Clarity and confidence in the forest of green claims
23 May 2016
Whether you are manufacturing, selling or using cleaning and detergent products, greener alternatives can bring value and drive business growth. But what constitutes ‘eco-‘ or ‘green –‘ and how can you demonstrate these credentials to customers or be confident that you are truly using green products? Here's where the European Ecolabel can help, Olivia Bertham says
A recent EU report found that 76% of non-food products sold in shops contained an environmental claim, be that about the product, its packaging or its environmental benefits. Implicit environmental claims made through images and colours were also found. It is impossible, without a significant amount of knowledge, for consumers to know which of the claims were true with some being vague, lacking accuracy and clarity. And the survey found that consumers have a low level of understanding of green claims. 61% of consumers state that they find it difficult to understand which products are truly environmentally friendly, and 44% indicate that they do not trust this type of information.
'Based on scientific evidence'
The European Ecolabel was established with the purpose of providing clear and accurate information to consumers and businesses – to promote those products that have a high level of environmental performance. The criteria used to define what constitutes a ‘high level of environmental performance’ are based on scientific evidence, taking into account the latest technological developments and addressing the most significant environmental impacts of the products during their whole life cycle.
As an example, for cleaning products, the European Ecolabel excludes and restricts some substances, and has criteria around toxicity to aquatic organisms, biodegradability, fragrances, VOC’s and phosphorous. Packaging requirements include considerations of the amount of recycled material used and the number of times the packaging can be reused. The product also has to pass fitness for use criteria, when compared to market leading equivalents to ensure the product does the job – as well as being green. Products achieving the European Ecolabel are amongst those with the highest levels of environmental performance for that product type.
The range of product groups covered by the European Ecolabel includes many frequently used within the cleaning and facilities management sectors – soaps, cleaning products, toilet and other paper products and paints to name a few. Across Europe there are over 44,000 Ecolabelled products available in the single European market – as well as in Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. By using, or by specifying the requirement for Ecolabels in procurement, manufacturers will be encouraged to develop an even wider range of products with reduced environmental impact across their entire life cycle.
The criteria are developed in conjunction with multiple stakeholders from industry, NGOs and member state governments. The process of developing the criteria is transparent – all meetings are open to the public and all documents are available for comment on the European Commission website. Every four years or so these criteria are revised to reflect the latest scientific evidence, technological developments and market changes.
The scheme is underpinned by a certification process. To use the logo on products, a company must prove their product meets the criteria. A manufacturer or distributor must provide the technical product information, analysis and supporting test results to an independent competent body – the UK Ecolabel Delivery team. This team of chemists and other technically qualified experts undertake the assessment against the European Ecolabel criteria and, where the product meets the criteria, make a recommendation for the final award of the licence.
No immediate changes to the UK involvement with the EU Ecolabelling scheme arise from the decision by the British public to leave the EU. The UK Government is still a member of the European Union and will continue to engage with EU business as normal and be engaged in EU decision-making in the usual way. Until the UK formally leaves the EU, it still has a legal obligation to comply with EU law and the EU Ecolabel scheme rules and regulations will apply. Once Article 50 is invoked, the UK will remain bound by EU law until the withdrawal agreement comes into force.
The period between invocation of Article 50 and our eventual exit from the EU is two years unless the other Member States agree to extend. Until the UK’s exit from the EU, UK Ecolabel Delivery (UKED), the delivery body for the UK Government’s management of the EU Ecolabel scheme, remains operational. As such, the scheme is open to applications and UKED will continue to contribute to the development of the scheme at EU level. The future status of the UK scheme will be addressed as part of discussions on the UK’s exit from the EU.
Olivia Bertham is manager of UK EU Ecolabel delivery