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Greenwash describes marketing terms that "paint over" a product with an apparent environmental benefit that is vague, unproven, irrelevant, unproven or simply false. (Illustration courtesy of UL Environment.) It is the opposite of an ecolabel which is awarded only when based on scientific evidence and validated by an independent, qualified third party across multiple criteria.
There are three major types of environmental labeling schemes per the International Standardisation Organization (Type I, Type II, Type III), but a Type I is the most stringent because it tests the product on not one, but multiple criteria to make sure that it is the best at protecting your health and health of the planet. A Type I ecolabel also means that the product has been tested by an independent third-party.
Yes we consider it the same thing. The growing demand for environmentally-friendly products has led some products to call themselves “green” by using an label that is non-Type I. You might see a label on a product that says “natural”, “eco-friendly”, or “less harmful for the environment”, etc., but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a Type I ecolabel. When we use the term “ecolabel”, it inherently implies that the strictest environmental standards have been applied, meaning “Type I”.
All Type I ecolabels have been independently tested by a third-party which means companies aren’t allowed to self-declare that their products reduce environmental impact. Products must get sent out to impartial laboratories to undergo rigorous scientific testing and exhaustive auditing to guarantee that it complies with pre-determined third-party environmental performance standards. If it passes the tests, it gets certified as Type 1 and can be called an ecolabel!
Non-Type I ecolabel products won’t take into account the full impact that that product will have on the environment. Type I ecolabels are based on life cycle considerations, meaning that the environmental impacts of the product are tested from the instant your product touches the earth to the end when it gets absorbed, ensuring that it leaves the smallest amount - or no - impact or trace. Only Type I ecolabel products are guaranteed to do this.
If you’re a consumer, you can find ecolabelled products at your local grocery store or general merchandise store. Just look in the cleaning supplies or detergent aisle to find products that have a label or “mark” that says that it’s been certified to reduce environmental impact. See GEN member product categories to guide you to the labels and products you seek.