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EU-Wide Eco-Label Proposed

A proposal to adopt a European Union-wide standard to measure the environmental performance of products and organizations is drawing mixed reactions from industry groups.

The European Commission will soon begin a three-year pilot to test the common standard, which would be voluntary and is intended to help companies cut costs and lessen consumer confusion caused by too many eco-labels. The Commission says it will publish an open call for volunteers inviting companies, industrial and stakeholder organizations “in the EU and beyond” to help develop product-group specific and sector-specific rules.

The proposed standard includes two methods to measure environmental performance throughout the lifecycle: the Product Environmental Footprint and the Organization Environmental Footprint.

Some 48 percent of European consumers are confused by too many eco-labels, according to the most recent Eurobarometer on Green Products. Additionally, companies wanting to highlight their products’ environmental performance face obstacles including choosing between several methods promoted by governments and private initiatives and paying multiple costs, the Commission says. A common EU-wide standard would provide comparable and reliable environmental information and build consumer confidence, it says.

In a joint letter to the Commission, several industry associations including FoodDrink Europe, Cosmetics Europe and the International Association for Soaps, Detergents, and Maintenance Products say they support the pilot program, but caution against placing the EU industry at a competitive disadvantage. The groups say it is “vital” that a green product standard be pursued not only at the EU level, but also at the global level.

The European Engineering Industries Association, European Automobile Manufacturing Association and Orgalime, meanwhile say that the lifecycle assessment methodologies do not “represent a reliable tool for creating demand for ‘better and greener products’” because it exposes companies to unfair competition “as consumers would base their buying decisions on misleading information.”

A survey last summer of more than 1,000 international companies including Hewlett-Packard, Nestlé, Canon, Sara Lee and E.On found consumers and companies alike are becoming “confused” and “overwhelmed” by eco-labeling. The joint study by the International Institute for Management Development and the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne concluded that eco-labeling has nearly reached the saturation point with companies and consumers increasingly concerned about the practice’s over-proliferation and credibility.

 

 

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