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Lost in a jungle of green labels

In the midst of so many different green labels it is easy to get lost. How to tell which labels are truly green and which are nothing more than greenwashing?

Blanca Morales, the EEB’s Ecolabel Coordinator, gives us her tips and insights.

The last year has been a challenging one to say the least, and it has brought many changes that seemed unimaginable as recently as 2019, including a shift in consumption patterns. From bikes to organic food, there seems to be a movement of citizens set on changing their habits and choosing environmentally friendly lifestyles.

This shift comes at a time when studies warn us about our current production and consumption patterns: if we continue at the current pace, by 2050, we will need almost three planets to sustain our way of life. There are many ways to live a sustainable lifestyle and we can all strive to apply the ‘5R’ mantra (refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle). But when we need to buy new products, it is difficult to know which ones have the lowest environmental impact.

Green labels should be an easy marker of sustainability. However, while some claims and labels are reliable, others mislead consumers by attributing environmentally friendly characteristics to unsustainable products or services. This greenwashing is not new, but the incentives for it are growing as more and more people demand sustainable products.

Labels you can trust

Nearly three-fifths of consumers in the EU are receptive to environmental claims when shopping. There are over 450 green labels in use worldwide, but not all of them should be trusted.

Here are some reliable labels to look for:

The EU Ecolabel is one of the labels that we consider trustworthy. Managed by the European Commission and member states, the label has been used by companies operating in the EU on their best-in-class products for nearly 30 years. Making a positive impact on the market.

The Ecolabel classify more than 70,000 non-food products, including shampoos, paints, electronic displays and many more. More recently, it expanded to services, such as hotels and cleaning companies, and is currently developing labels for financial services, such as saving accounts and investment products.

At national and regional level, there are other labels which have a proven track record of reliably indicating products that protect the environment and people. The Blue Angel in Germany (created in 1978), the Nordic Swan Ecolabel in Nordic countries (1989), the Austrian Ecolabel (1990) and Good Environmental Choice (1988) are among the most popular ones.

All four labels share a robust set of criteria to promote products which are more climate friendly and healthier for consumers. The requirements look at the product’s entire life cycle to reduce its footprint all the way from design and manufacturing to use, recycling and disposal.

Unlike non-certified green claims, these ecolabels are thoroughly checked. Manufacturers can only use them after a national authority has verified that the product fulfills strict requirements. Such criteria are public, highly developed and regularly updated, in a process involving governments, industry, retailers, consumer organisations and environmental NGOs.

Battling greenwashing

Currently the EU is not only working to make products more sustainable, it is also in the process of making green claims and labels more reliable and verifiable.

Once this new system is in place, it should make it easier for consumers to trust the claims made by green labels and to shop sustainably.