Measures of Sustainability
Overview / Embodied Energy / Operating Energy / Exergy / Durability / Externalities / Ecological Footprint / Eco-Labeling / Life Cycle Assessment

Eco-labeling represents another composite measure of sustainability, or as its critics have argued, corporate political correctness. Eco-labels started with products and are evolving into methods of assessing entire buildings. The trend toward eco-labeling as a composite measure of sustainability is gaining ground in Europe and North America. Eco-labels attempt to provide an indicator of how well a product is environmentally adapted. Typically, eco-labels are derived from programs having government, industry and consumer representation. Environmental standards and methods of assessing compliance to their requirements form the basis of eco-labels, which are normally issued by an independent certification organization. Eco-labeling attempts to encourage the manufacturing of products with a reduced impact on the environment, and to address public concerns about raw material scarcity, shrinking landfill space, and the impact of pollutants on the air and water. Eco-labeling is fundamentally different from the setting of minimum product standards or requirements. The key difference is that eco-labeling is intended to reward environmental leadership. For further information on eco-labeling, refer to the Related Resources + References page.

Most international eco-labeling programs rely on some form of life cycle analysis of the whole product process, a cradle to grave approach which also considers disposal and recycling. The International Standards Organization (ISO) has developed a series of standards and guidelines for use in various programs, including eco-labeling. The ISO 14000 series of international environmental management system standards provide organizations around the world (both large and small) with guidance on how to manage the environments aspects of their activities, products, and services more effectively.

The standards do not set specific environmental performance policies, objectives, or targets. These are set internally by the organization or externally by regulators. However, by using these standards, an organization may plan, monitor and continually improve its competitive position and environmental performance. There are five standards associated with the ISO 14000 Series:

ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems - Specification With Guidance for Use

ISO 14004 Environmental Management Systems - General Guidelines On Principals, Systems and Supporting Techniques

ISO 14010 Guidelines for Environmental Auditing - General Principles

ISO 14011 Guidelines for Environmental Auditing - Audit Procedures Auditing of Environmental Management Systems

ISO 14012 Guidelines for Environmental Auditing - Qualification Criteria for Environmental Auditors

The history of eco-labeling is a contemporary example of how consumer interests have driven information processes aimed at differentiating the environmental appropriateness of goods and services. Eco-labeling programs started in Europe and their use has spread to most industrialized countries.

German Blue Eco Angel - This is world's first eco-labeling program, created in 1977 to promote environmentally friendly products, relative to others in the same group. This label now covers over 4,000 products (its only exclusion is food and pharmaceuticals) that have positive environmental features. The mark is entirely voluntary and has increased environmental awareness of both producers and consumers. The Eco-Label Jury, composed of industry, environmental associations, trade unions, churches and public authorities, scrutinizes product groups twice yearly. The criteria for awarding the Blue Angel include: the efficient use of fossil fuels, alternative products with less of an impact on the climate, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and conservation of resources. Once approved by the German Environmental Protection Agency, eco-labeled products are reviewed every two or three years to reflect state-of-the-art developments in ecological technology and product design.

The European Union (EU) Eco-Label - Launched in 1992, the Label is awarded to products that have a reduced impact on the environment. It affects the buying decisions of 340 million consumers in Europe. The strength of this label is the European dimension; once approved by a member state, it can be used throughout the other EU states to eliminate costly and redundant applications. The criteria are seen as benchmarks and stimulate change even if companies do not apply for the label.

In Canada, a number of eco-labels have been developed and are in use. The Environmental Choice Program (ECP) was created as a voluntary eco-labeling program by Environment Canada in 1988. ECP has published 50 final guidelines, has generated 39 certification criteria documents, and has awarded the Environmental Choice label, known as the EcoLogo, to over 1,750 products, services, technologies, and events as an indication of their positive environmental attributes. It has received a generally favorable response in the markeplace, and a June 1996 survey found that one in five Canadians said that they or someone in their household had purchased a product carrying the label in the past year. Two in three Canadians said they had confidence in the EcoLogo as a buying guide.

Most recently, the Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) mark, based on CAN/CSA Z-809, Canada's National Standard for Sustainable Forest Management has been introduced. The new CSA program tracks the product from the forest through the phases of ownership, transportation and transformation prior to reaching the consumer. Qualified forest products will be identified by a new version of the CSA mark called the CSA Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Mark. The Mark on a forest product indicates that the product originated from a certified forest. Products can include everything from traditional forest products such as lumber, pulp and paper to specialty products such as maple syrup and Christmas trees.

The program is intended for organizations who have forest areas certified to Canada's National Standard for Sustainable Forest Management, CAN/CSA-Z809, or are using raw materials originating from a CSA certified forest. Since its publication in 1996, more than 5 million hectares of forest have been certified to this standard.

Facsimiles of International Eco-Labels
The eco-labeling of products used in the building industry is intended to provide consumers and product specifiers with an indication of the environmental friendliness of the product. It remains to be seen whether or not eco-labeling will be embraced in architectural practice. Restricting products used in building construction only to those bearing selected eco-labels may prove too constraining at present, but as more products evolve to meet labeling criteria some reliance on eco-labeling may be welcomed, particularly by specification writers. As these labeling systems proliferate in the international marketplace, several important issues become apparent. How have the criteria been applied? Are the labels commensurable with local measures and regulations?

A fundamental question regards whether or not it is sustainable to import materials or products from another country. Is a "green" product still "green" after it has been imported, or is it only so if it is indigenous to the geographic area where it is produced?

To take a look beyond eco-labeling, it is necessary to next examine Life Cycle Assessment and how this measure is applied to the environmental evaluation of buildings.

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