Impact of Nordic Swan Ecolabelling

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Impact Report




The Impact of Nordic Swan Ecolabel The Nordic Swan Ecolabel had a clear aim on its establishment 30 years ago: to enable and facilitate better environmental choices. While such choices have become mainstream, there is now more information available and the associated problems have become more complex. Among a plethora of environmental brands, the strengths of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel include whole life-cycle thinking and collaboration with businesses. People interviewed for the impact report Marianne Heikkilä Secretary General, Martha Organisation Taina Nikula Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of the Environment Ari Nissinen Development Manager, Finnish Environment Institute Satu Reijonen Adviser at the Nordic Council of Ministers Janne Sivonen Executive Director, Fairtrade Finland Astrid Thors Chairman of the Nordic Ecolabelling Board

Nordic Swan Ecolabelled papers and printing presses appeared first, followed by detergents and cleaning supplies. Nowadays the Nordic Swan Ecolabel already covers about 60 product groups in Finland, with some 9,000 Nordic Swan Ecolabelled products and services on the market. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is the best-known ecolabel in Finland and the Nordic countries. The story began in the 1980s as consumers increasingly began to take an interest in the environmental impacts of the goods and services that they were buying. Businesses and policymakers also became aware of this need. The market needed a tool that would enable businesses to show that their products were eco-friendly and help consumers to choose the products that were best for the environment. Established in 1989 on the initiative of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel responded to this need. It sought to give consumers in the Nordic countries reliable and independent facts that would enable them to choose products satisfying strict environmental criteria. Three decades later the environmental problems

are still with us, and they have become more complex. Consumers, businesses and organisations are more aware than ever of how human activities are accelerating climate change and destroying biodiversity. Where the pioneers of 30 years ago sought to make eco-friendly choices, their modern counterparts are considering what kind of consumption patterns are reasonable from the point of view of our climate and natural resources. Besides the environment, they are now interested in ethical manufacturing, including aspects such as the working conditions of employees. Our choices make the Nordic Swan Ecolabel effective This publication reflects a desire to appreciate how and where three decades of Nordic Swan Ecolabel have affected the world. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel pioneered an eco-friendly lifestyle through requirements that seek to influence major global environmental issues, such as minimising consumption of energy and chemicals and recycling waste, and to promote the transition to a circular economy. The broader aim of the label is to mitigate climate change and prevent the destruction of biodiversity.



The Nordic Swan Ecolabel brings sustainability to personal mobility, investment, housing, construction, clothing and use of leisure time. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel imposes strict limits on the chemicals that may be used in products, successfully reducing environmental discharges and undesirable uses of chemicals. We should nevertheless remember that the impact of a single ecolabel on major global trends is inevitably limited. Most problems in society are interwoven, with complex chains of influence. The best way to gauge the effectiveness of Nordic Swan Ecolabel is to look at the people and operators that promote change in society. How has the Nordic Swan Ecolabel reached the individuals who can affect the environment through a change in thinking and behaviour? How do Nordic Swan Ecolabel stakeholders – the consumers, businesses, public authorities, policymakers and other certification bodies – adopt the requirements of the label, internalise the associated approach to reviewing their practices, and broaden the environmental perspective to cover their activities in general? The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is needed more than ever nowadays, and we must increasingly consider where it is most keenly needed as conditions change. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel makes life easier for the consumer Considering its impact from the individual perspective, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel has clearly succeeded in facilitating consumer choices. More than 80

per cent of people in Finland agree that it makes eco-friendly choices easier. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is not merely helpful to consumers shopping, but has grown to encompass an entire eco-friendly lifestyle, bringing sustainability to such aspects as personal mobility, investment, housing, construction, clothing and use of leisure time. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel also provides an assurance that products are safe and effective. For example, ecolabelled cosmetics must comply with strict environmental and health requirements. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel can only become more influential as the years go by. Consumers in the Nordic countries are concerned about the environment, and they believe that consumer choices matter when mitigating the environmental crisis. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel provides a response to such hopes and concerns. While people are increasingly aware of environmental issues, they express their environmental concerns in various ways. Some seek to minimise consumption, others aim for higher quality, and some decisions are not yet subject to environmental considerations. Consumption has become compartmentalised. People increasingly consume goods and services within their own groups, coming into contact with varying types of marketing and influencers. One strength of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel is that it is a universally recognised ecolabel.

Mainstreaming sustainable lifestyles is still an important goal of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, which is now encountering an increasingly fragmented consumer marketplace in need of its everyday help and guidance. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel works with businesses The Nordic Swan Ecolabel seeks to serve enterprises as a partner and instrument. As one of Finland’s most reputable brands, it brings brand value to companies and works with them to develop criteria for specific products. It also provides business services, such as an electronic chemicals database that helps enterprises make responsible choices. There are some industries in which Nordic Swan Ecolabel has become a standard. For example, cleaning service providers are often contractually required to use Nordic Swan Ecolabelled or equivalent products. The Ecolabel has highlighted the best and most progressive businesses, products and services and affected research and development. As pioneering operators voluntarily adopt environmental standards that clearly exceed statutory requirements, their competitors come under pressure to manufacture corresponding products of their own. This process brings environmental choices into the mainstream. The importance of accountability in business is growing all the time, and this also extends to social issues. Nordic Swan Ecolabel criteria accordingly now give greater weight to working conditions and human rights. With a growing trend towards accountability, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel must stand out among a plethora of brands as a credible, ambitious and reliable symbol that avoids the danger of greenwashing.




The total number of product groups is about


including detergents, toilet paper and kitchen towels, paints, cleaning services, hotels, buildings and investment funds

The total number of products and services covered is



of people in Finland recognise the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, making it the country’s best-known ecolabel.

The number of businesses covered is about





The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is ranked among the 500 most reputable brands in Finland. The ranking is 3rd among consumers aged between 25 and 39 years.



IMPACTS OF THE NORDIC SWAN ECOLABEL The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is needed in a circular economy


were banned in Nordic Swan Ecolabelled cosmetics in 2013 and in detergents in 2018–2019. The European Union plans to ban microplastics by 2026. Source: Nordic Swan Ecolabel


of municipalities apply Nordic Swan Ecolabel criteria in at least some of their competitive tendering procedures for procurement. Source: Haikola 2016


reductions achieved in whole life cycle emissions from Nordic Swan Ecolabelled biogas compared to petrol and diesel fuels. Source: Gasum

Reducing consumption and promoting a circular economy are major trends that an ecolabel should also support. This is about finding ways to save the environment by consuming sustainably when the optimal solution is often substantially lower consumption. The concerns of younger people in particular concerning the climate may even erupt as climate anxiety. Counter-reactions may take the form of indifference or complete climate change denial. How will the Nordic Swan Ecolabel remain relevant and credible in the midst of such major tensions? To have any hope of resolving the climate crisis, the world should transition to a carbon-neutral circular economy over the next decade. Instead of buying and owning new goods, consumption in a circular economy will be based on using services – on sharing, leasing, buying used items and recycling. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel encompasses extended production chains and whole life cycle thinking, which is an important competence in a circular economy. Its criteria must also be updated to match the mentality of a circular economy. Climate issues correspondingly give the Nordic Swan Ecolabel an opportunity to set an example and promote change. Could carbon neutrality become a criterion of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel over the next few years?

IMPACT REPORT The Nordic Swan Ecolabel: blazing a trail for lawmakers to follow Environmental issues have also become the mainstream in legislation over the last 30 years. For example, the law on chemicals has continually tightened in line with Nordic Swan Ecolabel criteria, with the European Union restricting or banning several chemicals that were previously excluded from ecolabelled products. The ecolabel has also served as a link between pilot projects and mass production, with the good practices of intrepid pioneers subsequently established by law. New procurement legislation that took effect in 2017 enables more effective use of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel in public procurement, with 40 per cent of municipalities in Finland already applying the Nordic Swan Ecolabel as a purchasing criterion. The criteria of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel have also transcended use of the label itself, with local authorities, businesses and other ecolabels already adopting them. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel was a founder member of the Global Ecolabelling Network, through which Nordic environmental standards have been echoed throughout the world. Nordic Swan Ecolabel housing attracts interest The global environmental crisis has given the Nordic Swan Ecolabel an important opportunity to regenerate and expand into new industries. An accelerating global trend towards urbanisation is increasing the demand for eco-friendly solutions in construction. Nordic Swan Ecolabel building criteria encourage an eco-friendly approach to constructing, operating and demolishing buildings, including standards for such aspects as construction materials, use of energy,

6 energy-efficiency and indoor air quality. Carbon footprinting of buildings in Finland was also incorporated into the Nordic Swan Ecolabel in autumn 2019. The effects are already visible. Nordic Swan Ecolabelled construction has quadrupled in the Nordic countries over the last three years, with 8,000 dwellings already completed and a further 18,000 under construction. Annual emissions from Finland would fall by the equivalent of 870,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide if a quarter of the population lived in a Nordic Swan Ecolabelled building with A energy rating. This corresponds to five per cent of all emissions from housing. Nordic Swan Ecolabelled construction is also of interest in the public sector, with a higher proportion of ecolabelled schools and nurseries built in Finland than in the other Nordic countries. We can look forward to a future with even more demand for Nordic Swan Ecolabelled public buildings, offices and even entire urban districts. Diversity is an opportunity There are many Nordic Swan Ecolabelled products, with the associated criteria covering the entire lifespan of the product. Diversity can also be a challenge. How do you stand out from the crowd with more than 450 ecolabels already on the market? And how can consumers know that the associated standards are sufficiently ambitious and correctly defined when there are so many products to choose from? Diversity can be a strength in a world of global production chains. With industrial production increasingly moving to developing countries, a label that covers the entire product life cycle can exert a greater impact than other ecolabels on the environmental standards and manufacturing ethics of

The Nordic Swan Ecolabel provides an assurance that products are safe and functional.

producer countries. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel may also be well placed to encourage social accountability in enterprises if it imposes sufficiently ambitious requirements. Diversity also means that criteria can be formulated and a Nordic Swan Ecolabel can be issued for almost any product that achieves significant environmental benefits. Nordic Swan Ecolabelled funds are an example of further diversification in recent years, and what is to prevent a Nordic Swan Ecolabelled data centre or mobility service? There is a market for a broad approach that also incorporates a diversity of social and environmental aspects, and this could further increase the impact of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. For the Nordic Swan Ecolabel to continue pointing the way forward to a more eco-friendly lifestyle, it must be vigilant in forecasting technological progress and changes in the market. The impact of the Nordic Swan Ecolabel is based on strong partnerships with consumers, enterprises and procurement units. Leadership is not for loners, but for those who can work together.




If a quarter of the population lived in a building with a Nordic Swan Ecolabelled A energy rating, then annual emissions from Finland would fall by the equivalent of


This corresponds to of the housing and energy consumption carbon footprint for all households.

870,000 t CO2


investment funds have been accredited under the Nordic Swan Ecolabel scheme. These funds administer total assets of EUR 9 billion.


A fund must satisfy demanding criteria in various areas of responsible investment to earn accreditation.



Sources of the impact report Finnish Environment Institute: Kestävät julkiset hankinnat – nykytila ja kehittämisehdotuksia. [Sustainable public procurement – state of play and proposals for improvement]. Report no. 32/2017 of the Finnish Environment Institute. Nordic Swan Ecolabel: Nordic Swan Ecolabel Nordic consumer survey 2017. IPSOS. Brand prestige 2019 survey by Taloustutkimus and Markkinointi&Mainonta magazine. 30 August 2019. Nordic Ecolabelling: Sustainable consumerism in the Nordic region. Finnish Environment Institute: Suomen kotitalouksien kulutuksen hiilijalanjälki kasvussa, julkisten hankintojen hiilijalanjälki laskettu ensimmäistä kertaa. [Carbon footprint rising in Finnish household ‘consumption – calculated for the first time in public procurement]. Bulletin 8 April 2019. Monthly colour supplement of the national daily newspaper Helsingin Sanomat: Suomalainen käyttää vuodessa 60 rullaa vessapaperia – olisiko iso ilmastoteko, jos paperin sijasta kaikki käyttäisivät käsisuihkua? [People in Finland use 60 rolls of toilet paper annually – would it make a big difference to the climate if everyone used a bidet shower instead?]. 5 January 2019.

Publisher: Ecolabelling Finland (2019) Text: Demos Helsinki and Kaskas Media Translation: Samtext Finland