Environmental labelling, information and management schemes are central to the circular economy

Mr Antti Ilmari Peltomaki, Deputy Director-General of the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Directorate General of the European Commission (European Sting)

Mr Antti Ilmari Peltomaki, Deputy Director-General of the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Directorate General of the European Commission (European Sting)

Eco-innovation, as well as environmental labels, information and management schemes are essential to get Europe on the path to a circular economy. This was the primary conclusion of the 18th European Forum on Eco-innovation held in Barcelona, on 20-21 May. Over 300 stakeholders from across Europe came together to make recommendations on what the European Commission should consider in its current re-working of the circular economy strategy and concurrent review of the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and  EU Ecolabel scheme. Both are voluntary programmes that reward organisations and products respectively, for environmental excellence.

“Eco-innovation is a crucial factor for delivering the transition to a more circular economy,” said Antti Ilmari Peltomaki, Deputy Director-General at the Commission’s Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs. “We are trying to look beyond waste to incentives, drivers and business opportunities. Voluntary labelling schemes like EMAS and Ecolabel have been effective tools and we should think about how they can play an even bigger role in future.”

“Voluntary instruments such as EMAS and Ecolabel help SMEs especially improve their competitiveness, innovate and take on new opportunities and markets,” said Guillermina Yanguas, Director General at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment in Spain.

Participants at the conference agreed that a credible label must be transparent, easy to understand, and verified by a third party. It should enable comparison between different products or services. Some suggested that credibility would be further enhanced if the label were used by public authorities and if it covered as wide as possible a range of environmental impacts. There was a call too for fewer labels overall – a representative from the OECD reported more than 500 are in use today.

Delegates were almost universal in their desire for tougher rules to tackle misleading green advertising. The Commission is currently revisiting its guidelines on this. Some argued that private labels are the biggest problem and urged the Commission to develop minimum requirements that all labels would have to adhere to, such as third party verification.  There were mixed views however, on whether voluntary labels could be substituted by mandatory production specifications, with most arguing both are necessary.

Consumers are starting to pay more attention to labels, experts said, and retailers play a crucial role in consumer choice. In some cases, public commitments to sustainability by organisations could be an alternative to individual product labelling, but the same rules for credibility would apply. There was widespread support for policymakers to prioritise high-impact products for labelling. And B2B labels are as important as B2C labels, many emphasised.

The Commission is due to launch a public consultation on its circular economy package, including a chapter on labelling, next week. The consultation will run for three months.

The Forum included the official delivery of the first Statements of Verification of technologies under the EU pilot programme on Environmental Technologies Verification (ETV). These were practical examples of how SMEs can use third-party verification to back performance claims and differentiate from competitors.

The winners of the EMAS Awards 2015 were announced at a ceremony in the context of the 18th EcoAP Forum on the evening of 20 May.

The Forum in Barcelona was also the occasion to present an analysis of the results of CIP Eco-innovation market replication projects and a showcase of successful practices. 

The 19th EU Eco-Innovation Forum will take place in Seoul, South Korea, on 27-28 October 2015, entitled “Business opportunities in eco-Innovation: materials and products for a sustainable future”. Sign up here.

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