May 18, 2022 6:33 pm

Unable to choose between 450 ‘eco-labels’



This shirt is made of chemical-free cotton, this piece of furniture whose manufacturer supports the fight against deforestation in Indonesia, this milk comes from stress-free cows… Purchases are increasingly sown with ‘eco-claims’ of all conditions that generate more doubts what certainties Are all the products that shine as such ecological? What is the standard that allows them to say that they are really respectful with the environment? And, above all: Who supports such claims? Are these labels trustworthy?

These questions are not easy to answer; neither for the average consumer nor for those who are more informed about responsible consumption. Anyone who spends some time trying to decipher the labels of the ‘green’ products that they put in their daily shopping cart will end up with a sea of ​​doubts between acronyms, icons and colours.

It is not surprising if one takes into account that, as the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) has noted in a statement, there may be some 450 ‘eco-labels’ on the market.

Faced with this profusion of formats, consumers confess that they lack the tools to distinguish when the information is truthful. Furthermore, they also do not know what each statement on the packaging really means.

unclear information

This is what the aforementioned organization has detected through a survey in which only 5% of the people consulted declared themselves well informed about the requirements for a product to be advertised as green or display an ‘eco-label’.

The declarations reflected in the packaging of the products in this sense are varied: they can talk about energy efficiency, respect for animals, saving water, toxicity and a long etcetera that grows with each passing day.

The reason? Manufacturers are aware that sustainability is arousing more and more interest among consumers and highlighting the ecological aspect of the product, whatever it may be, is a hook after all.

In the same OCU survey, practically all consumers (9 out of 10) valued as “useful” that the product provides environmental information and 63% would make their purchase choice based on these data.

The employers’ association of manufacturers and distributors (Aecoc) also conducted a survey last year to find out if customers are interested in the fact that the product respects natural resources in its manufacturing process. The conclusions were very similar to this last one from the OCU.

60% said they are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services. Furthermore, 80% said they already incorporate sustainability into their purchasing decisions. This trend skyrocketed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when global concern about the consequences of the impact of man on the health of ecosystems took on unprecedented prominence until now.

Single regulation and control

But does anyone certify what the products say about their sustainability? This is what the OCU denounces, an organization that calls for a legislative change in this regard. “We demand clear, relevant and certified ‘eco-labels’ by a third party, while we ask the national and European authorities for a regulation that defines the conditions to use them,” they claim.

Currently, the legislation allows three types of ‘eco-labels’. Those whose environmental declaration is certified by a third party, those that consist of a self-declaration from the manufacturer that offers information on environmental aspects of the product without this having necessarily been verified by independent third parties (but it must be truthful) and, lastly, those in which information is offered to the consumer on the possible forms of impact on the environment of the product or service (recyclability, water consumption, energy expenditure, etc.) without further ado.

The problem detected by the OCU, aside from the veracity or rigor of the labels, is the perception that the consumer has of them. “53% of the people who participated in the survey believe that these types of allegations are mainly a marketing strategy to increase their sales. The so-called ‘greenwashing’”, denounces the organization.

Hence, they ask for more clarity in the regulations that regulate and unify the criteria for certificates, in order to transfer confidence to a consumer who, according to the aforementioned studies, is willing to take the step towards conscious purchasing.

To shed some light on the gibberish, the organization recommends six reliable labels when checking out:

It certifies that the fish and shellfish that carry it come from sustainable fisheries, managed with appropriate social and environmental criteria and whose chain of custody has been maintained from origin to sale.

It indicates that a restrictive list of approved ingredients has been respected in the preparation and responsible management of water, chemicals and waste has been carried out.

It distinguishes products such as detergents, paints or laminate flooring that have been able to demonstrate a lower environmental impact than others in the same category and throughout their life cycle, from the factory to their disposal.

It guarantees appropriate environmental, social and economic standards in the production of cotton, coffee, tea, cocoa, etc. and the payment of a fair price to small producers whose labor rights are respected.

The wood or paper that bears the FSC seal comes from forests that have been externally audited to confirm that they are managed in accordance with environmental and social standards.

Although focused on protecting health, it also cares for the environment, since the textiles that wear it must be free of certain substances such as pesticides or heavy metals.

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