Sustainable Innovation


Eco Indicators on every product ?

Eco, Bio and Fair Trade logos are all over the place. What to expect next ? In France, new Eco Indicator Labels are on its way, initiated by government Sarkozy. Suppliers will be required to present in detail the environmental impact and origins of their products on standardised labels (carbon footprint, energy use and others). Some suppliers have already started (examples from NL and USA) :

   

Examples of Products and Labels with detailed materials and contents information : A Paper Shakies Cup (www.shakies.com, Utrecht, Netherlands) and a Recycled Shopping Bag (Winston, New York, USA)

I had the opportunity to discuss about Eco-Labels, French and European developments with Patricia PROIA of the French Norms and  Certification Institute AFNOR (Association de Normalisation Francaise) created in 1926. The AFNOR Group offers services in 4 domains : Norms Development, Certification, Quality and Management Courses and Publication.

Patricia PROIA, Manager of the Environmental Team at Afnor Certification

What are the Eco-labels in France ?

At date, in France there are 4 official Eco-Labels : NF Environnement, EU Eco-Label, AB Agriculture and Energy Star. Products can carry an Eco-Label if suppliers comply to a set of criteria (‘cahier de charges’) based on optimal use and reduction of environmental impact in all stages of the product life cycle. Official Eco-labels are all approved by national or international governmental bodies. Industry representatives are closely involved in developing new labels (1, 2).

1. Label NF Environnement ; French label for eco-responsible products since 1991. At date, 25 product and 1 service categories labels are described (3). An example is the HQE for office buildings. The French NF marks are being developed and optimised by experts of public and private organisations. Initial costs for suppliers per product are 1000 to 2000 euro. Returning costs are 0,1% of the yearly revenues generated by the eco-labelled product with a max of 9000 euro per year plus the yearly audits (ca 1800 euro).

2. Label Eco-label ; European label as of 1992, for eco-responsible products and services containing 26 categories. An example is the Eco-Label Touristic Housing Services. Almost 60 French tourist facilities have obtained this certificate and claim to have new enthusiastic and very loyal customers that appreciate the environmental awareness of the hotels and gites. Eco-labels are defined in working groups of members of the different European National Certification Institutes and industry participants. Like the French NF label, certification is not for free : 1000-2000 euro initial costs plus 0,1% of yearly revenues, with a plafond of 25000 euro per year. In 2009, about 1000 EU companies have an official EU Eco-label (French or European), of which 200 French.

3. Label AB Agriculture biologique ;  French label as of 2001 for biologically produced agriculture products. Development and certification by the agency ‘ BIO’ , which is a group of French public and private organisations.

4. Label Energy Star ; International Label for Household products as of 1992 that is notably known in Europe because of the application in Personal Computers.

National Eco-Labels remain leading

 

Norms become more centralised on an European level. Patricia Proai expects that in 10 to 20 years most product categories will have a EU Eco-Label. However, for the time being the French norms remain key in France. Why ?

At one hand, the EU Label creation process will become more efficient. The recently introduced new EU rules will speed up the process of development from 3 to 4 years of time down to 1 or 2 years.  Before, for every new label, extensive working groups usually started from scratch to investigate industry practices. Now, new EU new rules, approved in 2009 (7), allow to upgrade a well valued national Eco-Label to an EU Eco-Label which speeds up the process.

At the other hand, the national (French) labels will remain dominant in coming decennium, according to Proai. This has everything to do with legacy, national orientation, costs and a(still) slower EU process because of the veto system. First of all, companies have invested in developing, certification and marketing of national norms, not eager to change. Secondly, nationally oriented companies, notably SMEs, will continue to prefer the less expensive national labels above EU labels. Thirdly, the EU committee members, representing the national industries (like the French) have strong veto rights, which makes that change won’t happen quickly. This means that in some areas the national labels will be ahead. Like the new legislation for Eco Indicators (Eco Etiquette) in France :

Trend : Eco Indicators to Inform Consumers about environmental footprint.

The France Government has initiated the development of Eco Indicator Labels. Government Sarkozy has decided that product suppliers should be more specific about the contents and production of their products – more precise than one of the  ‘Eco Label Pictures’.  No less than 15 industry working groups have started to define the indicators per product group.  One of the indicators will be certainly the green house gas emission in carbon equivalents (CO2 gram) based on life cycle analyses. Other indicators will vary per product category (like the level of toxic ingredients for a detergent). France seems  ahead of its EU peers with this detailed label information. The county is will probably promote this system to be adopted on an European level  (8).

 Fictive Eco Indicator Label for an imaginable product – to be introduced in France in 2011

 Sources : 1. ‘s Orienter dans la jungle des labels verts, l’Entreprise, septembre 2009’, ‘2. De Europese milieu keur in een oogopslag’ http://europa.eu.int/ecolabel’, 3. NF Environnement label : www.marque-nf.com ; 4. European Eco-Label : www.eco-label.com; 5. AB Agriculture Label : www.agencebio.org; 6. Energy Start Label : www.energystar.gov ; 7 : Community ecolabel scheme ***I,Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, PE418.115, European Parliament legislative resolution of 2 April 2009 on the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on a Community Ecolabel scheme (COM(2008)0401 – C6-0279/2008 – 2008/0152(COD)) ; 9 : http://affichage-environnemental.afnor.org/actualites/resume-bpx30-323/resume-bpx30-323

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