Leading work in the field of product sustainability labelling has been published in the Journal of Environmental Management, a result of a collaboration between SEAC’s sustainability science team and the University of Surrey.
With consumers eager to understand the environmental performance of the products they buy, communication instruments aiming to provide such information have been diversifying in recent years. In Europe, a new type of ecolabel aggregates environmental impact results into single scores, to facilitate comparison between products with the aim of helping consumers to make more sustainable consumption choices: Environmental Rating Ecolabels (ERE).
The article provides an overview of what makes these ecolabels different from previous approaches, and how the rate at which schemes are currently multiplying risks undermining their potential impact and consumer trust in the longer term. Acknowledging the urgent need for harmonisation, it proposes a framework containing a series of guidelines to be used as common basis for the development and evaluation of ERE schemes. The framework is based on four principles believed to be key to the success of these ecolabels: relevance, scientific robustness, trust and transparency, and feasibility (scalability, affordability).
31 schemes in development or use today are assessed against the proposed framework, providing insights on key improvement requirements. This analysis showed that less than one third of the schemes assessed are currently fit for purpose, i.e. currently or potentially deliver a scientifically robust label on which consumers can base an environmentally focused decision.
By providing common guidelines for the development of labelling schemes, as well as recommendations based on the analysis of the current landscape, this publication supports progress towards fewer, better and future-proof schemes.