Greenwashing – the use of inaccurate or exaggerated environmental claims – is increasingly becoming a key issue for professional purchasers. Sustainability certifications are one way to address greenwashing – but only if they are credible. Niclas Rydell, Director at TCO Development, shares some key pointers for what to look out for in a credible ecolabel.

“Ecolabelling can be a really good tool to fight greenwashing,” says Niclas Rydell. “But there are also labels that contribute to greenwashing. It can be the industry’s own labels, or it can be independent labels that do not gather enough proof to back up their claims.”

So, what makes a credible ecolabel?

What do you need to do to ensure that an ecolabel does not result in greenwashing and that the claims it makes are reliable and credible? Niclas Rydell identifies the following key features:

  • Criteria: relevant, realistic, holistic, verifiable
  • Proof: ensure compliance with the criteria
  • Follow-up: compliance ensured throughout the validity period of a certificate
  • Transparency: how does a label report on the impacts it creates

Criteria

Ecolabel criteria should be relevant to the product to which it is granted. They should also be realistic: not unnecessarily tough or meaninglessly easy to achieve. This helps purchasers make informed decisions about which products genuinely achieve the benefits they claim to.

Ecolabels need to be holistic in terms of covering the entire lifecycle of a product. And sustainability labels should include social as well as environmental aspects, such as fair working conditions. Lastly, it should be possible to verify the criteria.

“It should be possible to verify all criteria that are set. Criteria that are impossible to verify should not be used in a credible ecolabel,” Niclas Rydell says.

An ecolabel may not be worth as much as you had hoped if its criteria are outdated or irrelevant, for example if criteria include insignificant aspects of a product. Test methods that have so many loopholes that any product could pass also undermines the credibility of an ecolabel. Niclas Rydell points out it is often difficult for buyers to know about such loopholes.

If ecolabel criteria are flawed in these ways, you will end up with a label based on exaggerated, misleading claims that may appear impressive but that actually have little or no sustainability impact.

“This may mislead buyers away from other labels that create genuine sustainability benefits,” Niclas Rydell explains.