Have Ethical labels have lost their value?

Sustainability labels cannot deliver sufficient business value or drive the level of consumer demand needed to develop a sustainable economy, according to a new report published today.



Signed, Sealed… Delivered? assesses the value and challenges that businesses find in using certification and labelling schemes, before concluding that while they have done much to push the sustainability agenda, they could be past their sell-by date.


The report, published by think tank SustainAbility, uncovers a number of problems that businesses experience with the current model. Labels, for instance, have set a crucial foundation for advancing more sustainable business practices, reads the report, but the mass proliferation in the marketplace – 400 and counting – and the move to mainstream for many of them, is significantly reducing their value.


Those in the foodservice sector are already becoming wary of the ubiquity of labels and schemes. “I think the danger is that if they continue to increase the interest in ethical issues could fall,” said CH&Co board director Caroline Fry at March’s Footprint Forum on the subject.


Patrin Watanatada, lead author of the report and SustainAbility’s director, has come to the same conclusion. “The archetypal label – combining consensus-based standards with an independent assurance process and an on-pack mark – was a brilliant initiative for its time, but it has now reached its sell-by date.


“Labels now need to fade into the background, acting as trust marks for those who seek them and leaving brands to delight and mobilize consumers into adopting more sustainable behaviours.”


The report sets out a vision for a future where brands and retailers no longer rely on third-party labels to drive consumer demand for more sustainable products. It recommends a shift towards a new model, where companies collaborate on developing standards, but then compete to embed these into business models.