Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Buying products and services with environmental labels

Environmentally friendly products and services

An environmental label shows that a product or service is produced with less impact on the environment. Environmental or green labels can help you make informed choices about the products or services you buy.

Not all labelling schemes set the same standards or use an independent process to verify their standards are met. For example, a product or service with an ecolabel - a type of environmental label - must meet certain environmental standards.

Some labels only focus on one environmental aspect, for example the Energy Star labelling scheme for energy efficiency. Others, like ecolabels, consider the life cycle impacts of a product or service, including the materials and resources used, and the waste created to make, use and dispose of it.

Check environmental standards

You should check what a label covers before purchasing your product or service, for example the focus of the label could be:

  • protecting natural resources or habitats
  • minimising energy consumption during manufacture or use
  • a product's agricultural impact
  • a product or service's ethical impact.

Environmental labels can cover a range of products, services or issues including:

  • recycling and packaging, eg mobius loop or packaging recycling logo on plastic materials
  • energy savings, eg European energy label, energy saving recommended
  • vehicles, eg UK fuel economy label
  • product-specific aspects, eg low volatile organic compounds labels on paint
  • food, eg Marine Stewardship Council, red tractor, Fairtrade, Euro-leaf
  • organic standards, eg Soil Association Scotland or Scottish Organic Producers Association
  • timber products, eg Forest Stewardship Council, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes
  • consumer products, eg Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, European Union (EU) Ecolabel.

To help you identify if a label is acceptable you should check the:

  • standard environmental criteria, eg criteria based on life cycle environmental assessment will look at multiple environmental issues and help you identify products and services that will be less harmful to the environment.
  • certification and audit methods, eg an independent and regular process for monitoring compliance against the standard criteria
  • origins of the label, eg government schemes may provide you with greater confidence.

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) describes three types of system for environmental labelling. Unlike some other green labels or claim statements, only ISO Type I labels, eg the EU Ecolabel, certify that a product or service meets a strict environmental standard based on life cycle assessment. The standard is set and monitored by an independent process.

Identify products or services with environmental labels

You should check the claims made by an environmental label before you buy a product or service.

Buy products or services which use a label with appropriate environmental standards and which is awarded by an independent body, for example from an ISO Type I labelling scheme.

A full list of environmental labels can be found in appendix 3 of the RES guide to Supply Chain Management and  Sustainable Procurement:

RES: Supply Chain Management and Sustainable Procurement

Global Ecolabelling Network: ISO Type 1 labels

EUROPA: EU Ecolabels on products

In this Guideline

Benefits of buying sustainable goods and services

Avoiding unnecessary purchases

How to make your buying more sustainable

Buying products and services with environmental labels

Top tips for buying key goods and services sustainably

Selecting a sustainable supplier

Environmentally friendly products and services - further information

Things to consider when buying goods or services for your business

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