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Eco Label Helps Consumers Make Wise Purchase Decisions

Do you check the environmental labels or eco labels on products before purchasing them? These eco labels aim to help consumers to distinguish green products and brands. When more consumers prefer to purchase products with environmental labels, they encourage brand owners and suppliers to develop more environmental friendly products and make the world more sustainable. 

Ecolabels are a form of sustainability measurement directed at consumers, intended to make it easy to take environmental concerns into account when shopping.  An ecolabel is awarded by an impartial third party to products that meet established environmental leadership criteria. Some labels quantify pollution or energy consumption by way of index scores or units of measurement, while others assert compliance with a set of practices or minimum requirements for sustainability or reduction of harm to the environment.  However, there are a few hundred green certification systems worldwide. There are also locally developed green labeling systems in Hong Kong. It is important for Hong Kong consumers to distinguish these labels as it will help them make wise purchase decisions. 

A few years ago, a branding and integrated marketing firm BBMG conducted a survey to find out the most recognizable green labels among American consumers. According to the survey, the recycling symbol with three chasing arrows tops the list. The symbol was designed by a 23-year-old college student Gary Anderson in 1970 during a design contest celebrating the first Earth Day. This symbol has helped encourage global recycling in the past 45 years, and you can never underestimate what a simple symbol can achieve.

Other common seen symbols include Fair Trade Certified, which validates ethical practices for producers and handlers a range of products like bananas and coffee, and Energy Star, which rates products on their energy efficiency. In Hong Kong, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) also has a similar Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme which helps consumers understand the efficiency of different appliances. 

Vertical industries have their own environmental labelling scheme. For example, the paper and wood has labels like FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification), which ensure that the materials of paper and wood products are from sustainably managed forests. Consumers can easily find paper boxes or envelops bearing these labels in Hong Kong. The schemes are also listed as desirable requirement for printing and photocopying paper according to HKSAR government’s green procurement policy . Rainforest Alliance Certified, which you can easily find on consumer products like Lipton tea bags, is another well recognized symbol. This certification is a set of rigorous standards in forestry and agriculture, covering supply chains, carbon validation, reclaimed and recycled wood and logging.
As public concerns about the state of the world’s forests and timber resources increases, these labels give suppliers credibility with customers, business partners and other organizations. Yet, if possible, we should always take a wider look beyond the tiny logos. At the far end of the supply chain, consumers at Hong Kong seem to be far away from the sources of our consumption products as well. However, the heavy haze that blanketed a few Southeast Asia cities is crawling over to media in Hong Kong. Indonesian government and large plantation companies are lining up to fight against the forest fire that is primarily due to illegal activity by irresponsible businesses which do not have a sustainability policy in place.

Zero deforestation has been a global call to protect the environment in recent year. Famous brands like McDonald and Unilever committed themselves to zero deforestation this year, while Asia Pulp & Paper (APP)  announced the commitment with its forest conservation policy in 2013. These may not be revealed by the label but details are out there if we are willing to pay a little bit more effort to protect our environments by taking one closer look.

Eco labels have been widely used in the western world as various schemes have been established since late 1970s. Hong Kong still needs to catch up in terms of consumer education and promotion of various eco labelling schemes. The collective consumer purchasing power is a driving force to change corporate behaviors and improves the sustainability of our society. 

Lois Cheng
Manager for Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement (Hong Kong) at Asia Pulp & Paper (APP)