Author:  Stéphanie Senet

Posted on: | May 7th, 2018

Lack of transparency, oversights, confusion… A report by the Dutch Foundation Changing Markets, published on 3 May, reveals the inefficiency of environmental labels, particularly for seafood, textiles and palm oil. EURACTIV’s partner Le Journal de l’environnement reports.

Environmental certification, though nice in theory, has not proven its worth on products. With as many as 463 ecolabels in the world, according to the Ecolabel Index, the report shows that certification standards had to be lowered to get a majority of industry players on board which led to “confusion”, and that environmental certification has lost its way.

The report “The false promise of certification” published by the Changing Markets Foundation on 3 May, aims to prove that certification schemes offer a false promise of sustainability, with a focus on the fishing, textile and palm oil industry.

Criticised certification schemes

In 2015, 14% of global seafood production was certified, most by Friend of the Sea (FOS) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). MSC had already been criticised in August 2017, for having certified the world’s largest yellowfin tuna fishery though it uses fish aggregating devices (FAD), which also capture endangered species.

As for FOS, it is neither supported by the scientific community nor by NGOs because of its lack of transparency and stakeholder participation.

No effect on the environment

The production of the most consumed oil in the world does not show better results. The presence of palm oil in more than half of all supermarket products has increased deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, and none of the certification schemes examined by the report have slowed the phenomenon.

The report has identified six ineffective palm oil certification schemes: the most prominent voluntary label (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil – RSPO) which accounts for 2.6 million hectares, 19% of world production, International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC), Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), the Rainforest Alliance (RA), the Malaysian government’s certification scheme Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), and its Indonesian counterpart Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO).

Furthermore, IPSO is singled out as the scheme which covers 2 million hectares and is criticised for merely complying with weak legislation set by Indonesia. The authors of the report suggest changing strategies and call to reduce the demand for palm oil, particularly in the biofuel market, and setting up a moratorium for the conservation of forests and peatlands.

Textile Certification

The textile sector is the most prolific with more than 100 labels and several initiatives such as the Higg Index, which is widely used among ready-to-wear brands, though it lacks transparency and is based on self-assessment.

Production areas are generally located in lax countries in regard to environmental and social regulation. As a result, according to the report, none of the labels guarantee sustainability throughout the supply chain, not even the European Ecolabel which covers the entire lifecycle of textiles.

Labelling for viscose does not take into account water pollution during manufacturing, while one of the cotton certification schemes, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), allows the use hazardous pesticides and GM cotton, so much so that the scheme would have played a role in the decline or organic cotton.

Necessary reforms

The report concludes its findings by stating that: “If there is to be a role for certification in the transition to a sustainable economy, it must undergo some serious reforms”. The authors also suggest abolishing the least ambitious schemes and reforming others with higher standards.

Certifications also need to cover the entire supply chain of the product and its lifecycle, wishful thinking in the framework of voluntary initiatives which are the most common.

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