The ecolabel is here to stay.
As a marketer, it’s now your responsibility to understand and research the various green certifications that apply to your product or service. These labels help to build trust, authenticity, and loyalty with your customers when marketing sustainable goods or products.
Getting your product or service eco-labeled will also help you market with credibility and make verifiable claims, avoiding the pitfall of greenwashing.
In this article, learn what an ecolabel is, the three types of ecolabels, and common ecolabels found in Germany and the European Union.
What is an ecolabel?
An ecolabel guides consumer buying decisions by providing vetted information that conveys a product’s environmental performance. These labels build trust with consumers and are a tangible reflection of the eco honesty of a product.
This labeling practice is used around the world, and while some certifications exist across borders, others are country-specific. Whether global or regional, ecolabels identify products or services that are proven to be better for people and the planet within a specific category.
What are the three types of ecolabels?
The many types of environmental labels can be grouped into three ecolabel categories. These categories are grouped and classified by the International Organization for Standardization.
- ISO Type I: These are referred to as ecolabels and help to identify the overall environmental impact of a specific product or service within a certain product category.
- ISO Type I-like: They’re also referred to as “certification schemes” or “sustainability labeling”. These labels share the same characteristics as the ISO Type 1 labels, but they have a more specific impact. They can focus on energy consumption or farming practices, for example, and are applied to a specific industry. An example would be the Organic label or the Rainforest Alliance label.
- ISO Type II: These labels are created by specific companies to be their self-declared environmental labels. These self-made labels often focus on a single attribute of a product or service. For example, the S-Rating by Volkwagen, which was introduced in 2019 as a worldwide sustainability rating for its suppliers.
- ISO Type III: These labels are product declarations that include detailed and quantitative information about the product. Often viewed in the form of a matrix, it might look like a nutritional guide on a food product.
Why should a marketer care about ecolabels?
Increasing demand for environmentally-friendly products and services has resulted in companies scrambling to market their products through an eco-friendly lens. But many of these products are later revealed to be misrepresented or misleading from an environmental standpoint, resulting in rampant mistrust and skepticism amongst consumers, even for truly sustainable products.
It’s too easy to make environmental claims in today’s world, and misleading consumers about sustainability has historically gone unchecked and unpunished. This is now changing with regulatory actions like the EU’s Green Claim code coming into effect.
Marketers emphasize the importance of trust, authenticity, and honesty in conversations amongst themselves. We know that these three factors spur brand loyalty, and long-term customer retention that leads to higher revenue.
The rise of environmentally-friendly products and services has resulted in massive mistrust and misinformation amongst consumers. Consumers have lost trust in various sustainable products, because the product comes out as misrepresented or misleading in its environmental context.
In a world of misinformation and mistrust, how can a marketer with a product that’s better for the planet build trust with consumers and rally over unethical products in the market?
Simple: sustainable certifications.
In contrast to a self-stated eco claim or statement by a company, an ecolabel is an impartial third-party certification of a product or service. Products and services are reviewed to see if they meet the environmental leadership criteria, without bias. Ecolabels can help measure sustainable performance, but they also help to communicate and market the environmental credentials of a product. And they’re only going to get better and more robust as we continue forward.
In my experience living in Germany, Germans love third-party labels and credentials. In a study by the German Institute of Food Technologies (Deutsches Institut für Lebensmitteltechnik e.V.), 58% of respondents “much trust” and “very much trust” the organic food labeling used in Germany. That is a lot of trust placed in one label. Funnily, the EU organic label, which is just as rigorous as the German label, is trusted far less (43%).
As a marketer, I think this is a good study to reflect upon. Until sustainability labels become more globalized, consumer trust will be placed on a local level. Therefore, if you’re developing a product or service specific to a defined consumer, then verify your product or service with the sustainable certification that makes the most sense to that consumer.
11 recognizable ecolabels in Germany
According to the Ecolabel index, there are over 456 ecolabels.
That is a lot of ecolabels for the average citizen AND MARKETER to understand and keep track of their validity. It’s obvious that these certifications need to become more streamlined, understandable, and transparent.
Citizens are becoming confused about these ecolabels. And even if the labels are ethical, the confusion can lead to a lack of trust and purchasing action. It’s obvious that ecolabels are necessary, but need massive reform and globalized unification.
If you’re based in the European Union or Germany, review these eleven ecolabels.
- The EU Ecolabel was established in 1992 and has become a symbol of sustainability, quality, and meeting the highest standards laid out in the European Union. Products or services that display the “EU flower” symbol meet all the most stringent criteria. There are currently over 88,000 products or services that meet this criteria.
- The EcoVadis Medals scores a company’s sustainability management system based on an assessment score (0-100); Platinum – between 78 and 100, Gold – between 70 and 77, Silver – between 59 and 69, and Bronze – between 50 – 58). In addition to the rating, the company cannot operate in the tobacco, weapon and ammunition, or mining industries. They’re also evaluated against the 360° Watch Findings, a review for Environment, Labour & Human Rights, and Sustainable Procurement.
- CSR Label “Be responsible” are “Corporate Social Responsibility Certified” products and services that meet the regulations set out in the Austrian Standard ONRegel 192500:2011-11-01, based on the ISO 26000 International Standard on Social Responsibility. The product or service is considered “Be responsible” if the production is controlled by a management system certified under the standard.
- TÜV SÜD Mark EE01/EE02 is an energy-specific standard verifying that 100% of the energy supplied at a location is renewable, and that the surcharge is used to build new green energy infrastructure.
- Sustainable Materials Rating Technology, or SMaRT certified, verifies sustainable products across many industries including building products, fabric, apparel, textile, and flooring, that they meet specific environmental, social, and economic criteria. The standardization came into being with six national votes of consensus approvals.
- The Green Dot focuses on sustainable packaging, identifying products where the manufacturers are members of the industry-funded system of recycling consumer good packaging. It doesn’t verify the product, but the packaging is guided by the European “Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive – 94/62/EC.
- FSC® Certification helps to ensure that careful and long-term forest management is possible. The FSC label verifies that the paper goods in your product come from well-managed forests.
- The FAIRTRADE certification mark means that the producers and traders are part of an ethical trade system that puts people first. Fairtrade offers farmers and workers fairer pay and better working conditions. The standard incorporates social, environmental, and economic criteria, and is designed to support small-scale producers in third-world countries.
- Dolphin Safe stamp on tuna containers verifies that the tuna has: 1. No intentional chasing or netting of dolphins during a tuna fishing trip; 2. No drift gill nets; 3. No accidental or intentional killing of a dolphin; 4. No mixing of dolphin-safe and unsafe tuna in boat wells; and 5. Each fishing trip in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) by vessels 400 gross tons must have an independent observer onboard.
- Cradle to Cradle Certified (CM) Products Program shows that a company has made efforts to eco-intelligent design, i.e., by using materials that are safe for human health and the environment, using material designed for reutilization, using renewable energy, efficient use of water, and through company-wide CSR reporting.
- The Blue Angel Eco-Label, developed by the German Federal Environment Agency, sets stringent standards for environmentally friendly products and services. It covers a broad-range of products that are used by the everyday consumer and certifies that they have less burden on the environment and fulfill high standards with respect to the protection of human health.
As a last note about ecolabels, when choosing one for your product or service, it’s also important to research the appropriate labels in your industry. For example, in the textile industry, there are an abundance of ecolabels to choose from, with each one offering a specific certification to your particular garment or brand.
Trust, authenticity, and honesty are important words to keep in the marketer’s brand toolkit. The easiest way to keep that trust and honesty is to verify your product or services with third-party credentials. Marketers can no longer be taken out of the product development process, because ecolabels can help guide product development. Securing appropriate ecolabels for a product or service makes the marketer’s job to ‘sell and inform’ the consumer about sustainable benefits much, much easier.
It’s time for marketers to step up and take action on this.