A frequent challenge for purchasing organizations is to distinguish more sustainable products from those that are simply not as good. Global World Ecolabel Day aims to increase buyer awareness to help them navigate through the labelling jungle.

Trustworthy ecolabels help you make responsible choices easier and lead to true social and environmental benefits. But there are some things you should be aware of, as Gabriella Mellstrand, Global Marketing and Communication Director at TCO Development, explains.

If you want to procure more sustainably, what are the key things to consider?

To make your procurement more sustainable, you need to consider a number of factors. Firstly, an ecolabel should be designed to address a product’s sustainability impact from a life cycle perspective. Secondly, to decide whether products actually meet set criteria, compliance needs to be verified by an independent organization. Thirdly, choose a trustworthy ecolabel or sustainability certification that does the job for you. This will help save resources, as you don’t have to set criteria or verify compliance yourself, as the system includes relevant and challenging criteria that are verified by independent organizations.

Remember though, regardless of the ecolabel or sustainability certification you choose, the credibility of the system behind is key.

Why should organizations use ecolabels when purchasing sustainable products?

Using an ecolabel with independent verification of criteria is a crucial step towards sustainable development. Without up to date criteria and independent verification of compliance, you are likely to have low sustainability impact.

For example, with TCO Certified, the leading sustainability certification for IT products, sustainability criteria must be met during the full validity period of the certificate. Compliance with all criteria in TCO Certified is verified by independent verification organizations that specialize in IT products, social responsibility, or other sustainability issues. Products and factories are also subject to tests and audits after the certification has been issued.

Many ecolabels claim they are proof of a more sustainable product, so how do you know which one to use?

To start with, look for a Type 1 ecolabel that complies with the guiding principles of ISO 14024, an international standard for ecolabels. This indicates whether an ecolabelling programme is voluntary, if standards address multiple environmental criteria over the life cycle of a product or service, if standards are published and transparent, and whether the ecolabel has independent verification of the criteria.

Here again, I want to stress the importance of looking for how compliance with criteria works, especially whether independent verification of all criteria is in place. Many ecolabels include “good” criteria, but fail to verify whether products actually meet all criteria. We have seen that self-declaration of criteria simply doesn’t work and to verify only selected criteria isn’t good enough either. So, remember that ALL criteria need to be verified by an independent organization during the contract period. That is why the follow up process of criteria – to ensure criteria are actually met – is the single most important way to drive real sustainability change. This needs to be done not only once, but continuously throughout the contract period.