Introduction to Ecolabels and Standards for Greener Products
On this page:
- What is an ecolabel?
- What is an environmental performance standard?
- What is a voluntary consensus standard?
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Green Guides support better environmental marketing claims
- Framework for the assessment of environmental performance standards and ecolabels
Ecolabels are marks placed on product packaging or in e-catalogs that can help consumers and institutional purchasers quickly and easily identify those products that meet specific environmental performance criteria and are therefore deemed “environmentally preferable”. Ecolabels can be owned or managed by government agencies, nonprofit environmental advocacy organizations, or private sector entities.
Ecolabels can be single-attribute, meaning they focus on a single lifecycle stage (i.e. the use phase) of a product/service or a single environmental issue (i.e. VOC emissions). They can also be multi-attribute, meaning they focus on the entire lifecycle (manufacture, use, maintenance, disposal) of a product/service and address many different environmental issues (i.e. energy use, chemical use, recycling, and more).
These are standards, often established by multi-stakeholder groups, that set specified levels of performance in order to claim that a product or service is “environmentally preferable”.
OMB Circular A-119 defines voluntary consensus standards (VCS) as technical documents (e.g., test methods, specifications, and terminology) that are developed or adopted by VCS bodies using procedures that have safeguards to ensure that the standards development process is open to all interested parties, and that the input and viewpoints of a broad range of interested parties are taken into account and treated fairly.
The number of standards for green products has increased in recent years due to growth in market demand for "green" products. Recent examples include standards for electronics and building materials (such as furniture, carpet and paint). More are likely to arise as retailers, governments and other buyers seek to expand their green purchasing.
However, along with this changing marketplace has come increasing concern regarding "greenwashing" and uncertainty about which environmental claims related to standards and labels can be trusted. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created its Green Guides to help ensure that marketing claims regarding the environmental attributes of products are truthful and substantiated. However, these guides largely address when and how very specific and narrow environmental attributes can be claimed, not how to construct a broad-based environmental standard or ecolabeling program.
The Framework, developed through a multi-stakeholder consensus based process, provides a transparent, fair, and consistent approach to assessing private sector standards and ecolabels for recommendations to federal purchasers. The Framework encourages continuous improvement of both standards and ecolabels and the products and services that those standards and ecolabels address, while providing flexibility to accommodate the variety of approaches to and types of standards and ecolabels that exist in the marketplace today.
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