Globally Irrelevant

November 4, 2015


There is a growing trend in the manufacturing sector, to rely on and market irrelevant ecolabels for their products.  Not that there is anything wrong with many of the ecolabels that are being misused, but it is the relevance of those labels to local conditions, laws and regulations that create the problem.


In South Africa, manufacturers operate in a very competitive market, and of late, the differentiator in sales and market share has become the environmental suitability of the products that are being sold.  Consumers are becoming more aware of the impacts that many products pose to their health and the environment, and they are demanding to know how the product stands-up to independent environmental scrutiny and they look for ecolabels on the products they buy.


So rather than submit their products for testing and certification by local ecolabel organisations, unscrupulous manufacturers and distributors tend to rely on the labels issued at the original point of manufacture – sometimes years after the fact.  A good example is a local distributor of cleaning products that have been certified in Northern Europe, but which are known to include surfactants and even the highly controversial additive EDTA.  This element in particular has been outlawed in ecolabel systems around the world, and they know that their application for a local label will be declined based on this.  But that hasn’t stopped them from bad-mouthing their competitors and misleading their clients in an effort to make a buck!


Others fall back on the age old remedy – create our own label! There is not a single paint manufacturer in South Africa that could possibly meet the global ecolabel standard for paint, yet every one of the major brands has created their own label to get around this problem.  We – the public, are a gullible lot, and they know it and they get away with their deceit.  But I digress..


Don’t simply accept the ecolabel your supplier has given you.  Check its relevance in respect of issuing authority and local legal compliance before simply buying.  Ecolabels are not cross-boundary marketing tools because the operating conditions in which the products might be used differ from country to country; region to region.  What works in the sophisticated first-world water treatment plants of Europe does not necessarily work in Africa, and what is accepted as ‘safe’ in America could be deadly in the developing world.


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