Environmental labels – what am I buying?


Consumers are understandably eager to “do their bit” for the environment, particularly at the supermarket, and are more and more inclined to favour products that seem likely to do the least damage to it.  When we purchase products with marks or packaging to reassure us that it causes less stress on the environment, how much real value can we attached to such claims and marks.

Surveys worldwide have shown that some environmental labelling can leave a lot to be desired. Such labelling may be scientifically inaccurate or, even when accurate, confusing to the consumer.  We can buy a brand of laundry detergent that is labelled as being “clean, green and phosphate free” only to discover that phosphates haven’t been used in any detergents for the last 20 years. Also it is not uncommon to see reassuring phrases on products such as “made with care for the environment” without any further information as to the real impact of the product has.

Consumers can only express their preferences through their purchasing decisions if they have access to accurate, comparable information. According to CFA Standards Representative John Henry, “There is no doubt that informed consumer purchasing decisions have a very real and measureable environmental impact. The 12 percent reduction in Australia’s per capita electricity consumption since 2003 is in no small part due to the effectiveness of energy labelling and people buying more efficient appliances when the time comes to replace older energy guzzling fridges, washers and air conditioners.”

CFA representative John Henry is a member of the ISO committee on Environmental labelling and contributed to the free information document Environmental labels and declarations: How ISO standards help. The document outlines objectively agreed benchmarks that create a level playing field for the dissemination of environmental information, to assist producers to accurately pass this information on to consumers.  Consumers will be better able to distinguish between competing products in terms of environmental performance.

 CFA provides volunteer representatives on Standards Australia Technical Committees as part of the CFA Standards Project; if you are interested in finding out more about the Project and/or becoming a volunteer CFA Standards Representative please contact the Standards Coordinator at standards@consumeraction.org.au

Image – Pixabay