Eco-labels on the brink?

THE MARKET for eco-labels has been likened to “selling stickers” as it nears saturation point.

Foodservice Footprint EthicalMarques-300x298 Eco-labels on the brink? Foodservice News and Information Out of Home sector news  Sustainability Ralf Seifert International Institute for Management Development IMD Ethical Marks EPFL Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne Eco Labels Duncan Pollard














Joint research by IMD, the International Institute for Management Development, and EPFL, the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne, found that the process of ethical labelling has become so fragmented that the current industry perception is dominated by wide-ranging reappraisal.


In fact, the process is becoming as confusing for companies as it is for consumers.


There are currently well over 400 eco-labels used across 25 industries, prompting growing concerns over proliferation, credibility and consumer understanding.


IMD and EPFL researchers surveyed more than 1,000 executives around the globe about their attitudes towards the labels.


"It's not just consumers who are confused. Selecting an eco-label has become a highly complex decision for firms,” said IMD professor Ralf Seifert, the study's co-author.


"The trend towards fragmentation, which is made worse by a lack of consensus over qualifying criteria, is clearly causing ever more opposition and frustration."


Seifert said the initial momentum and high expectations of more than 30 years ago are giving way to different challenges – ones that urgently need to be addressed.


Major international companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Nestlé, Canon, Sara Lee and E.ON took part in the study, which first sought to investigate why firms adopt eco-labels.


Respondents listed brand-strengthening, addressing consumers' sustainability demands and protecting against pressure-group attacks as key benefits of the practice.


But they also expressed what the study called "substantial scepticism" over eco -labels' enduring credibility and the rigour of the criteria and certification procedures.


One company today researchers: "In some areas the market looks more like a new industry of 'selling stickers'."


Duncan Pollard, Nestlé's sustainability advisor, said: "We may be seeing the first serious reappraisal of the conventional wisdom that if you wish to prove you're sustainable you need a certification logo."


The findings, which mirror a similar report by the think tank SustainAbility late last year, highlight a desire for improved consolidation and standardisation as industry adoption of eco-labelling moves towards saturation.


Read the report Footprint Forum: Preparing for change in the ethical landscape

1 Response

  1. robynkimber

    I work for Cafédirect which was the first hot beverage company in the UK to carry the Fairtrade label – so we have been part of the third party verification process from the beginning.

    The plethora of labels presented to consumers today is vast – and many consumers when shopping think “if it has a label it must be good”. This in some ways is true, because the product has at least had some scrutiny put upon it to ensure it meets some minimum standards.

    However it can also result in consumers assuming that all products with the same label are as ‘good’ as one another. We carry the Fairtrade label and have been a big promoter of the label since its inception. But we go above and beyond Fairtrade in many different ways. For example we consider a fair price for the crop to be a minimal starting point, not the end goal. On top of this, Cafédirect shares the profits of the final product sale with the growers and we’ve invested over 50% of our profits to date.

    So the challenge we now have is how can we differentiate ourselves as a brand, now that so many other brands have followed suit and also adopted the Fairtrade brand?

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