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Rapanui have developed a scaling label system to show how environmentally friendly clothing products are.
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Ecolabelling: How the EU could help shoppers make greener fashion choices

Rob Drake-Knight

15th August, 2012

Rapanui's Rob Drake-Knight explains how his Eco-Fashion company are campaigning for clear labels showing how sustainable high street brands really are

Think about the item of clothing you are wearing. Do you know where it came from? How it was made? Who made it? What methods were used? What chemicals were involved?

Just as a packet of crisps tell you they have high fat or salt content, or a light bulb tells you if it’s efficient or not, we think the high street should clearly and honestly tell you how clothing is made.

Some clothes might have an organic or eco friendly logo on them, but it’s hard to tell when you look at all the different labels and fine print what’s really going on. We think you should be able to quickly and easily see the eco-friendliness of items of clothing in stores on the swing ticket, so you can make informed decisions about the clothing that you buy.

Why is eco-labelling needed?
On average, each Briton spends £624 on clothes each year, adding up to around three million garments. This is equivalent to approximately 50 items per person. Few of these items are purchased with consideration of their source, but we think that it’s not that people don’t care about where and how the clothing they buy is made – it’s just that they don’t know the facts. Without a clear, independent and regulated system to quickly and simply classify the sustainability of clothing, choosing the sustainable option is impossible. Our eco-labelling system makes the consumer-powered transformation of the clothing industry achievable. Furthermore, the easy visual identification is compatible with the market now – it’s fast, easy and free.

What do we propose?
We propose that an independent organisation takes all the complexities in the labelling, specifications and small print of clothing and rounds it all up into a simple grading that lets consumers shop quickly and with a conscience. We call it, simply, eco-labelling - an A-G rating in the same style as the highly successful EU energy-rating label. We developed the idea in 2008, and have petitioned Number 10 to enforce it. Since then we’re proud to have gained national recognition in newspapers and awards ceremonies, and our eco-labelling system (and variations of it) have been adopted by major high-street brands in the UK. It’s safe to say that our eco-labelling initiative has made a difference, but we want to see it through.

How does it work?
This same system of eco-labelling was used to show the energy efficiency of light bulbs, and was also taken a step further and legislated by the EU. By enforcing regulation on a shift to energy saving bulbs, EU citizens will save close to 40 TWh of energy - roughly the electricity consumption of Romania, or of 11 million European households. This will also lead to a reduction of about 15 million tons of CO2 emission per year. Fashion is a bigger industry, with additional lobbying power and will no doubt complain more than light bulb manufacturers, but this system works – and it’s worth it. By simply placing an A-G rated label on the normal swing tag, it is possible to turn a whole industry around.

So how are we making it happen?
In July 2011, Rappanui met with UK MEP Catherine Bearder to discuss our plans, and she put us in touch with her colleagues in Brussels. Later that year, we sent off a question to Brussels via Catherine to find out what the EU is doing about the eco-labelling of clothing. In January of 2012, we received the following response:

“The Commission is already running the EU Ecolabel, a voluntary scheme to encourage businesses to market products and services that are kinder to the environment. Products and services awarded the Ecolabel carry the flower logo - helping manufacturers, retailers and service providers gain recognition for good environmental standards, while helping purchasers to make reliable choices.

Ecolabel criteria are based on studies that analyse the impact of the product or service on the environment throughout its life cycle, starting from raw material extraction in the pre-production stage, through to production, distribution and disposal. Today EU Ecolabel criteria exist for 26 product groups, including textiles. The producers of textile products can apply for the EU Ecolabel if these products meet the environmental criteria set for them, and the current criteria for textiles will be revised later this year.

The Commission is aware of the confusion caused by the multiplicity of voluntary labels and increasing consumer perceptions of ‘greenwashing’. It has therefore announced that it will look into the feasibility of an initiative on the Ecological Footprint of Products to establish a common European methodology to assess the environmental impact of products and label such products.”

What do we think abouth that?
Although an EU eco rating stamp exists, it is only a stamp of approval, not a scaled rating. It does not allow consumers to value the eco-friendliness of the product in an eco-rating - just a black and white indication on whether a product is eco or not sustainable. As we know from looking at the appliance and light bulb industry, things are never that simple. We need to adopt a simple rating system from A-G.

So what’s next?
Following the EU Commission’s response to our question, we were advised by Catherine Bearder’s office to run a campaign to raise awareness of the eco-labelling idea and have received thousands of petition signings and support from Wayne Hemingway, Shelly Vella and Sir David Attenborough, who described Rapanui as ‘a most valuable and interesting project’.

In July 2012 we received a phone call from the EU commission via Catherine’s office, inviting us to Brussels in September to present our ideas, which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Labelling is a big issue and can take years to turn around, but we hope that we can help move both the UK high street and European community towards informed consumer decisions via eco labelling for clothing. It’s pretty simple; we just need to get it done.
I like this. What can I do to help?

This year a Global Consumer Wind study by Vestas found that “Consumers want more information about the renewable energy used in the production of brands, for instance through labelling.”

If you believe that this would make it easier for you to know what’s going on with the clothes you’re wearing, put your voice forward and join our petition. If you have a Facebook account, posting up a link to the page below or emailing it to friends would definitely help too:


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