Sustainable Innovation

France develops Social Product Indicators
November 30, 2010, 4:30 pm
Filed under: Sustainability in France | Tags: , , ,

The Grenelle Engagement 201 aims for environmental and social product labels. These labels should help consumers to make better informed choices, hopefully resulting in preferences for products and suppliers that create a positive societal and environmental impact. Concepts for new Eco-Labels will be tested as of July 2011. Currently product labels indicating social impact are under construction.

The French Ministry of Ecology, French normalisation institute AFNOR.

Measuring social impact of products is a rather complicated question. What to measure ? How to present the information ? A label or sticker ? There are already so many labels on the market that show that products respect certain ethical, environmental or social requirements .. How should this new label fit in ? How to measure social impact ? Impact on end-users, the employees of the company, the society as a whole ?

The taskforce ‘Affichage Social’ lead by the French standardisation institute AFNOR has defined its objectives as follows (1) :

  • Informing and encouraging customers and public and private purchasers on social aspects
  • Creation of tools for enterprises that are already rather advanced in monitoring social conditions
  • Encouraging enterprises to make sure social conditions are sufficient (producers, distributors, ..)

Various parties are at stake whilst looking at social impact. The United Nations workgroup UNEP-SETAC Life Cycle Initiative uses the Product Life Cycle Analyse as an inspiration for assessing social impact. Product life cycle analyses are known as a tool to analyse (see the ‘LIDS-wheel’ (2) applied for the company Arféo). When used to investigate social impact, the UN Group identified 4 major type of stakeholders  (3):

  • workforce (working conditions, remuneration, accidents,..),
  • local community (healthy environment, non-toxic, human rights, improved infrastructure),
  • users of the products (concerning the use-stage) 
  • society (national and/or global)

AFNOR has chosen to focus on social conditions of workforce, in the Production and Transport life stages. This means that thereby the social impact of the product on its users and society, and the impact in the end of life stage will be excluded. It is understandable the French workgroup needs to set some limitations to its scope of ‘social impact label’. At the very same time it brings up new questions about developing complementary indicators that, for instance, represent indicators of social impact of products on users and society, such as health, security or economical progress.

The key principles of the Taskforce ‘Affichage Sociale’ were presented by Eric CORBEL, of the French Ministery of Ecologie and Rim CHAOUY of AFNOR (1)  :

  1. Volontairy principle : A guideline of ‘Best Practices’ with a framework for measuring and presenting social conditions on product level, published April 2010 (5).
  2. No indication on the product itself, but on Internet, a brochure, given the ‘label jungle’ already existing.
  3. Transparency about the Value Chain : the producer will explain how the value chain is being built up.
  4. Mentioning the date and refreshing the information on a regular base like the Carbon Footprint Calculations.
  5. Qualification of the information : Self-declared, Evaluated by a third party or Miissing..  
  6. Addressing 8 social aspects (Principles of the UN International Labour Organisation) : 1. Liberty of association & right of collective negotiation, 2. no forced or obliged work, 3. no children work, 4. no discrimination (work and profession), 5. respect of working hours, 6. respect of laws on hygiene/health/security/working conditions, 7. proper remuneration, 8. social protection.

Emmanuele BERTIN of the cosmetic company Terre d’OC has tested the new framework . Based on the product ‘l Huile Argan bio 50 ml’ she specified the social conditions aspects, using the new guideline called ‘BP X30-025’ published in April 2010 (4).


Cosmetic oil ‘Argan Bio 50 ml’ of the cosmetic company terre d’Oc, test product for the 1st ‘Affichage Social’, and picture of the ‘Argan’ nuts, the source products for the Argan Oil.

Mrs BERTIN has questioned all suppliers and transporters of the (sub) products. For that she needed to trace back the origins, production and transport of the glass bottle, the Argan oil, the metal cork and the cardboard box.

The resulting schemes show a breakdown of product components against the primary social indicators, applied for the Product Life Stages Production and Transport. See below a part of the large scheme for the Production Phase. Following the guideline, for every element, Mrs BERTIN has indicated :

  • 0: no information
  • 1 : if the supplier has directly supplied the information
  • 1bis : if the supplier has supplied the information from one of his suppliers
  • 2 : if the information has been validated by a third party
  • 2bis : if the information has been validated by a third party controlling a supplier


Findings and discussion Mrs BERTIN shares her experiences with the audience of interested people at AFNOR in St Denis 16th of November 2010. She remarks that, contrary to her expectations, suppliers were OK to take time to answer her questions. They are getting used to answer questions from professional customers, notably now companies are launching environmental audits for ISO 1001 certification for instance. However, despite reminders, it was not possible to find all information.

Generally speaking, the public audience fears that suppliers give political correct answers in surveys (for instance about working hours or other working conditions). In this case Mrs BERTIN is confident that due to the close relationship with suppliers one can assume the correctness of the information.

Mrs BERTIN recommends the development of a small sign or logo would be good, showing that for the given  a ‘Social Conditions’ audit has been made to be found on the companies website.

Inspiration for European application. The studies and developments around the ‘Eco-Etiquette’ and now the ‘Etiquette Social’ are not only of interest for France, but could and should also be used on an international level. Only when guidelines are being used on an international level, representations of ‘environmental’ or ‘social’ impact will gain momentum and become accepted.

The repetitive character of supplier questionnaires are starting to become an issue for SMEs with limited resources, notes Eric CORBEL of the French Ministery of Ecologie. Mr CORBEL adds that new initiatives are being set up by French industry to share best practices and redistribute information to professional adherents, eventually to avoid time-consuming repetitive questionnaires. (Comment of the author : One of this new initiatives is the ‘Observatoire des achats responsables’, a new initiative of private parties in France (5)).

 : more about Sustainable Product Development Strategy, environmental and social transparency and co-creation.

Sources : 1. Presentation ‘Affichage Social’, by Eric CORBEL of the French Ministery of Ecology, Rim Chaouy of AFNOR, Emmanuelle BERTIN of Terre d’OC, at AFNOR, 16th of November 2010 ; 2. Brezet, J.C., Hemel, C.G. van, UNEP Ecodesign manual, Ecodesign: a promising approach to sustainable production and consumption, United Nations Environmental Programme, 1997 ; 3. Griesshammer, R, et al ‘Feasability Study : Integration of social aspects into LCA’, 2006 ; 4. AFNOR Publication of Bonnes pratiques pour la transparence de l’affichage des conditions sociales de production et de mise à disposition des produits  ‘BP X30-025’; (51,35 euro ! )  ; ; 5.


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