introduction to research field


Role and Function of Labelling and Procurement
Trends in Labelling
Trends in Procurement
Sustainable Product Development / Strategic Life Cycle Management





More than ever, there is a need for new mechanisms to inform purchasing decisions, differentiate between products and stimulate product innovation based on sustainability criteria. Sustainability-based product labelling and procurement are emerging policy instruments that aim to fulfil this function and are the focus of this research project.

The market for ‘green products’ is one of the fastest growing worldwide. It currently represents around three percent of world trade (Borregaard and Dufey 2005) and between 2003 and 2005 the sales of the eco-labelled products increased by 200% within Europe (European Commission 2006). In Sweden, public procurement is worth approximately 400 billion Swedish crowns per year (Swedish Government, 2006). This is equivalent to 20% of the Swedish GNP while in Europe the figure is equivalent to 16% of the GNP of member states (European Commission 2007c). Furthermore, with increasing pressure for public and private organisations to demonstrate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) it is clear that green product labelling and procurement are important instruments for product innovation and behavioural change.

Role and Function of Labelling and Procurement

Labelling of products provides a critical quality assurance role in communicating product information. It allows producers to market products based on their beneficial qualities as defined by some criteria. Product and technology procurement creates competition for producers to improve product performance and requires disclosure of product qualities and criteria to compare and select products. Hence labelling and procurement criteria are inter-related. Both are important tools within the EU’s overall Integrated Product Policy to encourage more sustainable production and consumption (European Commission 2007a). Both also serve to influence market perception and acceptance of products (and organisations) by drawing attention to the impacts that products have in society and the efforts of proactive organisations to address these issues.

Trends in Labelling

Sustainability-oriented labelling schemes have so far focussed on single and sometimes multi-criteria environmental and health issues of selected products and product categories (eco-labels, energy ratings, building ratings, health, organic and fair trade labels), and can be viewed as either ‘benchmarks to ideals’ or a ‘bottom line to avoid ills’ (De Boer 2003). Voluntary schemes, mostly third-party certified, have been successful (and proliferated) over at least the last 15 years, and now exist in many forms at national, European and international levels. In Sweden, well-known labels include Svanen (Nordic Swan, operating in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway), KRAV (organic label), and Bra Miljöval (Good Environmental Choice). Within Europe, various national labels such as Germany’s Der Blauer Engel (Blue Angel) are recognised in member countries and since 1992, the EU Eco-Flower has been developed as a common instrument to prevent confusion amongst consumers and producers through an EU-wide label (European Commission, 2007b). International labels include Energy Star, Forest Stewardship Council certification, EcoLogo (North America), Fair Trade and many others represented within various umbrella groups such as the Global Eco-labelling Network (GEN) andInternational Social and Environmental Accreditation and Labelling Alliance (ISEAL).

In 2007 multinational supermarket chain Tesco was one of the first to announce plans to introduce ‘carbon labels’ on its products (FT 2007), and more recently Swedish labelling organisations have indicated similar intentions (e.g. Krav). This signifies an expansion of labelling to a previously unmapped sustainability impact of products. As the breadth of eco-labels grows, there have been calls to expand eco and health labels to include a full range of sustainability considerations (Hassell, 2005), though attempts to do this are not well documented to date. Furthermore, it is suggested that greater ’harmonisation and cooperation’ between labelling schemes globally is needed and the Nordic Swan and the EU-Eco-Flower is cited as an example (Reinhard 2006, 97).

Trends in Procurement

At the same time that labelling schemes are evolving, Green Public Procurement (GPP) has become prominent due to the significant role that public procurement can have in influencing the overall market (Reinhard 2006). The European Commission, through its Integrated Product Policy has called on national governments to implement action plans for increased environmental requirements within public procurement (Swedish Government 2006). Sweden’s EKU (ekologisk hållbar upphandling) tool, administered and developed by Svenska Miljöstyringsrådet, aims to facilitate ecologically sound procurement (public and private) and has been identified as one of four strategic areas critical to achieving national targets for environmental public procurement. The other areas relate to developing skills amongst authorities and purchasers, and involving politicians (Swedish Government 2006).

Possibilities for adopting environmental considerations in technical specifications and award criteria, and contract performance clauses are spelt out in a number of European Commission communications (European Commission 2004) and Sweden’s law on public procurement, called LOU (1992:1528). Today’s labelling systems do not cover all products and therefore procurement guidelines should include ways to assess and select between both labelled and non-labelled products. Furthermore, research suggests that the relationship between labelling and procurement must be clarified to avoid confusion on what criteria are acceptable (the LOU prevents labels being specified directly as requirements in procurement documentation but the labelling criteria can be applied) (Swedish Government, 2006).

Private procurement practices can also benefit from the developments in GPP and are subject to similar issues such as the need for clarification and additional guidance on sustainability.

Sustainable Product Development and Strategic Life Cycle Management

Sustainability-based labelling and procurement puts pressure on product developers to improve products and a number of methods and tools are available to support this process. Most recently, Swedish researchers have led efforts to expand the traditional eco-design tools to cover full socio-ecological sustainability, develop prioritization methods and tools that support decision-making for sustainable product development and to bring a strategic perspective to overall life-cycle management (Ny et al. 2006, Byggeth & Hochschorner 2006, Byggeth et al. 2007). A well documented framework for strategic sustainable development underpins this work (Broman et al. 2000; Robèrt et al. 2002).


Assessment of Eco-labelling Criteria Development from a Strategic Sustainability Perspective

Cecilia Bratt*[1]a, Sophie Hallstedta, K.-H. Robèrta,b, Göran Bromana,c and Jonas Oldmark[1], +46455-385523

To turn current patterns of consumption and production in a sustainable direction, solid and understandable market information on the socio-ecological performance of products is needed. Eco-labelling programmes have an important role in this communication. The aim of this study is to investigate what gaps there may be in the current criteria development processes in relation to a strategic sustainability perspective and develop recommendations on how such presumptive gaps could be bridged. First a previously published generic framework for strategic sustainable development is described and applied for the assessment of two eco-labelling programmes. Data for the assessment is collected from literature and in semi-structured interviews and discussions with eco-labelling experts.

The assessment revealed that the programmes lack both an operational definition of sustainability, and a statement of objectives to direct and drive the criteria development processes. Consequently they also lack guidelines for how product category criteria might gradually develop in any direction. The selected criteria mainly reflect the current reality based on a selection of negative impacts in ecosystems, but how this selection, or prioritization, is made is not clearly presented. Finally, there are no guidelines to ensure that the criteria developers represent a broad enough competence to embrace all essential sustainability aspects.

In conclusion the results point at deficiencies in theory, process and practice of eco-labelling, which hampers cohesiveness, transparency and comprehension. And it hampers predictability, as producers get no support in foreseeing how coming revisions of criteria will develop. This represents a lost opportunity for strategic sustainable development. It is suggested that these problems could be avoided by informing the criteria development process by a framework for strategic sustainable development, based on backcasting from basic sustainability principles.

Keywords: Sustainability, Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development, Sustainable Consumption and Production, Eco-labelling




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