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Moving beyond greenwash to real eco-labelling

Petar Johnson

Good Environmental Choice Australia Ltd.


A trend in post industrial societies is to try to reverse the impact from the excessive consumption of the 20th century through buying ‘green’ products. This genuine motivation to reduce the environmental consequences of uninformed purchasing is being derailed in a fog of vague green claims. This was recognised recently by the ACCC in a warning on misleading environmental marketing conduct. Many green claims are neither supported by evidence nor well explained, but there are some reliable green labelling programs to help the buyer. An ‘ecolabel’ provides the customer with information to make a choice about which product is environmentally and socially preferable. Life cycle-based ecolabel certification guided by the International Standard (ISO 14 024) differentiates products within its functional category. Only the top environmentally preferable products achieve certification. This means the customer does not need to spend their own time and effort in determining in detail, which product is the best.

A procurement manager (or purchasing officer) is far more effective at this time in giving market signals to the supply chain, than a household customer. Corporate procurement departments are highly influential because they buy in bulk and are well placed to avoid impacts beforehand. Corporations can choose to either not purchase harmful products or avoid unacceptable consequences at the time of purchase. The unique feature of green procurement is its strong feedback loop in the trade cycle forcing changes in the supply chain and helping clarify key product environmental performance attributes sought by the market. The green markets are growing exponentially in Australia and overseas and are in the order of $40B in Australia. The most effective role of environmental managers in this development is to ensure that green purchasing and environmental development is not just on quantity but to maintain the focus equality on the quality allowing a reasonable social and market shift to Factor 10 and related sustainable consumption objectives.

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