Buy Sustainably With Confidence: Understanding Eco-Labels
Ecolabels are meant to ease the process of purchasing more sustainable products by providing a certification that buyers can recognize as meeting environmentally, ethically, or socially responsible criteria. The goal of ecolabels is to promote sustainable products to buyers while providing the burgeoning market for sustainable products with a sense of assurance. However not all ecolabels use the same stringent criteria, thus allowing for deviations in standards for sustainable certification and casting a seed of doubt on what ecolabels can do for you.
The Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (CCSP) hosted their Ecolabels and Certifications Deep Dive Peer Exchange to an audience of over 80 members in late October. Two experts joined us from TCO Development: Clare Hobby, Director of Global Purchaser Engagement, and Stephen Fuller, Senior Criteria Manager. Our member presenter was Tori Grant, Advisor in Sustainability Reporting at the University of Calgary. These experts shared tips, outlined below, to ensure ecolabels provide the ease and assurance we want, and ways to leverage the best ecolabels to make more sustainable product choices right away.
Demand the Best from your Ecolabel:
Not all ecolabels are created equal. There are 3 types of ecolabels with different characteristics that affect their efficacy, dependability, and diligence.
Type 1 ecolabels are a third-party assessment of a product based on the environmental and social impacts of a product or material throughout its life cycle. Evaluation and selection requirements of type 1 ecolabels are available to the public.
Type 2 ecolabels are self-declared claims made by manufacturers or distributors and are not independently verified. These tend to focus on a particular quality of product e.g compostable or ‘dolphin safe’.
Type 3 ecolabels are voluntary declarations of the sustainability of a product or service.
Buyers can rely on Type 1 ecolabels to enforce strict sustainability standards and provide truly sustainable options. Buyers should beware of ecolabels that do not verify a specific quality of product, include vague claims, or that rely on the buyer’s own conclusions about the sustainability of the product.
While Type 1s are the cream of the crop, buyers should also ask two things of their ecolabels to get the most hidden impact out of their supply chains:
- Does this ecolabel certify environmental AND social responsibility?
- Does this ecolabel require mandatory independent verification?
Demanding independent verification of ecolabels is the sure-fire way to safeguard one’s supply chains against risk. Without independent verification, ecolabels cannot guarantee that a manufacturer is upholding its promise to obey sustainable criteria. Certain ecolabels will provide the option for independent verification but do not enforce it, thus allowing manufacturers to slip through a loophole.
Our Favourite Ecolabels:
We’ve created a list of recommended Type 1 ecolabels to look for when you’re next purchasing from any of these 4 categories: Information Technology, Furniture, Cleaning Products, or Paper.
Each of these ecolabels is accessible, diligent, and provides assurance on a product. Leverage these ecolabels, or your own preferred list, to start making more sustainable choices today. Consider the low-hanging fruit of low value procurement or less costly purchases; can you look for the TCO Development sticker when shopping online for a new laptop, or consider products with the Ecologo sticker when shopping for a more all-purpose cleaner for your office kitchen? Let a top tier ecolabel do the work to verify your purchasing options and make the easy switch today to pick a product that will leverage your spend.