LABEL - What's in it for me?
Read carefully. This story, of course, but I am not talking of that alone. Take a little time to read that tiny sticker behind the notebook you just purchased. Also on the packet of chips, your mobile phone, and every product you buy! Why? Because it will tell you what the salesman wouldn’t. It will unveil a scenario that is not shown in the commercials. It may actually give you a choice to opt for a lifestyle that contributes (much, much more significantly than you think) to extending the lifespan of this planet.
Yes, a label can pack in a lot of useful information. How? Just read on and you will know.
Who needs a label?
Today, computers and laser printers make it possible for every business to have its own label. And with more designer elements added, a label today is also synonymous with the brand name. Are’nt the graphics of your favourite brand name alluring enough for you to want to wear it on your chest? That’s the effect of a label today.
In fact, labels are now used as information capsules for the buyers. So what began as a need of the seller to mark his ware, is today emerging as the need of the consumer. A consumer looks out for a label as a form of reassurance of quality. A brand conscious brigade has surfaced in the society which believes in loyalty to its label because that promises long-term value. But do the labels also specify on what basis, as per which parameters they declare themselves to be ‘good’?
Following are some interesting highlights in the history of stamping:
Enter the Eco Angel
While labels were evolving, a case was also being made to issue warning stickers for those products that were harmful to the environment. The idea was to introduce checks and balances for the manufacturing industry, forcing it toquantify the resources it uses, and to measure the mark it leaves on the environment.
In Germany, thirteen experts from various disciplines—environmental studies, consumer protection, media and the church got together to form a small jury in 1978. They decided to inspect products and started awarding the better ones with their logo- Blue Angel- the first eco-label to enter the market.
ISO 14001: Gives a framework of an Environmental Management System( EMS). To get a certificate (even from a third party), a company has to fit in this framework. This is the key framework in the series. The rest actually to help a company achieve the level of ISO 14001.
ISO 14011: Specific guidance on audit an EMS (now superseded by
ISO 14020 to 14025: Concept of an Eco Label. All details like what must the label say, how to get the label, and the benefits of getting a label that declares a product eco-friendly.
Through the LCA one can assess the environmental impact of the product at each stage. For example, leather products have an adverse effect on ecology in the manufacturing stage, while a car has a gigantic carbon footprint in the consuming stage and the computer leaves a lasting impresssion in the disposing stage. The last page of Gobar Times presents the LCA (also called cradle to grave) of a common item of everyday use, in each issue. Watch out for this page to get a clearer picture.
ISO 14050: Provides important terms and definitions.
About standards and practices
With the standards in place, the next step is implementing them. Did I hear you say ‘that’s what is most difficult!’ Well yes it is, but a beginning has already been made and as the European Eco Label Association (symbolised by a flower) says, ‘the flower is blooming’.
Today every product, from a car to a refrigerator; from a sheet of paper to a building aspires to Go green or at least Show Green. The services industry, too, especially ones like tourism and information technology, has joined the race. Unfortunately, the trend is not as healthy as it sounds.
To be eco-friendly is being used as a marketing tool by many. It makes for appealing advertisements, too. As per a research done by TerraChoice, a Canada-based certification agency, companies everywhwere are rampantly practicing the ‘six sins of greenwashing’ or painting a spurious eco-friendly picture of their products.
Greenwashing is a form of brainwashing with an eco twist. The industry convinces the consumers that its products are not only good for themselves, but also good for the Earth. The claim is not backed by hard evidence though, like certification or actual practices on the ground.
The ‘Greenwashers’ commit one or all of these sins:
1 Sin of Hidden Trade-Off
Only one eco-friendly feature is adapted and highlighted, while others, which might be polluting and harmful, are overlooked.
2 Sin of No Proof
A statement is repeated and repeated and repeated yet again. But there is no evidence, whatsoever, to support it. For example, a producer of electric bulbs claims to be energy efficient but has no certification to prove this.
3 Sin of Vagueness
A feature that is so unclear and ill-defined that it only misleads the consumers. For instance, an image of a symbol is portrayed but no explanation is offered on what it depicts. .What does this mean—that the product can be recycled, or it packaging? What?
4 Sin of Irrelevance
Highlighting a feature that is anyway banned. For instance, labelling an airconditioner ‘No CFCs’ (chlorofluorocarbons) should fetch no brownie points, because there is a global ban on the gas anyway.
5 Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
An eco feature is highlighted where the whole product category is at the centrestage anyway, for being at all ecofriendly. For instance, organic cigarettes, green insecticides.
6 Sin of Fibbing
An outrightly false claim. When a manufacturer simply does not
So what are the options available to an average consumer who wants to shop, but is sensitive about quality, and is ready to pay a little extra for a genuinely ‘green’ product? The European Union established its voluntary eco labelling regime in 1992. Here, a range of products like paper, textile, electrical appliances and garden products are put under 20 categories. The entire life cycle of the item is scrutinised and criteria made. EU’s eco labelling has been most succesfully adopted and applauded in the tourism sector. 34 per cent of its licences come from this sector. A total of 750 licences have been awarded till date. Italy and France have the greatest number of Ecolabel holders, with more than 240 and 140 licences respectively. They are followed by Denmark and Germany, each offering more than 50 licences.
A plan was introduced in 1989 to cover ``The Nordic Swan`` nations of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark. They developed 60 products categories, and awarded the label to over 1,200 products. In Asia, one of the most succesful tags is Japan’s Eco mark, which was launched by the government in 1989. It has 64 categories—ranging from building materials to recycled soap made from cooking oil. Japan has granted licences to 5,167 products. Even Taiwan under its Green Mark Program has 41 categories and has issued licences to 451 products.
While the existence of an eco label is a matter of pride, too many of these, all claiming to be ‘the most authentic’ has made them meaningless. For instance, in the US, besides the Energy Star and Green Seal, there are a hundred more so called green labels, claiming to be organic, energy efficient, fairtrade. Certainly not fair to the consumers, who can be duped easily in this confusing scenario.
India has an eco mark too. Only, no one knows about it.
Picture a pot full of goodies, that offers money to the businessmen, value to the shoppers, and returns resources back to the environment. Only it has to be unearthed from deep underground. Because hardly anyone is aware of its existence. This is the story of the India’s Ecomark scheme and its symbol –the earthen pitcher. Launched in 1991 by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, it has only been able to award 20 licences till date.
Why such a poor performance? “We cannot campaign to tell the consumers to buy only Ecomarked products, simply because there aren’t enough in the market till now.”, says Dr. M.Q. Ansari, senior scientist, Central Pollution Control Board, who has been in-charge of the scheme since its inception. Earlier there were 14 other staff members looking after it. But today, he is the lone survivor, with only four years remaining for retirement. “Once in a while some media persons enquire about its status, otherwise the scheme is forgotten by all concerned—the ministry and the industry,”he rues. The fact that eco labelling is still voluntary, that is, the manufacturing companies have the option of adopting or ignoring it, has made his task an almost impossible one. Making the scheme mandatory is the need of the hour, declares Ansari.
An informative brochure on the scheme, published in April 1996, reads “The Ecomark scheme is primarily a movement of consumers. Therefore, it is confined only to consumer products, which include soap, detergent, paper, architectural paints, plastic, lubricating oil, aerosols, food items, packaging material, textiles, cosmetics, electrical and electronic goods and so on.” While the Indian scheme has 16 product categories, only three have been covered by the 20 eco marked licences awarded till now. These are— paper, wood substitutes, and leather. And out of these 14 have been taken by the paper industry.
Why does paper lead the pack? “Probably because Century Paper, one of the leaders in this sector, opted for it, and became a trendsetter,” says Ansari. The other paper makers then vied with each other to add an eco-feather in their caps. But, sadly, the trend did not catch on. The other sectors remained impervious to eco labels. Infact, And the Tata International, which is the only label holder in the leather category, does not even carry the label on its products, anymore.
How to apply?
Fee to be paid to Bureau of Indian Standards :
What to comply ?
Spurned by bigwigs
A study done by the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), a consumer rights advocacy group, claims that the most crippling setback to the scheme was the indifference of the big players in the industry.
Sample this case. In 1993, the Tide Water Detergent Company, then a unit of the consumer goods giant, Godrej, applied for and acquired Ecomark, for Ezee, a detergent for woolen garments. Then the product was sold to another corporate entity, Proctor & Gamble.
After the takeover, Procter & Gamble declined the use of Ecomark on “Ezee” claiming that its corporate policy does not permit this! This despite the fact that during the same period, they were using ecolabels on their products in Sweden, probably due to pressure extended by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, an NGO.
Simi TB, assistant policy analyst of CUTS says “Companies in India are only keen on the “green” edge from a marketing angle. Self-declarations in place of the Ecomark would just not suffice, because it is impossible to verify each claim. So it is absolutely imperative to have a standard, verified certification process.”
So how does this scheme actually work? As consumers it is important for us to know the details. Here are the key components:
Even if the most stringent and genuine eco labelling process is put in place, it will be useful ¡to remember that we are not green just because we use a green product. If we overlap the map of eco labels on the world map, it is evident that the countries that are market driven are the ones who lead the way. The entire continent of Africa has not a single eco label. But are the Africans the worst polluters? No. Because they are hardly buying anything at all!
Perhaps it is time to revive a time worn label that has always marked the Indian way of life. It says-
“ Frugality is India’s tradition. Modernity sees it as poverty”