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When is an Ecolabel not an Ecolabel?

The last few days have been taken-up once again defending our label against unfounded and ignorant statements by 'competitors' in the field of labelling and as you can imagine, things got a little heated!

The global move towards environmental responsibility has spurned a whole industry of wannabee's trying to get consumers to part with their hard-earned cash in the belief that what they are buying actually makes a difference. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and as consumers, we really don't know what to look for when evaluating labels, brands and claims. In this process, greenwashing grows in leaps and bounds as unscrupulous brands and products make claims they really cant back-up.

So perhaps the starting point is to first have a look at the website of the organisation or label being considered. If the standards against which products are measured are not freely available and aligned to the ISO-methodology, chances are that it is not an ecolabel but rather a certification issued by some third-party. Global best practice in the ecolabelling field requires that any ecolabel standard must be freely available and published so that you - and the product seeking a label, know precisely what is being measured and considered.

The second question is whether the standards are regarded as 'inviolate' and that the product meets the standard completely. Some labels award their recognition based on the degree to which the product meets the standard or worse, on an undertaking to remove or replace potentially harmful ingredients and components over a period of time. These labels are once again certifications, but the average person out there wouldn't know that. But, I hear you say, how would I know this? Quite simply, by asking for a list of the ingredients in the product and referencing reputable sources on the web to verify whether any are harmful or in some cases, banned for very good reason.

Ecolabels take many forms. There is the Type 1 label that is awarded against a set of published standards by a third-party. Type 2 labels are self-declarations of environmental claims by the producer, importer, distributor, retailer or anybody who benefits from the claim while the declaration is not certified by an impartial third party. Type 3 labels are simply quantified statements on environmental aspects of a product in all phases of its life cycle, approved by an impartial third party. As an example, house-labels by most retailers (Pick'nPay; Woolworths; etc) are generally Type 2 labels that are made without the need for any verification or validation by external parties, while labels such as 'Organic' are generally issued as type 3 because they are verified by experts in that field for consumer protection.

So, when is an ecolabel not an ecolabel? Any time that a label scores the product over a series of criteria, using a 'balanced' overall score that ignores the presence of harmful products or processes, it is not an ecolabel but rather a certification. There is no 'almost' in ecolabelling, and this is the loophole that unscrupulous 'labels' exploit. There is a massive difference between an ecolabel and a certification, so the next time you are looking at ecolabelled products, make sure that the type and origin of the labels provide sufficient third-party review to provide you and our environment with the protection that ecolabels were designed to offer.

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