Not too long ago, sustainability was just a welcome addition to the heightened processes of an organization, but these days, it is a responsibility. In the name of environmental protection, enterprises have a duty to strive to reduce their carbon footprint and make their products more ecofriendly, something further encouraged by pressures exerted by consumers. One of the primary ways in which an organization can convey their environmental consciousness and care is through environmental labeling, or ecolabeling.
The ways in which ecolabeling fulfills society’s need for environmental stewardship is multifold, since it not only lets companies demonstrate their environmental responsibility, but it also helps consumers and the public make green decisions through their purchasing choices. However, things like ecolabeling have contributed to skepticism in certain circumstances, with some unproven claims being branded “greenwash.”
There is a need—for both the sake of companies and consumers—to demonstrate authenticity. At the backbone of all environmental labeling systems are several ISO international standards. The general guidelines for these are found in ISO 14020:2022 – Environmental labels and declarations — General principles. This standard is not intended for use as a specification for certification and registration purposes, but it should be used in conjunction with other ISO 14020 series standards.
According to ISO, there are three broad types of voluntary labels:
Type I Environmental Labeling
This designation derives from a voluntary, multiple-criteria-based third party program that awards a license authorizing the use of an environmental label on products. This label identifies products determined to be environmentally preferable within a particular product category based on life cycle considerations.
The principles and procedures for developing Type I environmental labeling programs—including the selection of product categories, product environmental criteria, and product function characteristics and tasks for assessing and demonstrating compliance—is established by ISO 14024:2018 – Environmental labels and declarations – Type I environmental labelling – Principles and procedures. This international standard also sets the certification procedures for awarding the label.
Type II Environmental Labeling
Environmental labeling standards emerged from the proliferation of environmental claims in various forms. Of course, authentication is important for each ecolabel type, but for self-declared environmental claims, assuring reliability is essential. This is because manufacturers, importers, and others likely to benefit can make self-declared environmental claims. If these claims are unverified or illegitimate, they can contribute to negative market effects and benefit the responsible parties while deceiving their consumers.
Self-declared environmental claims are specified in ISO 14021:2016 – Environmental labels and declarations – Self-declared environmental claims (Type II environmental labelling) and they fall under Type II ecolabeling. This international standard includes statements, symbols, and graphics regarding products. Furthermore, it describes a general evaluation and verification methodology for self-declared environmental claims, as well as specific methods.
Type III Environmental Declarations
These environmental declarations convey quantified environmental information of a product, under preset parameters set by a qualified third party and verified by that or another third party. Type III environmental declarations are subject to the administration of a program operator, and they are based on verified life cycle assessment data, which is important for the declaration to enable comparisons between products fulfilling the same function.
Type III environmental declarations, in accordance with ISO 14025:2006 – Environmental labels and declarations – Type III environmental declarations – Principles and procedures, are primarily intended for use in business-to-business communication. This international standard establishes the principles and specifies the procedures for developing Type III environmental declarations and declaration programs, specifically establishing the use of the ISO 14040 series of standards in their development.
Additional guidance for environmental labels and declarations can be found in ISO 14026:2017 – Environmental labels and declarations – Principles, requirements and guidelines for communication of footprint information.
Please note that the above types of environmental labels and declarations are voluntary, but, in some cases, specific ecolabels are regulated. For example, in North America, in accordance with 42 U.S. Code § 6294a, major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics, and other products utilize the Energy Star label.
ISO 14020 and the standards for each Type I, II, and III labels and declarations are available together as the Environmental Labels and Declarations Package.
ANSI Eco-Labeling/EPDs Program
Due to growing demand of ecolabels and environmental product declarations programs, an ANSI-led accreditation program based on the above ISO standards focuses on determining the eligibility of Type I certification schemes and Type III program operators. Furthermore, the program covers the accreditation of ecolabeling certification bodies and conformity assessment bodies that verify and validate environmental product declarations.
You can read more here: Eco-Labeling/EPDs Program