Ecolabels are certification schemes that serve as a declaration of the higher sustainability qualities of products or services. In some instances, these regulatory tools serve to create new markets and educate consumers about the environmental impact of the products they consume. However, the concept of ecolabels is still evolving and there are a number of criticisms – many of which relate to the depth of their impact and the validity of certification. Such criticisms commonly stem from poor implementation and a lack of regulatory oversight.
For instance, because ecolabels are voluntary, they can be considered ineffective in creating change because they do not require companies to participate and there are limited benchmarks for universal quality. However, the concept behind certification is to allow market mechanisms to bring about positive environmental change which would necessarily preclude government intervention the certification schemes.
Certifying bodies aim fill this gap and serve to define a common standard. However, these standards are not always applied consistently. Likewise, in an effort to trigger buy-in, standards might not be set high enough to truly bring about change.
A lack of rigorously enforced standards opens up the possibility of greenwashing and mislabeling. When consumers perceive that a product has been mislabeled or believe that the quality of a label is too low, consumer trust is either lost or diminished.
At the same time, the increasingly large range of certifications has also the potential to lead to redundancies, meaning that it is hard to clearly define the purpose and impact of each individual certification scheme when there are many overlapping agendas and objectives.
Complicating such situations is the difficulty proving the efficacy of an ecolabel. This is impacted by a range of factors, including the type of product or service, the end user, the environment in which a product or service is consumer, etc. Accordingly, it is a major challenge to empirically prove that an ecolabel is the source positive environmental change.
Without demonstrated efficacy, interest and adoption can be limited, especially in instances when certification fees are high. Financial challenges are particularly prohibitive to smaller producers and producers in emerging markets aiming to compete at the global level.
When combined, these factors inhibit the efficacy of ecolabels in creating change. Nonetheless, ecolabels are an emerging option for slowly using market mechanisms to bring about environmental change, with the strategic steps moving forward in their expansion being key to how they manifest in the future.
- the advantages and disadvantages of ecolabels
- the different types of ecolabels
- what are ecolabels?
- challenges to ecolabels
- drivers of ecolabel adoption – what factors lead to ecolabel uptake and acceptance?
- Agnew, D. J., Gutiérrez, N. L., Stern-Pirlot, A., & Hoggarth, D. D. (2014). The MSC experience: developing an operational certification standard and a market incentive to improve fishery sustainability. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 71(2), 216-225.
- Bush, S. R., Toonen, H., Oosterveer, P., & Mol, A. P. (2013). The ‘devils triangle’of MSC certification: Balancing credibility, accessibility and continuous improvement. Marine Policy, 37, 288-293.
- Rabbiosi, Liazzat (n.d.) Environmental and Sustainability Labelling. UNEP.
- International Institute for Sustainable Development (2013). Benefits of eco-labelling.
- Stawitz, C. C., Siple, M. C., Munsch, S. H., & Lee, Q. (2016). Financial and ecological implications of global seafood mislabeling. Conservation Letters, 1–9.
- Horizon 2020, Project Open-bio. (2016). Final Report.