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An eco-label , often eco-label or eco-label is a quality mark , the products and services marked and statements about the environmental performance of individual features true. They are mostly aimed at consumers and are usually intended to differentiate the labeled product from others in the same product group and thus influence the purchase decision. Eco-labels are often voluntary and are awarded by various institutions, associations or independent testing institutes.


The German state Blue Angel is the oldest environmental label.

In the 1970s, with growing environmental awareness and the advent of the modern environmental movement , consumers increasingly wanted to buy environmentally friendly products and showed an increasing willingness to pay for such products . The first environmental label worldwide was the Blue Angel , which was introduced in West Germany in 1978. After the Rio Conference in 1992, numerous government and private initiatives endeavored to change consumption patterns and thus work towards sustainable economic development. In the United States, the proportion of products labeled “environmentally friendly” grew from 1.1% in 1986 to 9.5% in 1999. Eco-labels are now widespread and are not only used on packaging, but also in other communication channels such as websites , used. In addition to products and services, they are used to identify and advertise entire companies, regions or states. In 2014, the ecolabel index recorded a total of 458 labeling systems in 25 economic sectors and 195 countries, plus a large number of environmental labels that were not listed there.

Features and classification

Sign generators can be governmental or independent private organizations that are set up by environmental, consumer or business associations. Often these are also self-declarations from manufacturers.

A system for awarding an eco-label usually defines

  • for which product categories the mark is awarded,
  • which environmental criteria have to be observed in the production or provision of services,
  • how compliance with the criteria is checked and monitored ,
  • Which communication strategies should be used to make the mark known to the consumer.

Manufacturers can voluntarily opt for labeling, but there are also mandatory environmental labels, in Germany for example energy consumption labeling . The environmental criteria can relate to individual or many, product or process-oriented characteristics . You can define absolute standards or demand certain improvements or improvement processes from manufacturers. Environmental labels have a regional, national or international scope.

Types according to ISO 14020–14025

The ISO has standards and guidelines for different types of environmental labels in their standard Rich ISO 14000 developed. ISO 14021 specifies the framework for environmental statements that manufacturers make for their products; they are referred to as Type II eco-labels. Type I and III eco-labels are labels issued by third parties with regard to certain criteria determined over the entire life cycle. While type I eco-labels should state that products are qualitatively better in terms of the environmental properties considered (ISO 14024), type III eco-labels make quantitative statements based on environmental declarations (ISO 14025).

Typical eco-labels such as the Blue Angel or the EU Ecolabel are usually Type I eco-labels. An example of a Type III environmental label is the certification system of the German Sustainable Building Council for building materials based on the environmental declarations of the Institute for Building and Environment .

Environmental economic and environmental policy considerations

Compliance with higher environmental standards than required by law is usually associated with costs for companies. In addition, there are the costs of testing and certification by third parties and license fees for the use of marks, which are often also borne by the manufacturers. From an environmental point of view , profit-oriented companies will therefore only seek a voluntary eco-label if the benefits outweigh the costs. A trustworthy environmental label makes environmental quality characteristics visible and can eliminate the problem of asymmetrical information between manufacturer and customer - a form of market failure . The visible product differentiation allows customers to make decisions based on their preferences for environmental properties (→  sustainable consumption ), and manufacturers to realize higher prices and thus recoup higher costs. In addition, it can give companies, but also other actors such as states or regions, a reputation gain. Eco-labels can thus offer incentives to develop environmental innovations and promote the diffusion of environmentally friendly products on the market.

Studies have shown that consumers are more willing to pay when eco-labels are linked to specific criteria tested in certification procedures. It was also an advantage if the signer was known or a known independent organization approved a certain sign. Furthermore, the willingness to pay was higher when the buyers, in addition to better environmental quality, also promised advantages of their own, such as lower health risks for organic food or a gain in prestige .

However, innovative companies rarely use voluntary eco-labels. A company survey did not reveal any evidence that voluntary eco-labels had stimulated product innovations. For mandatory environmental labels, such as the EU energy label, however , there are studies that prove their effectiveness.

In many cases, eco-labels are not suitable as a sole instrument to eliminate market failure. Their effectiveness depends on whether the information about quality properties reaches the customer correctly and whether the customer is sufficiently willing and able to pay. Ecolabels, especially unregulated self-declarations, can also be used to deceive customers (→  greenwashing ). Signalers also have incentives to set low standards in order to enable as many companies as possible to participate. Too high standards can be associated with very high costs that are out of proportion to the environmental benefits. An increasing variety of labels can confuse consumers and reduce their willingness to pay.

Environmental labels therefore play a complementary role in environmental policy. The German Federal Environment Agency does not see them as a substitute for market-based instruments, direct funding for innovation projects or regulatory instruments.

Various eco-labels

EU seal for products from organic agriculture, example of a voluntary eco-label

Various state eco-labels are:

Other widespread environmental labels, especially in the food industry, are organic seals of the European Union and various cultivation associations that label products from organic agriculture . So far, climate seals for climate-friendly products have hardly caught on.

The Global Ecolabelling Network brings together 27 organizations that award environmental labels.

See also


  • Lisette Ibanez: Ecolabels: Are they Environmental-Friendly? In: Alain Marciano, Giovanni Battista Ramello (Eds.): Encyclopedia of Law and Economics . Springer Verlag, 2019, ISBN 978-1-4614-7752-5 , doi : 10.1007 / 978-1-4614-7753-2 .
  • Stefanie Weyer: Product policy and environmental labels - Theoretical principles and practical experience , Grin Verlag, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3638954648

Web links

Commons : Category Eco labels (Ecolabel)  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Renate Gertz: Eco-labeling - a case for deregulation? In: Law, Probability and Risk . September 2005, doi : 10.1093 / lpr / mgi010 .
  2. ^ A b Lisette Ibanez: Ecolabels: Are they Environmental-Friendly? 2019, history.
  3. ^ A b Lisette Ibanez: Ecolabels: Are they Environmental-Friendly? 2019, Definition, Classification of Ecolabels.
  4. a b c Lisette Ibanez: Ecolabels: Are they Environmental-Friendly? 2019, Classification of Ecolabels, Principles of Ecolabeling.
  5. ^ Expert Council for Environmental Issues (ed.): Umweltgutachten 2008 . Environmental protection in the face of climate change. 2008, ISBN 978-3-503-11091-9 , chap. 2 ( PDF, 221 KB ).
  6. ^ Klaus Rennings et al .: Instruments for promoting environmental innovations . Inventory, assessment and deficit analysis. Ed .: Federal Environment Agency. No. March 02 , 2008, ISSN  1865-0538 ( PDF, 3.4 MB ).