Some eco-products are self-declarations, where producers or marketers make positive environmental claims about their own products. The problem with self-declared labels is they are hard to verify and they need to be addressed by government policies to avoid deceptive advertising. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, for instance, has issued guidelines for making environmental claims.
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation who has successfully campaigned on eco-labels warns consumers against false eco-labels.
Complain about false eco-labels!
Write to the manufacturer and complain, or send in any labels with suspicious eco-labels to the Good Environmental Choice secretariat of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. We fight against these false eco-labels by reporting the worst cases to the governmen.
Third Party Certified
Labels that rely on certification by an independent third party often display a seal-of-approval labels, where a logo is used to denote that a product is environmentally superior to other products in its class based upon a specific set of award criteria. There are also third-party programs, which certify single attributes, such as recycled content or biodegradability, and utilize a logo indicating the certification.
Governments in most industrialized and many industrializing countries sponsor third-party environmental labeling programs. The first such program was the German Blue Angel, which began operating in 1978 and now covers 3,000 products. Most other programs were created in the early-to-mid 1990s. There are now approximately 27 countries with environmental labeling programs, not counting all of the countries covered by international programs, such as the Nordic Swan and the European Union Ecolabel. Most of these third-party programs are seal-of-approval programs, which develop labeling criteria for product categories and license the use of their logo for products meeting the criteria.
While the U.S. EPA operates single-attribute certification programs (e.g., Energy Star), the U.S. government is an exception among industrialized countries in not sponsoring a third-party seal-of-approval environmental labeling program.
The only third-party seal-of-approval program in the United States is Green Seal, a non-profit organization founded by environmental and consumer organizations. California, for example, has gone further under Proposition 65 in requiring hazard labeling for consumer products that contain carcinogens and reproductive toxins.
Another approach to environmental labeling is a “report card” label, in which environmental information about the product is presented in summary form so that one product can be compared to others in the product category.
The Computer Take Back Campaign in the USA publishes report cards on environmental policies of leading computer manufacturers. See: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition's website for more information.
There is also a whole group of “negative” labels, which include information warning about the hazards or adverse health impacts of the product. Warnings about pesticide spraying are one example. Legislation in the State of California in the U.S., commonly known as Proposition 65, makes it mandatory to warn the public about exposure to carcinogens and reproductive toxics in their environment or in products.