Ecolabels help people choose products and services that are better for the environment by verifying claims about the environmental credentials of a product or service.
They employ a voluntary method of certification and labelling based on environmental and social performance. An ‘ecolabel’ or ‘trust mark’ refers to a label or logo (often seen on-pack) that identifies the proven environmental and/or social performance of a product or service within a category. Their primary aim is to create supply and demand for more sustainable products by influencing or affirming positive actions by consumers, retailers, manufacturers and producers alike.
In essence, ecolabels help take the uncertainty out of buying green.
Driving the sustainability agenda within the building industry is a key aim of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). In recognition of the independent verification provided by Ecolabels, and acknowledging that use of ecolabelled products in building projects can achieve improved environmental attributes, the GBCA established its Assessment Framework for Product Certification Schemes within their Green Star ratings system for green buildings.
This scheme is designed to promote best practice benchmarks and reward manufacturers and suppliers of fit-out products who adopt environmentally preferable practices. Green Star also reccognises that a number of Product Certification Schemes have proven competence in assessing the environmental credentials of many products. As such, products used in building fit outs certified by GBCA-recognised ecolabels, are rewarded with Green Star points towards a building’s overall Green Star Accreditation.
In contrast to green symbols or claims made by manufacturers and service providers, an ecolabel is awarded by an arms-length third-party for a product that meets environmental leadership criteria.
The international principles and procedures for ecolabelling are set out by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) in ISO 14024, which identifies three broad types of voluntary labels: Type I is a multi-attribute label developed by a third party; Type II is a single-attribute label developed by the producer themselves, and Type III is an eco-label whose awarding is based on a full life-cycle assessment. Of these, the Type 1 ecolabel is recognised as the most robust and credible.
Ecolabelling came into being around 30 years ago with the emergence of the Blue Angel Ecolabel in Germany, a long-standing Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) member. GEN is an association of largely national third party ecolabels founded to improve, develop and promote the ecolabelling of products and services. It assisted with development of the 14024 guidelines, defining the characteristics of the most credible labels – which is to say that they should:
- Identify the overall environmental preference of a product or service based on life cycle considerations that
- Have been assessed independently against transparent environmental leadership standards or criteria
- Awarded by an impartial third party.
Today, the global Ecolabel Index lists over 400 ecolabels on the world market. This proliferation shows the growing need for third party verification or ‘trust-solutions’.
UK-based global think tank and strategy consultancy Ia have published a paper which examines the challenges, outcomes and value of ecolabels: ‘Signed, Sealed… Delivered? Behind Certifications and Beyond Labels’. As SustainAbility Director Petrin Watanatada has stated, “there’s no doubt that [eco]labels have been pioneers in building a more sustainable economy”.
Given that the building and construction industry is a major driver of the Australian economy, and considering the major leaps and bounds made in delivering more sustainable built environments, the future and value of credible ecolabels is clearly apparent.