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New online directory on validity of eco-claims

Hon Lianne Dalziel
Minister of Commerce
Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

11 August 2008 Media Statement

New online directory points to validity of eco-claims

What exactly does it mean when a company claims its product is "eco-friendly", "biodegradable" or "clean and green"?

Are these claims to be trusted or are they just "greenwash", tapping into the consumers desire to "do the right thing" for the environment?

Commerce Minister Lianne Dalziel and Environment Minister Trevor Mallard today launched an online directory to help businesses and consumers understand the validity of such environmental claims.

The web-based ecolabel directory brings together more than 200 labels, certifications and other claims used to describe the sustainability of products and organisations.

The directory has a broad range of content, ranging from generic phrases like "eco-friendly", "biodegradable" and "clean and green", through to robust certification programmes such as the government-initiated Environmental Choice New Zealand (ECNZ) ecolabel. ECNZ was last week cited in a British government report as an example of an international best practice standard against which national labelling schemes can be benchmarked.

The new online directory gives information on each claim, including who owns the label, its applicability, whether it meets specified standards, if it is independently audited and how frequently it is reviewed. The most robust ecolabels are those that are audited at least annually by an independent third party, and based upon recognised standards.

"Many people find it difficult to tell the difference between genuine claims and ‘greenwash’ – untested claims that a product is eco-friendly”,the Ministers said

"The directory will help people to judge the credibility of claims, and understand the subtle differences between different labels. The directory clarifies what the sustainability claims found on products mean.

"As well as helping consumers, it will be a great help for producers and suppliers wishing to select credible ecolabels for their products and services."


The directory will be routinely updated as new ecolabels are developed or encountered.?? Those wishing to add their ecolabel to the directory or update their existing listing can submit an application, which will be uploaded following quality checking.

The directory can be found at www.med.govt.nz/ecolabels
The ecolabel directory is part of the government’s Eco-verification Initiative, and was developed by the Ministry of Economic Development and Ministry for the Environment.

The Eco-Verification initiative currently comprises eight inter-related projects, which embody research, market intelligence, standards, tools, performance assessment, certification and labelling. As well as the ecolabel directory, these projects include:

• Developing new product specifications for the Environmental Choice New Zealand ecolabel.
• Undertaking a stock-take of international eco-standards and development agencies, to identify opportunities or challenges for New Zealand.
• Developing an integrated suite of environmental management tools that will enable firms to reliably assess, improve and demonstrate their environmental performance.
• Developing life-cycle management tools in conjunction with six exemplar firms in the manufacturing sector.
• Implementing sector-specific methodologies for the measurement and management of greenhouse gas footprints.
• Ongoing liaison with Landcare Research Limited regarding the carboNZero programme, its environmental management system initiatives and life-cycle management capability.
• Maintaining the Eco-Verification Network and steering group.


ENDS


Questions and answers about the ecolabel directory

Where can I see the directory?
It will be available on the Ministry for Economic Development website from 11 August 2008, at www.med.govt.nz/ecolabels.

What is an ecolabel?
For the purposes of this directory, an ecolabel is a label, certificate, membership, ranking or statement that makes claims about the environmental or social sustainability attributes of a product or service. Other directories may use a different definition.

What is the purpose of the ecolabel directory?
The ecolabel directory is intended to improve the availability of information about ecolabels and other indicators of sustainable products and companies. It is designed to be relevant for New Zealand users, both buyers and suppliers.

Why is the ecolabels directory useful?
This directory will enable users to better understand the attributes of ecolabels, and to differentiate between the different types of ecolabels that are available.

Who is the directory for?
The directory will help consumers, businesses and procurement professionals.
It provides consumers with information about ecolabels and other sustainability claims found on products. It helps producers and suppliers select appropriate ecolabels for their company and/or products. It also helps public and private sector procurement professionals to better understand sustainability claims made by their suppliers, and to specify performance requirements for products and services.

What does the directory contain?
The intent of this directory is to bring together all relevant ‘labels’ that describe environmental and social sustainability attributes. It is searchable in a number of ways, and provides a summary of key information about individual labels. It also provides links to the owner’s website for those requiring further information about a specific ecolabel.

The listings in the directory include environmental impact labels, social impact labels, sector labels, company management claims, supply chain requirements, product rating guides, self-claims, and sustainability programmes or networks. The directory also provides links to further resources such as directories of sustainable products, services and companies, and organizations that regulate environmental claims.

The directory categorises labels by broad product or sector groups, but not by individual product.

Can this information be relied on?
Yes, for the purposes of getting background information about an ecolabel, or comparing the attributes of different ecolabels. Reasonable steps have been taken to ensure that the information provided is factually correct, and that ecolabels listed in this directory are portrayed objectively and fairly.

Does the directory provide comprehensive information about ecolabels?
Although the directory contains a large number of ecolabels that users can search and compare, it provides only a summary for each ecolabel. Users are strongly encouraged to use the links provided to view further details about ecolabels they are interested in.

How do I differentiate between ‘good labels’ and ‘other labels’?
The most robust ecolabels are those that are audited at least annually by an independent third party, and based upon recognised standards. This information is provided in the summary. Users should be wary if they are not able to access the standards behind an ecolabel, if the ecolabel is not subject to ongoing audits, or if the auditor is not independent of the ecolabel owner.

Where has this information come from?
The information in this directory has been provided either by the ecolabel ‘owners’, or it has been summarised from material available on their website. Reasonable steps have been taken to ensure claims made are valid, and owners have been invited to authorise proposed text and use of their logo.

The directory is intended to be a portal to further information rather than a source of definitive descriptions. Users are encouraged to use the links to get further details from ‘owner’ websites.

Can users add information to the directory?
Directory users and ecolabel ‘owners’ are encouraged to contribute to its content. They can do this either through self-declaration as owners of an ecolabel, or via a feedback form to suggest changes or additions to the directory.

How is this directory different from other online ecolabel directories?
There are several other web-based ecolabel directories around the world. However, this is the first that is directly relevant to New Zealand users. It contains all current New Zealand ecolabels, as well as overseas labels relevant to our importers and exporters.

Does it cost anything to use?
No, it is free to use.

How will the directory be kept up to date?
Edits and new entries can be proposed by users, using a form available in the directory. This sends an email to an administrator who will check that the proposal is appropriate for the site. If approved, the addition or amendment will be made.

Who produced the directory?
The ecolabel directory is a joint initiative between the Ministry of Economic Development and Ministry for the Environment, as part of the Eco-verification work programme.

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