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Survey on Consumer Information Tools

  • Published on November 9, 2021

The Consumer Information Programme conducted a survey with its network to get a better overview of existing consumer information tools and their application. The survey helps to identify emerging trends as well as current gaps to inform future activities from the Programme and its partners.

The Consumer Information Programme (CI-SCP) fosters the world’s transition towards more sustainable consumption and production policies and practices by improving the availability of reliable information to guide consumers’ decision-making. The work of the Programme contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, targets 12.6 and 12.8.

 

Consumer information tools can be an important instrument to accelerate the shift towards sustainable consumption and production. They help consumers make informed choices around product purchase, use and end of life, raise awareness of the environmental impact of different consumption patterns, and highlight opportunities for more sustainable lifestyles. Consumer information tools also encourage and support companies to adapt their production processes to develop products that are more sustainable.

Consumer information tools can take many forms, including certifications, voluntary standards, product declarations, ratings, marketing claims, foot printing, life-cycle assessments, product campaigns in store or on social media, and other ways of communicating with consumers on environmental and social issues related to products and services. They can be single- or multi-issue, and can follow a life cycle approach to provide a holistic perspective considering the impacts of every stage of the product development process, including how a product is used and how it is treated responsibly at end-of-life.

One of the most frequently used category of consumer information tools are based on the ISO 14020 standards. More specifically, ecolabelling schemes are distinguished into three types:

Type I (ISO 14024) establishes the principles and procedures for ecolabels that are corroborated by an independent verification, ensuring that consumers have access to accurate and transparent information.

 Type II labels (ISO 14021) are self-declared claims, privately made, that describe a product based on one or more characteristics following general guiding principles and that provides guidance as to the proper use of ubiquitous symbols and terms (e.g., “recyclable”).

 

         Type III (ISO 14025) focuses on environmental declarations, providing quantitative indicators of environmental performance based on life-cycle assessments and are generally – but not necessarily – intended for businesses-to-business communication.

 

Not all consumer information tools fall into these three types. There are many certification schemes that are third-party verified, but neither life-cycle nor multi-criteria based. More generally, consumer information tools can be distinguished by their modes of communication:

·           Standard refers to specific criteria or norms of material goods or services, including packaging, which may also serve as benchmarks.

 

·           Certification refers to a formal accreditation process, in which it is confirmed that the certified entity or product/package meets a given set of (minimum) standards.

 

·           Label describes a logo or stamp highlighting a product or service’s specific characteristic(s), which may also be used as a form of trademark. A label may or may not represent a certification.

 

·          Claim refers to assertions made by companies about beneficial qualities or characteristics of their goods and services.

 

Improper use of labels or claims can result in ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing is defined as “an attempt to mislead consumers and to market products more environmentally friendly than they actually are. This can be an exaggeration or misrepresentation of an improved environmental performance, a claim that cannot be verified, is irrelevant or is simply false.” (UN Environment and ITC 2017, p. 50). To avoid greenwashing and to ensure any claim or information concerning product sustainability is adequate, the Consumer Information Programme developed a set of Guidelines which outline ten principles for users to follow when communicating product sustainability information, and guidance on how to apply them.

CI-SCP carried out a survey to get a better overview of existing consumer information tools and their application. The survey will help identify emerging trends as well as current gaps to inform future activities from the CI-SCP and its partners. For each question, consumer information tools are categorized.

The survey provides precious insights concerning a wide range of consumer information tools:

1. Standards, certifications, ecolabels and product declarations (among which the EU Ecolabel, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, the Blue Angel ecolabel)

2. Self-declared environmental claims (Choix Durable by FNAC Darty, Clean by Sephora)

3. Life cycle assessment and foot printing (such as Cradle-To-Cradle Label)

4. Consumption and lifestyle calculators (Ecological Footprint Calculator, Teste do Consumo Consciente by Akatu)

5. Digital tools (such as the Ecolabel Guide Mobile App and Evocco­)

6. Campaigns

7. Ratings and rankings

The full response list is available for download here.

 

 

Disclaimer: The list reflects the tools mentioned by survey participants and does not represent a comprehensive overview of all existing tools nor does it suggest endorsement by the Consumer Information Programme.

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