, additional environmental information. They 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.
Single issue labels
The three types mentioned above do not include industry specific / single issue labels, such as Fairtrade, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), or Carbon Trust labels. While ISO is as yet to issue general public guidelines on single-issue certification, the ISEAL Alliance standards and verification systems represent efforts to define issue-specific or single issue elements of social and environmental sustainability and create international best practice.
We have created a set of tables detailing set out representative examples of ecolabels in the following categories:
- National multi-criteria ecolabels
- Private multi-criteria ecolabels
- Carbon labels
- Other single issue / industry specific ecolabels
The tables can be downloaded here.