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How Green is My Ecolabel?

Blog
13/08/2019

Ecolabels have become an important marketing tool as they offer a simple visual ‘tick of approval’ label, a seemingly quick solution to select sustainable materials in an industry with time pressures and client expectations.

Consequently the availability of different ecolabels has grown. However, it is important to understand eco label certifications are not created equally and may not deliver better environmental outcomes. Some eco labels are more rigorous with high standards and others have surprisingly lower standards, rewarding business as usual.

Does a product need to be certified to an ecolabel to be good for the environment?

No, a product can still be good for the environment without being certified. Certifications are generally very expensive which is achievable for larger organisations, yet cost prohibitive for smaller business.

Eco label certifications are not a necessity as there are laws in place to protect consumers from greenwashing, the Australian Trade Practices Act (1974) prohibits companies from making misleading and deceptive claims, green or otherwise. The ACCC will pursue any companies that breach this law.

Are all ecolabels the same?

Ecolabels generally differ in their approach. There are so many different certifications that consumers have difficulty understanding what they represent.

Eco labels that aim only to limit negative environmental impacts are not enough. Ecolabels with a low benchmark can be seen as greenwashing rather than encouraging product innovation.

The GECA + ECNZ Textile standards are an example of this. Their aim is to minimise wastewater pollution, addressing a single lifecycle issue only. They fail to address other lifecycle issues such as sustainable material use and product stewardship.

Virgin synthetic textiles such as polyester, nylon, acrylic and polypropylene can easily achieve certification with GECA + ECNZ. These textiles are manufactured from a finite and non-renewable resource (i.e. petroleum), contain numerous hazardous substances and are not recyclable.

Which ecolabels should I trust?

To genuinely improve environmental performance, eco labels need to be comprehensive, addressing the whole lifecycle. See our simple guide below showing the lifecycle stages addressed by each ecolabel.

Product certifications generally list specific hazardous substances that are prohibited during production of a product  Product Certifications
Greentag
Lifecycle Based Product Standard
Cradle to Cradle Innovation Institute
Lifecycle Based Product Standard
European Union (EU) Standard
Single Issue Approach - Production
GECA Textile Standard
Single Issue Approach - Production
ECNZ Textile
Single Issue Approach - Production
Oeko Tex
Human Ecology Approach - Use
Oeko Tex addresses the level of chemical residues contained in the final product to minimise hazardous substances being in contact with our skin.
It does not address chemicals that may be harmful to the environment.
Oeko Tex can certify non-environmental, oil-based textiles such as virgin polyester, nylon + acrylic
As the name suggests, Material Transparency certifications show what chemicals are used.  Material Transparency Certifications
EPD
Environmental Product Declaration
Quantifies environmental impacts over lifecycle of a product
Main purpose is a comparison tool between products fulfilling the same function
EPD is recognised in Green Stay, LEED + WELL building standards
Declare
A transparency label similar to an ingredient list in food
Where does the product come from?
What is it made of?
Where does it go at the end of its life?
Declare is recognised in LEED + WELL building standards
HPD 
Health Product Declaration
Discloses ingredients + any health hazards associated with these ingredients
Similar to MSDS
HPD is recognised in LEED + WELL building standards