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Talking Point: Communicating the role of eco-labelling

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Next up for this month's Communicating Sustainability theme, we talk to Clare Taylor, a communicator specialising in energy and environment. She is currently running a campaign on behalf of the European Commission's Directorate General for Environment to highlight the role of eco-labelling and environmental management schemes.

Consumer demand for green products and services is growing fast, accompanied by explosive growth in the number of environmental labels and schemes. Will the revision of the EU Ecolabel provide the necessary convergence for wider consumer brand recognition?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which has regularly analysed environmental labelling for more than twenty years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of environmental labelling and information schemes, especially in the period 2007-2010.

Andrew Prag, policy analyst at the OECD, says: ‘Evidently, there is a wave of interest in green products and services from consumers. But how we can capitalize on that demand to give greener producers a competitive edge?’

There are concerns that the sheer number of schemes is causing consumer confusion. Sectors such as forest products and fisheries have converged on ‘umbrella’ labels monitored by a single organization, with the benefit that consumers are more likely to recognize and respond to a single high profile label.

Many early adopters of environmental management and labelling systems are accredited to more than one system. Ms. Celina Alvarez Frenier, environmental consultant for Club Pollentia Resort explains:

‘When the family-owned business was to be refurbished in the mid-nineties, they choose to take an environmental approach as the hotel is located within the natural reserve of S’Albufereta in north Mallorca, part of Natura 2000. At the time environmental certificates were only at a starting point, they were not very well known and not many actually existed. The hotel progressively implemented an environmental management system as from the year 2000 which led to the ISO 14001 and European Eco-Management and Audit Scheme certifications.’

Hotel l’Algadir del Delta in Catalonia was the first ecolabelled hotel in Catalonia. Mr Joan Capilla Pepiol, director of the hotel said:

‘Since 2007 we started working to become a green quality tourist accommodation. We are located right in the natural park of Delta del Ebre and our clients – as we- are sensitive to environmental considerations. We first joined the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas [1] which is a practical management tool for ensuring that tourism contributes to a balanced economic, social and environmental development of protected areas in Europe. Applying for the EU Ecolabel certification was a natural step further in our approach to eco-tourism.’

The EU Ecolabel is the only environmental label that is both certified by an independent organisation and valid throughout Europe. Within the EU Ecolabel scheme, the schemes for tourist accommodation services and campsites have been particularly successful, with more than 600 licensees, 77 % of which are from France and Italy.

Other voluntary eco-labelling schemes for the tourism sector include the Nordic Ecolabel, Malta Eco certification, Green Key, Travelife sustainability criteria, and the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. However, according to recent scientific analysis from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/sites/default/files/tourismbemp.pdf [2]) few of them provide a definition of the type of organisation or service they are referring to, and generally, the definitions provided are broad.

The EU Ecolabel criteria for Tourist accommodation services [2009/578/EC] and Campsite services [2009/564/EC] are currently under revision, and indications are that closer alignment with other existing schemes are to take place.

Candela Vidal-Abarca Garrido at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre explains more:

‘The main objective is to align to the number of important changes have taken place in this area, including policy changes, changes in the market and changes in the perception of tourism environmental impacts. ‘In general the ambition level of the revised criteria has been increased. For instance, in energy section, higher energy efficiency classes are proposed for and renewable energies are promoted specially for electricity procurement as the technical analysis revealed that among the accommodation associated environmental aspects, the electricity consumption in the use phase accounts for the biggest aspect contributing to global warming.’

‘Furthermore, although the EU Ecolabel is predominantly concerned with environmental issues, the EU Ecolabel Regulation 66/2010 which governs the scheme does allow social aspects to be considered, where they are relevant. Thus, the revised proposal suggest the inclusion of social criteria aligned to other environmental schemes that deal with wider sustainability issues (e.g. Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria, Green globe Certification).’

‘The overall update may result in some additional burden on the tourist accommodation in terms of achieving some of the mandatory criteria and scoring some points in the optional criteria. However, in most cases, the proposal is aligned to other environmental labels and/or reflects market availability of certain products.’

The EU Ecolabel helps you identify products and services that have a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle, from the extraction of raw material through to production, use and disposal. Recognised throughout Europe, EU Ecolabel is a voluntary label promoting environmental excellence which can be trusted. Read more [3] to discover how it works, where you can find EU Ecolabelled products and how to apply for the label.