The Indian Eco-labelling Scheme: Ecomark

Nivedita Saxena, Research Associate

‘Eco-labelling’ is a voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labelling that is practised around the world. The article describes the Indian ecolabelling scheme- ECOMARK. Ecomark is a voluntary non-binding eco-labelling scheme which was constituted by the Government of India in 1991 for easy identification of environment- friendly consumer products.  The ecomark scheme was introduced way ahead of its time and therefore did not yield the expected results. The article presents the working structure and evaluation criteria for products under the scheme, along with the reasons for its failure in Indian context. Also at the end, recommendations from various scholars are mentioned for the better furtherance of the scheme.

Concept of Ecolabelling

‘Ecolabelling’ is a voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labelling that is practised around the world. An ‘ecolabel’ is a label which identifies overall, proven environmental preference of a product or service within a specific product/ service category1. They are used to identify the overall environmental preference of a product or a service.

Many manufacturers and service providers themselves adopt different types of ‘green’ symbols that lack authenticity and credibility. In contrast, an ecolabel is awarded by an impartial third- party in relation to certain products or services that are independently determined to meet environmental criteria. Ecolabelling was first introduced in 1977 by Germany through the Blue Angel Scheme, followed by Canada’s Environmental Choice Programme in 1988.

EcoMark Scheme

Ecomark is a voluntary non-binding eco- labelling scheme which was constituted by the Government of India in 1991 for easy identification of environment- friendly consumer products, to provide an incentive for manufacturers and importers to reduce adverse environmental impact of products & to reward genuine initiatives by companies to reduce adverse environmental impact of their products. The scheme also has objectives of assisting consumers to become environmentally responsible in their daily lives by providing information to take account of environmental factors in their purchase decisions, encouraging them to purchase products which have less harmful environmental impacts and thus ultimately improving the quality of the environment and encouraging the sustainable management of resources.  This made India the first among the developing countries to make an ecolabelling scheme a part of its environmental policy2. The activism of the Minister of Environment and Forests, Maneka Gandhi in 1990-91 was one of the major factors behind constitution of the Scheme.

The scheme operates on a national basis and provide accreditation and labelling for household and other consumer products which meet certain environmental criteria along with quality requirements of the Indian Standards for the Product [quality requirements of Bureau of Indian Standards]3. The label is awarded for a minimum period of one year and can roll forward annually. An earthen pot has been chosen as the logo for the Ecomark scheme in India4.

Operational Structure

The Ecomark scheme operated through a three-tier system-

  1. A steering committee5, to determine the product coverage under the scheme
  2. A technical committee6, to identify the specific product to be selected and the individual criteria to be adopted.
  3. The Bureau of Indian Standards7, to assess and certify the products and draw up contract with the manufacturers, allowing the use of the label, on payment of a fee.

Evaluation criteria

The products are to be examined in terms of the following main environmental impacts:

(a) That they have substantially less potential for pollution than other comparable products in production, usage and disposal.

(b) That they are recycled, recyclable, made from recycled products or biodegradable, where comparable products are not.

(c) That they make significant contribution to saving non-renewable resources, including non-renewable energy sources and natural resources, compared with comparable products.

(d) That the product must contribute to a reduction of the adverse primary criteria which has the highest environmental impact associated with the use of the product, and which will be specifically set for each of the product categories.

Any product which is made, use or disposed of in a way that significantly reduces the harm it would otherwise cause the environment could be considered as an Environment- Friendly product.  Thus any product with the Ecomark will be the right environmental choice for the consumers.

Product categories and Procedure for Grant of an ECOMARK

There are 16 product categories currently under the scheme including the likes of soaps, paper, cosmetics, batteries, leather etc.8.  India is one of the few countries where foods are also Eco-Labelled9. The ecomark Scheme conflicts with some areas under the ‘Agmark’ Scheme for agricultural and allied commodities. The first Ecomark was given to a Godrej product ‘Ezee’ detergent in 1994. However, the company was taken over by another company which decided to discontinue the label usage considering it to be against their corporate philosophy10.

 The procedure for grant of a license by BIS under the Ecomark scheme is the same as that of grant of license by BIS under its own product Certification Marks scheme. Along with the application form a copy of the consent or environmental clearance certificate from the concerned State Pollution Control Board is also to be submitted. The inspection of every applicant’s production site by the implementing authority .i.e. the BIS was a unique feature of the Indian Scheme.

Reasons of Failure

In spite of the wide range of product categories, there were very limited applications for the Ecomark label. Currently only 12 manufacturers of various products have applied and got ecomark license11. The various reasons given for its failure are12:

  1. Too much time was spend on developing product criteria across product categories and notifying the specification along with the corresponding ISI standards.
  2. Indian consumers are not aware about the concept of an eco-label; the scheme was launched way ahead of its time.
  3. There is no consumer demand for the products with an applied Ecomark. i.e. the mark itself gives no competitive advantage to the products. Indian consumer’s attitude is to ‘buy cheap’ rather than ‘buy green’. Without thee incentive of greater demand for products, a manufacturer will not apply for an Ecomark license.
  4. The scheme is a self- financing program, requiring manufacturers to pay for the application, testing, licensing fee and renewal costs involved in certification.
  5. The scheme is still heavily reliant on government organisations, as the majority of members of the committees represent government organisations. The scheme would always be an additional responsibility of the officials and not the sole responsibility.
  6. Due to transferability of government offices, there has been a lack of continuity of specialised officials on ecolabelling, thus the momentum of the scheme was adversely affected.
  7. Participation of the members responsible for the making of the scheme has been on a voluntary basis, which limits their accountability for taking the scheme forward.
  8. Within the Existing organisational structure, fixing accountability is difficult.
  9. No Political party in contemporary times has an agenda of pushing the eco mark scheme forward13. Most of the political leaders are indifferent towards the scheme and its future possibilities.
  10. The dual set of criteria to be met (Environmental + BIS) increases its complexity.

Recommendations

Few recommendations for taking the scheme further, as put forward by various scholars are as under:

  1.  there is a need for a new, independent board with an advisory structure comprising of consumer, environmental and business groups. Instead of multiple agencies, the overall responsibility for the Ecomark scheme should be entrusted to a single organisation.
  2. there should be a reduction and prioritisation of the number of selected product categories to be included under the Scheme.
  3. the product categories to be chosen should be based on certain measurable parameters such as maximum adverse environmental impact and high national consumption.
  4. there should be a system that determines whether to include new product categories under the Scheme in view of the environmental dynamics.
  5. The scheme needs to be made more dynamic and forward looking by periodic revision of criteria through wide stakeholder consultation.
  6. Domestic as well as international requirements need to be balances while setting a feasible criterion as the ecolabel can be used as  non-tariff barriers
  7. Effective National Awareness Campaign should be carried out to raise both consumer and industrial awareness and demand for the Ecomark.
  8. Creating a market for products with Ecomark by the use of the government’s procurement policies giving preference to products with Ecomark

  1. Definitions by Global Ecolabelling Network, Central Pollution control board is a member of  GEN, Available at http://www.globalecolabelling.net/what_is_ecolabelling/index.htm []
  2. According to information available on http://www.blauer-engel.de/en/blauer_engel/whats_behind_it/national_eco-labels_worldwide.php []
  3. Ministry of Environment & Forest, Department of Environment, Forest & Wildlife, Resolution, 20th February, 1991. Available at http://envfor.nic.in/legis/others/ecomark.html []
  4. For the symbolism of the logo refer to the Central Pollution Control Board website http://www.cpcb.nic.in/ecomark_logo.php []
  5. For detailed functions and composition refer to 3.1.1 of the Department of Environment, Forest & Wildlife, Resolution, 20th February, 1991. Available at http://envfor.nic.in/legis/others/ecomark.html []
  6. For detailed functions and composition refer to 3.1.2 of the Department of Environment, Forest & Wildlife, Resolution, 20th February, 1991. Available at http://envfor.nic.in/legis/others/ecomark.html []
  7. For detailed functions refer to 3.1.3 of the Department of Environment, Forest & Wildlife, Resolution, 20th February, 1991. Available at http://envfor.nic.in/legis/others/ecomark.html []
  8. For the list of all the products notified by the Government of India and the application procedure refer http://www.cpcb.nic.in/criteria_ecomark.php []
  9. According to information available on

    http://www.blauer-engel.de/en/blauer_engel/whats_behind_it/national_eco-labels_worldwide.php. Last visited on []

  10. According to article titled ‘Ecomark scheme finds few takers in industry’ by Shruti Srivastava in Bussiness Standard on August 16, 2007, Available at http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/ecomark-scheme-finds-few-takers-in-industry-107081601086_1.html []
  11. According to the report on ‘Why was India’s Ecomark Scheme Unsuccessful?’ submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in 2006 by Mr.Pradeep S Mehta, For reference See Annex I of the Report available at http://www.cuts-citee.org/pdf/RREPORT07-01.pdf []
  12. According to the report on ‘Why was India’s Ecomark Scheme Unsuccessful?’ submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in 2006 by Mr.Pradeep S Mehta,  the Report is available at http://www.cuts-citee.org/pdf/RREPORT07-01.pdf also see Kopekar, S.S. & Raman, N.S., “ Ecomark Scheme as a Pre-requisite for strategic Environmental Assessment in India” Publishen in International Journal Of Pure and Applied Bioscience ISSN: 2320-7051, Available at http://www.ijpab.com/form/2013%20Volume%201,%20issue%204/IJPAB-2013-1-4-51-62.pdf []
  13. According to the report on ‘Why was India’s Ecomark Scheme Unsuccessful?’ submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) in 2006 by Mr.Pradeep S Mehta, For reference See Annex I of the Report available at http://www.cuts-citee.org/pdf/RREPORT07-01.pdf []

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