drivers of ecolabel adoption – what factors lead to ecolabel uptake and acceptance?

ecolabels hands with flowers

Empowering long-term sustainability is no easy feat. Many interrelated factors must be accounted for to ensure that the social, environmental, and economic elements of sustainability are incorporated into long-term solutions. As such, a holistic approach that uses various tools to bring about incremental and intelligent change is needed. Ecolabels contribute to such approaches as they serve to identify and certify that a product or service has a lower environmental impact that similar products or services.

Although such certifications may signal a lower environmental impact, simply awarding certification does not ensure that consumers will be willing to change their purchasing habits, nor does it guarantee a change in market structure. Accordingly, for ecolabel schemes to be successful, e.g. in the form of changing consumer habits and bringing about sustainable change to production systems, several factors must be accounted for.

One of the first keys to success is raising general awareness and visibility. This often takes the form of outreach campaigns with the goal of consumer education. Depending on the awarding body, these campaigns can be hosted by governments (e.g. the EU Ecolabel), intergovernmental organizations (e.g. the United Nations [UN]), non-profits (e.g. the Green Seal), citizen groups (e.g. BEUC), or businesses themselves. In some cases, such campaigns are collaborative to raise awareness from all sides.

For the certification to have meaning to the consumer, the awarding body must establish credibility through consistent labeling requirements. Likewise, labeling authorities must remain impartial and effective (lack of perceived corruption). This means that they evaluate products and services based on their adherence to specific criteria rather than attacking or excluding other products. This results in certified end-products that stand out above other products because of more laudable qualities, rather than because of an unfair advantage they did not earn.

When establishing effective certification criteria – which can be social, economic, or environmental – certification bodies must consider scientific principles, consumer beliefs and opinions, and market realities. A general alignment of stakeholder interests increases the marketability and thereby the efficacy of the ecolabel.

That is not to say that the objectives of an ecolabel should be compromised, rather it should be recognized that establishing and maintaining sustainable production practices (rather than reactive efforts) will take time. As such, it is more effective to define achievable criteria and then objectively and intelligently reevaluate and redefine criteria in regular intervals, e.g. every five years, when new scientific evidence and consumer sentiment can be accounted for.

Taking an iterative approach helps consumers more easily transition to new products and services because they can adapt to perceived or actual changes in quality, price, purity, and reliability. That is, they can evaluate how the requirements imposed by the ecolabel certification affect the end-product over time rather than huge changes to their favorite products being made all at once.

Recognizing and accounting for a need for such a transition period is important because certified products often need to gain the same loyalty and habit-forming consumer behavior with the product both in purchasing and post-purchase use. Success in this respect often requires targeted intervention which often involves company-specific consumer education, e.g. in-store, additional labeling information, e.g. directly from the producer. Producers generally aim to tie these educational activities to their brand to build a reputation of trustworthiness which again leads to loyalty.

Thus, the primary factors driving ecolabel adoption include:

  • Raising awareness and visibility
  • Establishing credibility
  • Consistent and trustworthy accrediting bodies
  • Alignment of stakeholder interests
  • Defining achievable objectives that are reevaluated at regular intervals, e.g. five years
  • Taking an iterative approach to long-term change
  • Maintaining brand loyalty and trust

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