Report looks at environmental labelling

23 March 2009

The Government must do more to ensure environmental labelling is clear, simple, consistent and properly underpinned by robust standards and criteria. Likewise, according to the Environmental Audit Committee report, claims should be independently monitored and verified, so that consumers can have confidence in them.

In a report published today, the Committee calls for a sector-based universal labelling scheme comparable to those emerging for food products. The Committee says the Government should be prepared to legislate for such a scheme if necessary.

The Committee found greenwash - the use of insubstantial or meaningless claims to promote a product - to be a growing problem and that the Government has a role in policing ‘green’ labels.

Commenting on the report, Colin Challen MP, Chairman of the Environmental Information Sub-Committee, said:

"The Government has to act to deal with the problem of greenwash. Clear labels are needed to help consumers make informed choices but for consumers to have confidence in them, environmental labels must be backed up by independent monitoring that is fully verified.

"The proliferation of labels means we urgently need a universal scheme to help consumers discriminate between products on the basis of environmental factors. A robust labelling regime would also change the way many businesses behave and help drive up environmental standards across whole sectors of the economy."

The Committee calls for more resources to be put into environmental labelling, including efforts to raise public awareness. It also wants more information to be made available on the standards and processes that underpin any label, with the Government setting clear standards and guidelines on the content and presentation of such information.

In addition, the Committee emphasises that the Government should encourage carbon labelling on all products as part of a universal sector-based environmental labelling scheme.

Colin Challen MP says:

"Given the challenge we face in decarbonising the economy, the Committee believes carbon labelling may prove the single most important environmental measure in promoting behavioural change at home, at work and in business.

"If Government initiatives, like the Act on CO2 campaign, are going to help individuals cut their carbon footprint then labels dealing with ‘embedded’ carbon are vital. The challenge to provide them will also drive businesses to reduce the carbon intensity of their products."

The Committee recognises that any universal scheme must also fit different sectors of the economy.

Colin Challen MP says:

"The environmental choices a consumer makes buying shampoo are different to those they make when buying a car. But whatever we are buying, more needs to be done to make clear the environmental choices we each make whenever we choose one product over another. An effective environmental labelling regime will also generate the kind of market signal needed to trigger a transformation in business activities all the way down the supply-chain of a particular product. This kind of action is vital if we are going to decarbonise the UK economy."

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