C10.8 Eco-Labelling


Eco-labelling is the labelling of goods to state that the product has a low environmental impact.

The aim of the manufacturer in displaying such labels is to encourage people to purchase their products on the basis that they are contributing to the environment by doing so.

There are structured and verified eco-labelling schemes, which have set criteria and independent verification. However, the concept is also open to abuse. There are many false claims made in regard to numerous products on packaging and in advertising campaigns across the globe. This has led to confusion and ultimately scepticism by consumers.

Such false claims undermine the effectiveness of genuine schemes. The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee – Eleventh Report, states that “In 1996 the National Consumer Council carried out research which showed that a large number of products were being marketed with environmental claims. The NCC‘s own analysis of these claims concluded that ‘many were confusing, a fairly large proportion were misleading, or potentially so, and a few were downright dishonest.’”

The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 deals with false trade descriptions, which are listed in the Act. These do not include the environmental impacts of a product. The lack of legal support against false green claims is exacerbated by the fact that organisations making claims are not required to produce information to support their claims.

I remember a distinctly irate lecturer when I was at University. He had been in the supermarket and seen a packet of nappies that stated ‘biodegradable’ on the packaging. He did what he thought any self-respecting Environmental Science lecturer would do… he bought a packet, recreated landfill conditions in a laboratory and tested the claim. He found that they were technically biodegradable, but that it would take 400 years in optimum conditions for them to do so!

At the time I wondered if we would start seeing claims for “kind to trees” on plastic products. I think we have seen the equivalent on many food products (yes it may be low fat but it’s higher in calories because full of sugar…), but thankfully nothing that ridiculous in the environmental field (yet).


Green Claims Code

This is voluntary, first published in 1998 by the DETR and the DTI. The most recent guidance was issued by DEFRA in 2011:

DEFRA’s Quick Guide to Making a Good Environmental Claim“.

DEFRA’s Green Claims Guidance”.

Research into the effects of this code indicated that it had encouraged some retailers to improve their products. However, the Office of Fair Trading stated that “With a few notable exceptions, they do not appear to have been effective in reducing either malpractice or consumer dissatisfaction.”

It has been recommended that the successor to the Green Claims code should have statutory backing. That is, legislation to regulate the use of green claims.