The UK’s net zero review calls for the acceleration of ecolabelling and an expansion of its scope

As mission zero calls for a 2025 goal for standardised ecolabelling in the UK, how can the will of consumers elicit engagement from business?
The UK’s net zero review calls for the acceleration of ecolabelling  and an expansion of its scope

What mission zero had to say about ecolabelling

Ecolabels allow consumers to choose goods and services based on specific environmental and social factors. Ecolabels let consumers make informed selections by revealing details about the "world" that supports the product. They are a way for companies to communicate and sell a product's environmental credentials while also assessing performance. These instruments are vital for governments because they encourage both producers and consumers to adjust their behaviour in favour of long-term sustainability.[i] Ecolabels hit the headlines in August when Oxford University released a list of more than 57,000 food items and. More recently, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported that whilst 97% of people sought to live a more sustainable lifestyle, only 13% were actively changing their behaviour.[ii]

Source: WEF

Chris Skidmore’s net zero review (mission zero) made a series of recommendations aimed at maximising the economic benefit of net zero in the UK. The review made two recommendations regarding ecolabelling, which, if seen through, could give consumers the power to judge a business’s climate credentials at the point of purchase. First, they recommend that the UK government works to standardise the concept of ecolabelling; the report said that aligning ecolabelling across sectors like glass, food, paper and chemicals could make it easier for consumers to recognise sustainable choices across the board. Secondly, they recommended that ecolabelling should include information on lifecycle and recyclability.[iii] There is an appetite from consumers for ecolabels; a 2020 report from the carbon trust suggested that as many as two-thirds of consumers consider it a good idea or, more strongly, actively want it introduced.[iv]

Momentum builds with ecolabelling of food products; will other industries follow?

Edie reports that Sky has taken steps to inform their employees of the carbon impact of the food they are served at workplace cafeterias. The labels and associated "Carbon Counts" campaign was developed by Sky in collaboration with Foodsteps, a platform that specialises in the assessment of the environmental implications of food over its lifecycle.  The food supplied at all 29 of Sky's restaurants across its 15 UK locations will soon have these marks. These locations employ about 25,000 people altogether. Each meal or snack is assigned an "impact rating" grade between A and E under the labelling approach, with A being the highest impact and E the lowest. Foodsteps employs metrics based on carbon intensity, which is measured in terms of emissions per kilogramme, to make it simpler to compare foods with various serving sizes.[v]

As the UK and the wider world may look to expand from the wide uptake of ecolabelling in just the food sector, there may be lessons to learn from the EU Ecolabel. The EU Ecolabel establishes standards for these goods to reduce their primary environmental effects over the course of their full life cycles. The creation or amendment of EU Ecolabel criteria may be started or led by the European Commission, Member States, appropriate organisations, and other stakeholders. Experts in the sector developed these standards after consulting with important parties, such as trade and consumer organisations. The criteria are specifically designed to meet the distinctive characteristics of each product type because the life cycles of every product and service vary.[vi]

Whilst the EU ecolabel has comprehensive coverage of products, from paper to PCs, there has been criticism about its effect on behaviour. For example, at the end of 2022, the European Securities and Markets Authority reported that as little as 1% of sustainability-oriented equity funds met the proposed standards for the voluntary EU ecolabel for retail funds.[vii]

Making ecolabelling work

With few funds themselves meeting the standards of the proposed EU ecolabel, could there be a suggestion that a more consumer-oriented approach could be worth exploring. If consumers themselves were able to, financially, show their will to engage with products that carry positive ecolabels, the case might become compelling enough for all enterprises to consider that their sustainability in terms of trading is directly linked to their sustainability in terms of the environment. Engagement with all stakeholders along the value chain is vital, and as such, if the UK works towards its 2025 goal for standardised ecolabelling, the consultations that come along with this must be taken seriously and engaged with as much as possible.


[i] UNEP- Ecolabelling

[ii] WEF- How to harness the power of 1 billion people to accelerate sustainable change

[iii] UK Government- Mission Zero

[iv] Carbon Trust- Product carbon footprint labelling: consumer research 2020

[v] Edie- Sky set to add carbon labels to food at all UK staff restaurants

[vi] European Commission: Environment- EU Ecolabel

[vii] European Securities and Markets Authority- EU Ecolabel: Calibrating green criteria for retail funds


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