Eco-Labels – What’s Your Type?
Eco-labels are designed to provide environmentally-relevant information about a product to purchasers. At the same time, by way of clearly-defined issuing criteria and steadily increasing requirements, they are intended to create an incentive for continuous improvement in the quality of products and product information. A variety of eco-labels have now established themselves on the market and can be used by manufacturers, on a voluntary basis, to label their products. But, how do they differ from each other and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the various types of eco-labels?
Each of us comes into contact with eco-labels in our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. Particularly as consumers, we put our trust in the product packaging labels that can be found in every supermarket or building supply centre. As a reader of this magazine, you also are a person who is well-informed about environmental product declarations – perhaps you have already even relied upon these during a building certification. Let’s now step back and consider the basics of the various eco-labels. This will help in categorising the types of information they provide at both the product and building level and in determining which type of eco-label is best-suited for a specific use.
Type I Eco-labels: Consumer-friendly and externally-tested
Type I eco-labels are designed to enable consumers to easily identify products that meet specific environmental or health standards. The criteria required be fulfilled by a particular product type are defined in advance by an independent issuing organisations. Manufacturers may then apply to be issued the label. This requires submission of documentation that substantiates the manufacturer’s compliance with the criteria that has been established. Depending on the program, evaluations may also include site inspections, sampling, and laboratory testing. If all issuance criteria have been met, the manufacturer will be permitted to use the label on the product that has been evaluated.
The greatest advantage of Type I eco-labels is their user-friendliness. A product displaying this label fulfils the requirements that were applicable at the time of issuance. Type I eco-labels are therefore particularly well-suited for products where a direct comparison with other products is possible and informative, including such products as electronic devices, cleaning supplies, and other consumables.
Assessing the advantages of Type I eco-labels for building materials is more difficult, since it is only in combination that these constitute a finished ‘product’: a building. Here, issuing organisations can only estimate which criteria at the building material level will later result in construction of a complete building that is a healthy and environmentally-friendly living space. The intended simplicity of this label can even be a hindrance in this situation: Detailed information that would be useful at the building level is generally not provided on Type I eco-labels.
Other difficulties can arise due to the lack of comparability of Type I eco-labels, since each issuing organisation is permitted to determine its own criteria and testing methods. In addition, issuers must also first ascertain whether the criteria that has been established for a specific label is even of any significance for the building project in question – as well as determining which labels would be best-suited for which product groups. It must also be borne in mind that, due to the large number of different labels, it would be virtually impossible for a manufacturer to obtain all of the various certifications that are available for a single product. There are, therefore, many products that might meet the requirements for a particular certificate but, due to the expense involved, will not possess that certificate. If a decision for a specific label is made, this can thus severely limit the available product portfolio, even in the early planning phases. Particularly in public tenders, therefore, alternative documentation of compliance with certain award criteria is permitted. However, this requires a comprehensive analysis of the underlying certificates and can result in a considerable increase in workload for issuing organisations, builders, and manufacturers.