Rupert Posner from Good Environmental Choice Australia talks with Otter about choosing green and safe products, and how ecolabels like GECA can help.
What is an ecolabel and how does it help consumers?
An ecolabel is a useful tool that helps consumers make informed decisions about the products they purchase.
Going green is something we hear about often. Recycle your tin cans and plastic bottles, re-use your plastic bags or better yet, purchase a jute bag and avoid them altogether. These issues are fairly well-understood, but what about buying shampoos that don’t contain harmful substances? Or purchasing a paint that has a lower level of volatile organic compounds? Or what about if we buy toilet paper that is made of recycled paper? Is that all we should be considering? And how do we know with certainty that a product we buy really is better for the environment? Can we trust what is written on the packet?
While it is wonderful for consumers to be informed and do the research themselves, this isn’t always easy. Information can sometimes be confusing and contradictory. For example greenwashing is an issue we encounter often. Putting the words ‘eco’ on a bottle, or featuring a picture of a leaf, doesn’t mean that the product actually meets robust green standards.
This is where ecolabels come in. An ecolabel is a stamp of approval that helps you work out if a product is environmentally preferable. Using a rigorous certification scheme, products are assessed against standards set by those who know and understand the ins and outs of what’s really going on. Once approved, the ecolabelling organisation will grant a license complete with a logo that can be displayed on the product itself or shown on the company’s website. This is why consumers should always look for an ecolabel they know and trust on products they’re purchasing.
How does GECA come into this?
The national not-for-profit Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) is one of the main ecolabelling bodies in Australia and the only one that is also independent, transparent and covers a diverse range of sectors.
At GECA we consider the whole lifecycle of a product, from its creation, to the end of its life. We don’t simply assess the main ingredient that goes into a product, or one environmental impact.
This includes a variety of elements such as where materials are sourced, how it was produced, human health impacts such as toxic chemicals, packaging and the product’s life expectancy. Looking for a GECA label on a cleaning product or paint tin will enable you to be sure that your purchase has been independently verified to be environmentally preferable across its entire life.
What do you think are the key sustainability issues that relate to consumers?
All sustainability issues relate to consumers and of course sometimes the best thing we can do is to buy nothing. The real challenge for consumers is to know the key sustainability issues for a particular product. And of course it is not always the ones suggested by the manufacturer.
GECA has developed standards for a range of products, from personal care and cleaning products to building products and furniture. This not only helps consumers make better choices but also assists manufacturers improve the way they make their products. We have found that many companies reformulate their products so as to comply with the GECA standard, which is great. By driving demand for third party certified products consumers are helping change the way products are made.
What do you think is the most pressing environmental issue at the moment?
That is a tough one. Climate change has certainly come to the fore in recent years, and that is a good thing. But a product being carbon neutral doesn’t necessarily mean it is better for the environment. There are often other things that also need to be considered.
The use of palm oil in products has also been a recent issue. The problem is that palm oil is a cheap and practical product for manufacturers of all sorts of products, but it invariably means the clearing of large tracks of land to grow palm trees. I’ve seen the impact it has had on orang-utan populations in Borneo and it is distressing. GECA’s standards address this issue, promoting the use of sustainably grown palm oil.
But our standards also consider human health; ensuring consumers don’t have to worry about toxic and carcinogenic substances.
Where can I find GECA certified products?
Some 2000 certified products are listed on the GECA website (www.geca.org.au). They range from personal care products like shampoo and soaps, to toilet paper, household cleaning products, paint and furniture. Many are available at your local hardware, supermarkets and health food stores as well as at furniture outlets. All products listed on the GECA database have links to the manufactures’ website. If your favourite product or brand isn’t certified, you can always ask them why not and encourage them to get certified.
What’s the one GECA certified product you can’t live without?
Of course we love all our certified products equally, so it would be unfair to pick a favourite. But our household does like the GECA certified toilet paper which is made from bamboo and sugar cane waste. We think this environmentally preferable product is actually better to use than everything else out there on the market, it’s pretty soft!
Rupert Posner is the CEO of leading environmental, not-for-profit organisation Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA). He has been working to improve our sustainability for more years than he cares to remember but is enjoying helping consumers to make green choices.