The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation’s Ecolabeling Campaign
Catalyzing the Market for Cleaner Products and Achieving Results
The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), Sweden’s largest environmental organization, started ecolabeling in 1988 on paper, batteries and laundry detergent. The Good Environmental Choice logo, sometimes referred to as the Falcon, has changed the market in Sweden.
As evidence grew in the 1980s about increasing water pollution from pulp and paper mills that used chlorine bleach, the SSNC worked with the Swedish Federation for the Environment to draw up environmental requirements for paper. They set a limit for how much chlorine could be emitted during manufacture. Paper that met this requirement was placed on a list, which was then sent out to local authorities, county councils, and others who used a lot of paper.
At first the manufacturers insisted that they could not sell unbleached paper because it was too grey and unattractive. But when more and more local authorities and county councils began using the list for purchasing, the paper manufacturers realized that consumers really wanted nonchlorine bleached paper, so they modified their paper mills to reduce chlorine emissions. Between 1990 and 1993 chlorine emissions from the pulp industry was cut in half. This was an important success, and the first sign of consumer power and the processes that can be initiated through ecolabeling.
The group then targeted batteries and focused on the most polluting battery producer, who then lost market share. To regain consumer confidence the company eliminated mercury and within six months all other battery manufacturers followed suit.
The group found it difficult to find out what ingredients were used in detergents, even though they knew that many substances were unnecessary for product quality but highly harmful to the environment. At the time of the campaign’s launch only one percent of all detergents on the market met the requirements of the SSNC. Big manufacturers were not interested in changing their product lines. So the group decided to work with the three biggest retail chains in Sweden and these retailers threatened to stop buying those detergents that did not meet the requirements. Shortly thereafter, several manufacturers changed their products. In 1991 the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation lobbied for a boycott against the market’s leading laundry detergent, Lever, who refused to change their products. As a result, a small number of manufacturers of ecolabeled detergents together took almost ten percent of the market.
Within three years the environmentally adapted detergents had taken half the market, and today virtually all laundry detergents meet those original requirements. Lever’s detergent, Via TAED (2.5 kg) still does not meet the first generation of requirements, however.
New Product Areas
The Campaign is ongoing. Currently, the system covers 13 product areas. Before a product is allowed to display the Good Environmental Choice ecolabel, it must undergo a lifecycle assessment that is measured against established criteria. Over the years the targets in the criteria are strengthened to ensure manufacturers continually seek ways to design products that are cleaner throughout their lifecycle.
Visit SSNC’s website for more information on the SSNC ecolabeling campaign.