One of the major objectives of eco-labeling is driving sustainability. When consumers choose an eco-labeled product over one without such labels, they are making the assumption that such product benefits the environment in some way. “To utilize its full potential it is necessary that the criteria for the label are strategically developed, i.e. the objectives for those processes being clearly defined and strategies to reach these objectives being laid out within criteria development processes” (Bratt et al., 2011, p. 1631). Unfortunately, due to insufficient criteria development on part of the labeling agencies, this is not always the case.
A recent study assessed two well-respected Swedish eco-labels to determine any gaps in the current criteria development processes in relation to a strategic sustainability perspective. The study demonstrates that most labeling programs lack a full system perspective and a definition of sustainability as well as a statement of objectives to direct the criteria development processes (Bratt et al., 2011). In result, eco-labels do not consider the total environment impacts of a product, but just focus on very specific impact mitigation. Moreover, criteria development rarely goes beyond the present. Labeling agencies do not inform producers about upcoming changes in criteria or suggest improvements producers should make for future certifications (Bratt et al., 2011). This makes it difficult for producers to keep up with changing standards and represents a lost opportunity for encouraging innovation. Overall, criteria development is one of the most important components of a successful eco-labeling operation, but it is often not as effective as it could be in driving sustainability.
Bratt, C., Hallstedt, S., Robert, K.H., Broman, G., Olkmark, J. (2011). Assessment of eco-labelling criteria development from a strategic sustainability perspective. Journal of Cleaner Production, 19, 1631-1638.