Guide to ecolabels
Guide to ecolabels

Guide to ecolabels

icon

In this section, we include key information for understanding ecolabels, and the role they can play in facilitating SPP implementation.

What are ecolabels?

The Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) defines ecolabelling as “a voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labeling that is practiced around the world”. In this way, an “ecolabel identifies products or services proven to be environmentally preferable within a specific category”. To possess an ecolabel, products must comply with a series of criteria. Although most ecolabels focus on environmental criteria, some have started to include certain social criteria, such as whether labor rights have been upheld during the product's manufacturing process.

What type of ecolabels exist?

The International Standards Organization (ISO) currently classifies labels into three types:

Type I (ISO 14024)

These labels are voluntary, multiple-criteria based, third-party awarded, and they indicate the environmental preferability of a product based on life cycle considerations. These include labels such as the Nordic Swan, or the German Blue Angel. It is worth noting that these types of ecolabels usually include different application and license fees for MSMEs. Examples of this are the Nordic Ecolabel, which provides a reduction of 50% for micro enterprises and bases license fees on turnover; and the EU-Ecolabel cost structure.

Type II (ISO 14021)

These types of labels are self-declared environmental claims made internally by companies, and are not third-party certified. These can include logos or declarations, such as “100% recycled paper”. The ISO standard sets several requirements for these types of labels, including accuracy.

Type III (ISO 14025)

These are declarations that report on the life-cycle analysis results of a particular product, along with a summary of the methodology, assumptions and data sources. The results include quantified environmental data, such as Co2 emissions, and are verified by a third party. In this group we find, for example, Environmental Product Declarations (EPD), which are often used for construction materials. See, for example, this EPD for a product made of steel. These declarations do not provide an assessment - that is a product is not certified, or non-certified like with Type I labels - instead, they provide objective data for the consumer to make the comparisons.

Type I-like

These labels have the same characteristics as Type I ecolabels, but focus on a single issue. This includes for example labels such as the Energy Star label, which sets a maximum level of energy consumption for electric appliances, or the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which certifies sustainable forest management.

How can you apply ecolabels throughout SPP implementation

Ecolabels can be applied at different stages, and in different ways, throughout SPP implementation, including:

Use ecolabel standards as guidance to draft environmental requirements

Most Type I and Type-I like ecolabels openly publish the environmental standards that a product has to meet in order to be certified. You can use these standards as guidance to write the environmental requirements when procuring specific products. For example, if you are procuring new displays, you can use the standards published by the ecolabel TCO to draft the product specifications, or award criteria. For more information on how to set sustainability criteria see this section of the toolkit.

Require compliance with existing ecolabels

When using Type I and Type-I like ecolabels in the procurement process, you can select the standards that you consider the most relevant for the specific contract, or require compliance with all the standards set out by the ecolabel. This means that, for example, when procuring displays, you can indicate that products must comply with the standards set by the TCO ecolabel. When doing this, you must ensure that all the standards included by the ecolabel are relevant to the subject matter of the contract, and that you offer the option for suppliers to demonstrate compliance with the standards through means other than the ecolabel certificate.

Prioritize procurement categories based on ecolabel availability

When considering SPP implementation, it can be useful to focus efforts on specific procurement categories. Availability of ecolabels can be one of the factors that you can consider when deciding which categories to prioritize. You can also consider the availability of ecolabeled products in your local market, to ensure that SPP implementation benefits local companies. For more information on this see this section of the toolkit.

Finally, Type III EPDs can be very useful to compare amongst different products, and gather relevant environmental data, such as CO2 emissions. However, these are not as common as other labels, such as Type I and Type-I ecolabels.

How can you find relevant ecolabels?

As explained in this section, Type I ecolabels are often the most commonly used labels in public procurement. To get a better understanding of the availability of Type I ecolabels, the Global Ecolabel Network offers a directory of the main ecolabels according to product and services categories. For more guidance on relevant ecolabels in specific procurement categories see sections on ICT and construction.

Ecolabels

NameType Criteria availableSectorsGeographical AreaIncludes social criteriaLink to criteria
TCO Certified
Type I
Yes
ICT
Yes
Good Environmental Choice Australia Ecolabel (GECA)
Type I
No
ConstructionFurnitureOffice suppliesICTPersonal Care ProductsCleaning servicesWaste Services
Australia
Yes
Energy Star
Type I-like
AppliancesHeating and coolingBuilding productsLightingCommercial food service equipmentICTData CentresElectronics
U.S.A.
No
ABNT - Environmental Quality
Type I
Yes
Cleaning productsApparelFurnitureOffice suppliesConstructionICTPersonal Care Products
Brazil
Yes
Eu Ecolabel
Type I
Yes
Personal Care ProductsAnimal CareCleaning productsApparelICTOffice supplies
Europe
Yes
The Blue Angel Eco-Label
Type I
Yes
ApparelConstructionEnergyOffice suppliesTransportCleaning productsPersonal Care Products
Germany
Yes
Nordic Swan Ecolabel
Type I
Norway
Yes