The Benefits of Ecolabels

By Peter Collie, Trainee Trade Mark Attorney

The range of environmental issues facing the planet have made it increasingly important for consumers to be aware of the environmental impact of their purchases. It is also increasingly important for businesses to consider how they can minimise the environmental impact of their operations.

This article takes a look at environmental certification marks in relation to plastic waste, sustainable fishing and carbon neutrality.

What is a certification mark?

A certification mark guarantees that a good/service displays certain characteristics or that it conforms to certain standards. Certification marks which indicate a product’s green credentials are often referred to as “ecolabels”.

Plastic

The PLASTIC FREE mark was established in 2019. The owner of the mark (A Plastic Planet) aims to “inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap”.

The array of plastic recycling symbols and their respective meanings is bewildering. The PLASTIC FREE mark expels any confusion. Consumers are empowered with the knowledge that a product is truly plastic-free and are able to choose an environmentally friendly option.

The mark is a valuable differentiator, particularly in industries where products are traditionally supplied in plastic packaging.

The effectiveness of the mark is not only dependent on the reaction it receives from consumers, but also on the extent of the uptake by suppliers. The organisation has been lobbying for a plastic-free isle in major supermarkets.

The owner hopes that the combination of greater availability of plastic-free goods, along with environmentally conscience consumers will accelerate the transition away from global reliance on plastic.

Seafood

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) was established in 1997. Its blue fish label first appeared on products in 2000. The organisation aims to improve the health of the oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices and good fishery management.

Fisheries which comply with the MSC standards are permitted to use the mark on their products. The MSC coordinates various research projects to monitor and understand the health of the oceans. The standards set by the MSC are reviewed and updated regularly to reflect the latest scientific research.

In order to ensure that fisheries are held to robust standards, the MSC invites all stakeholders (individuals, NGOs, other fisheries etc.) to participate in the assessment of a fishery’s practices. The fishery reports are made available to the public for stakeholder comments.

The MSC recognises that the success of the scheme is dependent on the importance which consumers place on purchasing fish that has been sourced responsibly. The MSC therefore focuses on promoting the issue and raising awareness. For example, it helps coordinate the annual Sustainable Seafood Week in China.

Carbon Emissions

The Carbon Trust are global leaders in the calculation and assurance of the carbon footprint of products.

Since 2007, the Carbon Trust has introduced a number of ecolabels. They range from certifying that the product’s carbon footprint has been measured, to certifying that the product is carbon neutral.

Even if a product has not achieved the status of carbon neutrality, the producer can still receive recognition that they are committed to monitoring or reducing the carbon emissions associated with their goods. The footprint mark is an indication of corporate citizenship.

Partnership with the Carbon Trust can bring a range of benefits, as demonstrated by its work with Quorn (a supplier of meat alternatives). Measuring the carbon footprint of Quorn’s products allowed for a verified and favourable comparison with the carbon footprint of the meat industry.

Conclusion

Ecolabels are valuable to both consumers and producers. Consumer choice is aided by an independently verified measure of a product’s impact on the environment. Producers benefit from the enhanced value which an ecolabel may bring to a product for environmentally conscious consumers. It is a useful tool for differentiating their products from those of competitors.