The phenomenon of greenwashing appears to be growing, more so, since the demand for environmentally preferable products is on the rise. Therein lies the urgent need for consistent assurance of the environmental, health and ethical supply chain performance of materials and products.
The development of sustainability focused product standards is one such way to scientifically assess the environmental and other performance of materials and products. These standards define the product category specific criteria against which the product is evaluated. An international best-practice framework for environmental declarations is ISO14020/4-Type 1 environmental labelling.
Type 1 is a voluntary, multiple criteria based, third-party programme that awards a license that authorises the use of labels on products indicating overall environmental preferability of a product within a particular product category based on lifecycle considerations.
Eco-label certification programmes that conform to ISO14024-Type 1 or third-party declarations are the
gold standard for environmental labels. Type 1 ecolabels develop product category specifications that define specific criteria such as the following:
• Material content and efficiency
• Functional purpose fitness
• Hazardous materials
• Water consumption and efficiency
• Energy consumption and efficiency
• Water and air emissions
• Waste management and minimisation
• Environmental legislation and guidelines
The above product-specific criteria in Type-1 ecolabels may also consider human health and ethical employment issues as well so they in effect focus more broadly on the entirety of sustainability issues. Further to the above environmental productspecific criteria, certain eco-labels strive to be inclusively sustainable by including socio-economic imperatives in the criteria specifications. This broader perspective approach is aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals and aims to ultimately facilitate the transition to a healthy people, planet and products paradigm where both nature and people thrive. Furthermore, the World Green Building Council has identified three major global trends that feed into the need for increased robustness in product claims:
- Carbon net zero by 2050 (relating to operational and upfront carbon emissions)
- Circular economy and healthy biodiversity
- Healthy and ethical buildings and supply chains
There is an increasing appetite for third-party verified environmental claims and declarations. Particularlyin the built environment as an increasing number of professionals such as architects, designers and specifiers become more and more educated on the inclusive benefit, environmentally compliant products have overall, especially with the growth and development of Green Building rating systems such as the Green Building Council of South Africa’s GreenStar® rating tool.
In South Africa, research indicates an emerging eco-labelling certification sector that is still in its relative infancy and highlights the importance of due diligence when choosing an appropriate eco-label for your product. Factors for consideration include:
• Expanse of market reach and appeal ie international vs national footprint and applicability
• Degree of demonstration to international best practice framework and assessment standards
• ISO14024-Type 1 eco-label alignment
• Assessor qualifications
• Inclusive socio-economic criteria eg equality, health and safety, etc
• Exhibit options for comparative analysis of products within the same functional performance category
• Strong sales and marketing leverage support
Choose wisely, as the benefits of having a certified environmentally preferable product has far reaching impacts that incrementally compound to effect significant tangible changes in the way products and sales are made.