The European Union’s Ecolabel

medium_Laurel.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

After many years of prognostication the European Union has published its specification for an Ecolabel for products and services, excluding food and pharmaceuticals. This is a voluntary label designed to promote improved environmental performance. The idea is that consumers will choose products and services whose environmental impact on a life cycle basis is reduced. It isn’t clear what the baseline reference is for said reduction though, so this label will probably get used rather as calory labels do: less is better.

Except that less may not always be better and this is the risk of a one-size fits all label. The EU’s aim is that consumers will make informed choices based on the Ecolabel. Except that consumers aren’t necessarily able to understand the meaning of a label based on life cycle analysis, which is the underlying methodology for the Ecolabel. This means that environmental impact studies for products and services must take into account every aspect of a things life, from creation, through to use, and end of life. In addition to these fundamentals such things as emissions throughout the supply chain, raw materials and recycling have to be factored into the calculations. For instance how does one account for materials waste that gets recycled as part of a product’s manufacture? Print, paper and packaging have relatively clear means of calculating such values because the recycling supply chains are well established. But could the same be said for electronic goods and furniture? Usage in all cases is very difficult to calculate.

That said the EU Ecolabel, even though it is hard to achieve, is a welcome addition to the armory of environmental impact reduction tools we are building up. It would perhaps be a good idea for all the entities involved in this work to somehow share their efforts to reduce duplication and market confusion at the very least. More importantly we are all wasting resources by working towards the same goals but along independent routes.

– Laurel Brunner

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