Eco-Mark - A Report on Current Status

It is widely recognised that a move towards sustainable patterns and levels of consumption will require changes in consumer behaviour. At the world wide level, Chapter 4 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development IN Rio De Janeiro, "Agenda 21" has emphasised the need to reduce wasteful consumption and to promote more environmentally sound products. In the light of Agenda 21, and in the aftermath of the Rio Conference, many national governments and international organisations have attempted to find ways of helping households and individuals to make environmentally-sound decisions.

2. The premise behind environmental labelling follows from the assumption that, within a given class of products, not all the products will place the same burden on the environment. In other words, there will be disparities in product's environmental impact, if one assesses the environmental costs of their production, distribution, use and disposal. If the relatively more benign products, i.e., environmentally less harmful, can be identified, then awarding an environmental label will provide the consumer a basis for product choice in addition to price, quality, performance and other parameters, and provide qualifying manufactures a competitive advantage in the market place.

3. Thus eco-labels generally represent a holistic judgement, giving an overall assessment of a product's environmental quality relative to other products in the same category and operate as informative and voluntary market instruments.

4. Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India, had initiated Eco-Labelling Scheme in 1991. The objectives of the scheme are o help consumers and producers by a simple system, in which the criteria for awarding any label should not forgo the quality of the products and should focus primarily on the direct impact of a product during manufacture, use and disposal, along with aspects such as energy efficiency, noise (as in electrical goods) etc. The following primary environmental criteria for products are prescribed:

that they cause substantially less pollution than comparable products in production, usage and disposal;
That they are recycled and/or recyclable;
that they make a significant contribution to saving non-renewable resources or minimising use of renewable resources compared with other comparable products;
that they contribute to a reduction of adverse environmental health consequences;
that their price is not exorbitantly higher than comparable products; and
that they comply with laws, standards and regulations pertaining to the environment.
Specific criteria would be set for each product category with reference to the general criteria.
5. At the initiative of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, Waterfalls Institute of Technology Transfer (WITT) conducted an "Appreciation Programme on Eco-Mark" in November 1997, with a view to exchanging ideas amongst different departments of the Government, associations of industries, like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), European Commission (EC) in India, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Asian and Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT), research institutes, consultants etc.
Relevant Recommendations from the Programme are:
There was considerable appreciation for the excellent documentation that had been compiled and distributed to the participants well ahead of the meeting. It was felt that these background papers should be supplemented with additional information presented at the meeting and the proceedings should be brought out as quickly as possible so that they could be useful in the organisation of other meetings on the subject at different centres in India.
There is need for continually alerting the stakeholders with the latest information that becomes available on the subject. In order to ensure this the mechanism which the Institute has adopted in disseminating such updated information through WISTAs could be an ideal means to reach a large number of industrialists, consumers, other NGOs and Institutions who could disseminate the concepts to a large audience in the country.
6. Taking due cognizance of the above recommendations, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, subsequently commissioned WITT to bring out a bimonthly, "WISTA : ECO-MARK" under the Institute's WISTA series, in order to widely diffuse current information and create public awareness among the people about the Eco-Mark and related benefits of eco-friendly products and services. Starting from April 1999, WITT has so far published six issues of the bimonthly and circulated these to concerned departments of the Central and State Governments, NGOs, consultants, research institutes, leading industries, a large number of consumer organisations, and a number of overseas organisations dealing with the subject. The WISTA has been well received and responses have been, on the whole, encouraging.
7. Meanwhile, WITT updated the background papers presented at the Appreciation Programme on Eco-Mark held in 1997 and incorporated in them the latest information received from OECD, Nordic countries, and international organisations, like Global Eco-labelling Network (GEN). The proceedings of the Appreciation Programme have thus been updated.
8. The Proceedings of the Appreciation Programme on Eco-Mark are structured to contain Preface, Recommendations, Summary Report, Inaugural Session, the Presentation made at the Workshop, Country Papers, and Answers to Often Asked Questions. A list of participants had also been included at the end.
9. The Recommendations and Summary Report are substantially the brief report submitted immediately after the Appreciation Programme was completed. The Ministry has already acted on some of the recommendations.
10. The papers presented in the Programme at the various sessions have been grouped together in Chapter 4. In arranging the material it was considered desirable to present these covering: concepts, basic issues, issues in implementation, scheme in India, total concept of eco-labelling , EU Community scheme etc., in that sequence rather than in the sequence these were presented in the programme. In transcribing these papers, advantage has been taken to include the author's clarifications to certain questions that were raised in the discussion, so that the papers as presented here also contain a good part of the discussion.
11. In the process of updating the country papers, that were included in the background papers, the Institute obtained material from many other countries as well. While information on many countries was very exhaustive, on some others the material was very brief. It was therefore considered more appropriate to present the country papers in a separate chapter under the heading "Country Papers and Briefs". This left only very little material in the backgrounders and this has been presented in Chapter 6. The chapter thus contains the papers from the international agencies, like ITC (UNCTAD), GTZ, EU, OECD, GEN, and two special area papers dealing with "Abuses and Limitations", and Food and Agricultural Items.
12. As pointed out earlier, several questions raised during the discussion are included in the presentations as made at the Appreciation Programme in Chapter 4. However, a few questions about procedural matters came up from time to time during several sessions, these have been grouped together and presented in Chapter 7. During the updating of the papers, the Institute also got answers to several frequently asked questions from other sources. These have also been edited appropriately and presented in Chapter 7.
13. In the compilation of this Status Report, Mr K Raghavendran has taken keen interest in putting several segments of the technical material together; Dr (Ms) Anuradha Sinha has diligently worked on transcribing the presentations and deliberations; and Mr S S Kalra has dedicatedly coordinated the work of brining out this compilation.
14. The Proceedings thus give a comprehensive report on the current status on eco-labelling in the world, and it is hoped that these will form a vital source of information and current thinking on the important subject of eco-mark.

30 April 2000 Dr K V Swaminathan
Chairman, WITT