In the US, retailer WalMart obliges some of its suppliers to make certain environment indicators known, and in the UK highlighting a product’s carbon usage is becoming more common via the carbon footprint scheme.
For the moment none of these schemes are mandatory, however, within the Grenelle Law for the environment, the French government would like to make the labelling of a number of environmental indicators on certain products a legal requirement from January 2011.
However, with only 11 months before companies will be asked to make certain details public, relatively few appear to be aware of the work involved, according to Philippe Osset from PricewaterhouseCoopers, speaking at the PCD congress on cosmetics and perfume packaging held this week in Paris.
His advice to cosmetic and packaging companies present at the congress was to get involved with the working groups organised by the French environment agency ADEME.
In addition, Osset advised companies to begin looking at their products’ resource and energy consumption via a life cycle assessment sooner rather than later.
Click here for an interview with Philippe Osset about the issues surrounding eco-labelling.
The motivation behind the move by the French government is not to cut out market access for products that don’t fit certain requirements for energy and resource consumption, but instead to help push manufacturers to design more eco-friendly products, he said.
However, not everyone is in agreement that this move will have the desired effect.
Primarily, it is far from clear how the data can be presented in a clear and meaningful way to consumers.
If raw data is shown, illustrating the amount in grams of carbon dioxide produced and water used, it is unlikely consumers will know how to interpret it. In addition, it is difficult to calculate these values with a strict degree of accuracy; 27g could be as much as 37g and as little as 17g for example, making exact numbers misleading.
The information could be presented by letters, A for good, B middling and C for poor performance, but it is unclear whether these classes would be sensitive enough to show progress made by companies over time.
Even if the data is presented in a meaningful way, some remain unconvinced that it will change consumer’s purchasing habits; one of the key drivers of environmentally friendly design.
“I don’t think a consumer will choose a product that has a smaller carbon footprint over one that promises to reduce wrinkles and make you look ten years younger” said fellow conference speaker Nicholas Thorne, innovation and development director at Alcan Packaging Beauty.