The little guide to environmental labeling
What are the environmental labeling sectors?
The differences between environmental labeling and the PEF
The obligations related to environmental labeling
Examples of environmental labeling
Environmental labeling is a set of legislative devices that inform customers about the environmental impact of a product.
In this article, you'll discover:
- Why do environmental labeling ;
- The differences between environmental labeling and PEF ;
- The steps involved in implementing environmental labeling.
What is environmental labeling?
The objective of environmental labeling is twofold:
- To inform consumers about the environmental impacts of products and services when they make purchases;
- To encourage manufacturers and distributors to improve the environmental performance of their products and services.
The calculation of the environmental footprint is carried out over the entire life cycle of the product or service and follows a validated reference system.
The environmental footprint is represented by an A, B, C, D or E grade, the graphic identity of which is registered.
It can be displayed on different media:
- Products or services;
- On the shelves;
- On the internet;
Why use environmental labeling?
The implementation of environmental labeling brings several benefits to companies.
In particular, it allows :
- To have a competitive positioning
Indeed, this system allows companies to differentiate themselves from competitors by providing consumers with relevant and reliable information on the environmental impacts of their products or services.
Moreover, the rating system is designed to compare two similar products according to their environmental footprint.
Thus, if two competitors have implemented this system, the rating provides customers with a way to differentiate them.
- To know its products better
Environmental labeling implies carrying out simplified Life Cycle Analyses.
However, these environmental assessments require precise information on the incoming and outgoing flows during the life cycle of products.
The implementation of this system therefore requires the collection of information from suppliers on the life cycle of products.
This makes it possible to better understand the life cycle of its products and the environmental aspects associated with them.
- To anticipate regulations
Environmental labeling has been a voluntary scheme since 2013.
However, the Law on the fight against waste and the circular economy (AGEC Law) voted in 2020 mentions the possibility of making it mandatory in the future for certain sectors.
Doing environmental labeling as soon as possible would therefore be a way to anticipate this future obligation.
On the other hand, the implementation of this device allows to measure the environmental impacts of its products and to control them, even to limit them: an opportunity to anticipate the environmental regulations to come.
The environmental labeling encourages companies to engage in eco-design approaches because the system enhances their value: an eco-designed product will be rated higher than a non-eco-designed product.
- To meet the new expectations of the market
Nowadays, there is a growing desire for transparency and ecological awareness among consumers.
The environmental impact of products and services is of interest and the environmental labeling allows to meet this expectation.
The companies having set up this device can thus create a link with the consumers, show them their environmental commitment and encourage sustainable consumption.
Which sectors are involved?
Following the work of the Grenelle de l'environnement (2009), initial experimentation of environmental labeling in France has allowed the development of a technical framework and pre-deployment projects in 5 professional sectors:
- Electrical and electronic products;
- Food products;
- The hotel industry.
For the implementation of the display in these pilot sectors, ADEME has relied on a few precursors such as:
- Décathlon and Okaïdi for clothing;
- Fnac and Darty for electrical and electronic products.
Example of environmental labeling
For the hotel sector, an example of communication of the environmental score is presented below:
This score is assigned to a hotel based on four environmental indicators which are:
- Impact on the climate ;
- Water consumption;
- Consumption of non-renewable resources;
- The share of organic or eco-labeled products in the hotel's supplies;
All stages of the life cycle of each hotel amenity are taken into account in the calculation of the environmental footprint of a hotel night.
The calculation therefore includes food products for breakfast as well as hygiene and cleaning products used for a night's stay.
From one year to the next, grades are re-evaluated.
Through changes in logistics, procurement, or renovation, for example, a hotel can significantly reduce its environmental footprint and move from a B to an A.
Last update in 2021
Experimentation of the environmental labeling
The 18-month experimentation launched in February 2020 by the promulgation of the law on the fight against waste and the circular economy is underway until the end of August 2021.
Any voluntary company that would like to implement the environmental labeling on the products and services it puts on the market can participate.
However, the clothing and footwear sector is targeted as a priority by the Ministry of the Environment.
Establish Working Groups
In February 2021, the "Private Support Offers" working group started.
Its aim is to bring together stakeholders (federations, consulting firms, etc.) wishing to support companies in the implementation of the system.
Another objective is to propose offers adapted to the accompaniment of companies on different themes (awareness, management, data collection, realization of environmental impact calculations).
It will evolve in parallel with the first working group "Evolution of reference systems and French mirror group of the European PEF Apparel project" previously launched in September 2020.
This working group, composed of volunteer companies, will coordinate French contributions to the European PEF Apparel project.
The third working group "Application / Information to consumers" composed of "digital" project leaders and companies that display should be operational during the year 2021.
Its objective is to make proposals to make environmental ratings accessible to consumers via digital tools.
It should be noted here that participation in a working group is not necessary to set up the environmental labeling.
In January 2021, as part of the France Recovery Plan, ADEME launched a funding scheme to support companies implementing an environmental labeling approach.
To learn more about the financing mechanisms: agirpourlatransition.ademe.fr
History of eco-labels
The theme of environmental labeling initiated in 2009 has developed in several stages closely linked to the regulatory context:
- The Grenelle de l'Environnement (2009)
It is in 2009 during the Grenelle de l'Environnement that the approach is engaged.
A measure was voted whose objective is to provide consumers with information on the environmental characteristics of consumer products, including food products.
Following this event, the first experiments were conducted to frame the system.
- The law on energy transition for green growth (2015)
In 2015, Article 90 of the Energy Transition Law for Green Growth (LTECV) requires companies to justify the environmental claims of their products.
This measure is consistent with the environmental marks which sets a framework for environmental communication from a validated technical basis.
A pre-deployment of the system has been set up in certain sectors.
- The Circular Economy Roadmap (2018)
The Circular Economy roadmap published in 2018 makes environmental labeling one of its flagship measures.
The results of the pre-deployment are obtained during this year.
- The law on the fight against waste and the circular economy (2020)
In 2020, the AGEC law officially establishes the voluntary environmental labeling system and launches an 18-month experiment, from February 2020 to the end of August 2021.
At the end of this experimentation, an assessment including a feasibility study and a socio-economic evaluation will be transmitted to the Parliament.
Based on this assessment, a decree defining the methodology and terms of the environmental labeling will be published.
The differences between environmental labeling and PEF
The French environmental labeling and the PEF (Product Environmental Footprint) project share the same desire to offer companies modeling rules, with the necessary generic data, to evaluate the environmental impacts of products according to an approach based on life cycle analysis.
The Apparel & Footwear PEF is coordinated by the European Commission since 2019 and should be completed in 2022.
It is being developed in parallel with the French environmental labeling experiment in the textile sector.
However, several points oppose them:
- The PEF project focuses on the European perimeter while the environmental labeling is specific to the French territory
- The environmental labeling is being deployed while the PEF standards are being developed for validation by the European Commission in 2022
- The technical basis of the environmental labeling is based on fewer standards than the PEF and on less complete information and indicators
- The generic European database will be accessible to PEF project members in 2022, while the Impacts database (French database) is free, available and accessible to all
- The PEF project does not foresee a communication step to the consumer with an ABCDE note nor a verification step
What are the obligations of environmental labeling?
In 2021, companies have the choice to voluntarily engage in this experiment.
However, this system imposes a strict technical framework developed by the public authorities and stakeholders.
It is composed of different complementary tools that aim to guarantee the comparability of results:
It presents the general principles and the methodological framework of the system.
It is common to all product categories.
- Sector-specific standards
Specific to each product category, the 30 sectoral guidelines explain how Life Cycle Assessments should be performed.
They specify the calculation rules and the type of data required to perform the environmental assessment.
They ensure the comparability of environmental labeling results between similar products.
This generic database was created in 2014 by ADEME.
It was developed specifically for the French environmental labeling program.
The data collected in it is necessary to calculate the environmental scores.
A graphic charter for the environmental labeling has been specified.
It is common to all product categories.
Standards and benchmarks
Among the various solutions for communicating, environmental labeling makes it possible to make type 3 environmental declarations.
There are four types of environmental communication, all covered by standards:
- Ecolabels (ISO 14024);
- Eco-profiles (ISO 14025);
- Environmental labeling (ISO 14026 and ISO 14027);
- Self-declaration (14021).
The first three types of communication are based on specific methodological frameworks and sectoral or product category-specific guidelines.
In addition, the ISO 14020 standard applies to all types of environmental communication.
It thus provides a framework for the standards mentioned above.
How do you implement an environmental labeling?
Several steps must be followed to implement it:
During this step, it is necessary to :
- Understand the stakes of the system
- Find out about the technical framework
- Find out about the stakeholders involved
Then, the company must organize itself to deploy the project and define:
- The scope of the project (products to be displayed...)
- The available resources (internal resources or support by a specialist consultant, choice of the tool to calculate the scores...)
- The commitments of the different departments (Marketing, Sustainable Development, Management...)
3. Data Collection
The third step is data collection.
It involves contacting suppliers and factories to collect data specific to the products that will be evaluated in the framework of the environmental labeling.
4. Environmental assessment of products or services
The calculation of the impacts of the product or service is then calculated from :
- Data collected from suppliers
- The technical framework (the sectoral reference framework and the Impacts® Base)
- A calculation tool that performs Life Cycle Analyses
The calculation tool can be Bilan Produit, a specialized software developed specifically by ADEME for the French environmental labeling or other software provided by third parties.
However, each company can choose to develop its own tool internally.
5. Assigning grades
The results of step 4 allow the calculation of a grade between A and E defined by product or service.
The rating scale is previously defined from the determination of reference values by product for each environmental indicator.
6. Verification of scores
An ADEME delegate must then verify the sincerity of the scores by studying the conformity of the calculation tool and the specific data.
7. Displaying the ratings
Once verified, the scores can be communicated to consumers, on the website or in the store.
The French environmental labeling has now no more secrets for you!
To go further, we invite you to contact the ADEME and to consult the official website: www.base-impacts.ademe.fr
To go further, you can consult the following articles:
‣ What is eco-design for products and goods
‣ Life cycle assessment : definition and example