The government-owned eco label Environmental Choice is among the most rigorous on the planet.
Environmental Choice is an eco labelling standard launched by the government in 1992 and managed by the NZ Ecolabelling Trust.
The aim of the not-for-profit organisation, which took over management of the scheme in 2003, is to act as an independent assessor of New Zealand products and services against published specifications – looking at their impact on the environment and the sustainability practices of manufacturers.
So far, 2500 products and services have been awarded the Environmental Choice planet and tick logo. Among the 67 companies is Resene, which has featured the symbol on its paint pots since 1996. Other big names include Canon NZ, gym chain Les Mills and insulation maker Pink Batts.
Michael Hooper, the organisation’s spokesperson, says: “Assessors are drawn from some of the major analytical, engineering and scientific consulting companies operating in New Zealand and internationally. They may be chemists, physicists or whatever is needed and they take into account the whole life cycle of a product.”
Environmental Choice’s general manager is Robin Taylor. He has a degree in economics, a background in sales and marketing, and says its assessments not only cover sustainability, but checks that products are safe to use and that they work as consumers expect.
“What we sell is our reputation and we are punctilious in the way we do things,” he says. “At the end of the day we have a reputation that has value. Respectability and credibility are key.”
The label is owned by the Ministry for the Environment, but is run by the trust, which is a member of the Global Ecolabelling Network. The network is chaired by Taylor, and means Environmental Choice operates to an internationally recognised standard for transparency.
A study for the UK government placed Environmental Choice among the top three certifications of its type in the world.
And a survey by Colmar Brunton – to establish the country’s most trusted assurance of environmental performance – placed Environmental Choice just behind the Energy Star appliance rating and Fairtrade, which works with food producers in developing countries.
One of the country’s most prominent directors, Susan Paterson, currently chairs the board which has a depth of business and scientific acumen and includes a stakeholders’ representative.
You may have seen the Environmental Choice logo at the supermarket, on products such as toilet tissue, paper towels, home cleaning and laundry products. And you’ll probably be hearing a lot more about the organisation as it has expanded into the assessment of services such as commercial cleaners, wool scouring and concrete pouring. On the cards is an office category that, says Taylor, will bring visibility and relevance for the eco label to companies that employ five or more people. “Most of our criteria are for products,” he says. “But there are lots of offices, lawyers and accountants etc, that might want to set themselves apart by having the certification – to advertise that they are working in an environmentally-preferable way.”
Offices applying to be certified will be checked for energy consumption, materials used in fit-out, consumables, waste generated, air and water quality, cleaning chemical usage, and emissions generated by company vehicles.
“We will also look at exit interviews for staff and staff turn-over,” says Taylor. “It is well established – by studies out of the US – that companies that have a ‘green’ behaviour tend to have happier staff and hold on to their people longer.” Taylor also says tender documents for large contracts frequently ask companies to illustrate their environmental practices, and so those with an Environmental Choice seal may have a commercial advantage over those that do not. “Assessments for the seal should be affordable, as they will be based on actual cost, and the annual licensing fee for using the ecolabel is being scaled to encourage small offices to aim for the standard,” he says.
A study for the UK government placed Environmental Choice among the top three certifications of its type
in the world.