How to Make Trustworthy Environmental Claims

by | Feb 18, 2013

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The ISO has outlined how its standards help manufacturers and consumer representatives ensure that environmental claims can be trusted.

The organization’s free brochure, Environmental labels and declarations – How ISO standards can help, gives an introduction to the ISO 14020 series of standards for environmental labels and declarations. The standards provides businesses with a globally recognized and credible set of international benchmarks against which they can prepare their environmental labeling.

The series includes three types of labeling.

ISO 14021 deals with all self-declared environmental claims made on products and packaging, including the use of symbols, pictures or logos. It also covers advertising and trade-report claims, and encompasses environmental claims made about services. The standard requires that these claims must be verified before they are made, and prohibits vague or non-specific claims such as “environmentally friendly,” “green,” or “nature’s friend.”

Testing of a product or service’s environmental claims must use “accepted test methods” and the information must be disclosed to anyone who requests it, ISO says.

ISO 14024 establishes requirements for operating an ecolabeling program such as the Nordic Swan or the Japanese Eco-Mark. These environmental labeling programs should be voluntary, and must comply with environmental legislation. Additionally, these programs must take the whole product life cycle into consideration. This includes extraction of resources, manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal.

The Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN), the international federation of ecolabeling bodies, has adopted this standard as a benchmark.

The third type of environmental declarations fall under the ISO 14025 standard, which establishes procedures for issuing quantified environmental information about products based on life-cycle data. These declarations are based on independently verified life-cycle assessment data and analysis. They are subject to the administration of a program operator such as a group of companies, a trade association, a public agency or a scientific body, ISO explains.

An environmental declaration related to climate change that describes GHG emissions in terms of CO2e would fall under this standard, for example.

The mushrooming number of eco-labels in the food industry — expected to continue to increase in 2013 — could actually discourage food producers from adopting the labels, because of the growing disparity between standards and multiple certification costs, the research group Organic Monitor found recently.

Consumers may also be finding it harder to distinguish between the growing number of logos and seals for organic and fairtrade products, the January study says.

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