Eco Marks-Right Environment Choice

by - Kalpana Palkhiwala, Deputy Director (M & C), PIB, New Delhi.

The issue of environmental protection has brought the consumers, the industry and the government to a common platform. The government and legislatures are using their influence to reduce environmental and health hazards due to industrialization and to stimulate the development of clean technologies. However the environment is under tremendous stress from rapid industrialization, unplanned urbanization and changing consumption patterns in the race to achieve better living standards. It is absolutely clear that regulatory actions by pollution control agencies alone can not restore the environment to its pristine state. Pro-active and promotional roles should also be geared up in harmony with the overall environmental protection strategy. The time has come for consumers to take lead in performing manufacturers to adopt clean and eco-friendly technologies and environmental-safe disposal of used products, along with preventive and mitigative approaches.
Eco Mark Scheme
Eco Mark is a voluntary non binding scheme which labels consumer products as environment friendly based upon certain environmental as well as quality parameters. To increase consumer awareness, the Government launched the eco-labelling scheme known as ‘Eco Mark’ in 1991 for easy identification of environment-friendly products. Any product which is made, used or disposed of in way that significantly reduces the harm it would otherwise cause the environment could be considered as Environment-Friendly Product. They have less potential for pollution during their entire life cycle i.e. raw material, manufacturing, use and disposal.
Twenty Eco Mark licenses to fifteen companies have been awarded in the country under three product categories i.e. paper, wood substitutes and finished leather and sixteen product categories have been notified since 1992 to 2000. In case of finished leather the quality norms were de-linked from Eco Mark norms on the ground that the Indian leather already meets the BIS approved quality norms. One more category—coir products has been taken up and Eco mark criteria for it are at draft stage.
The logo of Eco Mark scheme is unique, its message has the ability to reach out to the people and can help to promote a greater awareness of the need to be kind to the environment. An Earthen pot which is the logo of the Eco Mark Scheme, signifying the use of renewable resource like clay, which does not produce hazardous waste and consumes less energy in making. Its solid and graceful form represents both the strength and fragility, which also characterize the Eco-System. Thus as a symbol, it puts across its environmental message.
The criteria follow a cradle-to grave approach, i.e. from raw material extraction, to manufacturing, and to disposal. The ‘Eco Mark’ label is awarded to consumer goods which meet the specified environmental criteria and the quality requirements of Indian Standards. Any product with the Eco Mark will be the right environment choice.
There are five main objectives for the Eco Mark Scheme. That are, to provide an incentive for manufactures and importers to reduce adverse environmental impact of products; to reward genuine initiatives by companies in this regard; to assist consumers to become environmentally responsible in their daily lives by providing information, to take account of environmental factors in their purchase decisions; to encourage citizens to purchase products which have less harmful environmental impacts and ultimately to improve the quality of the environment and to encourage the sustainable management of resources.
Mechanism and Functions
A steering committee, a technical committee and the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) are involved in criteria development for each product category and the award of the Eco Mark. Both the Committees have been set up in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. They consist of members from Government Organizations, Research institutes, Industrial Associations and Non-Government Organizations. The Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests heads the Steering committee and it determines the products categories for coverage under the scheme and also formulates strategies for promotion, implementation, future development and improvements in the working of the scheme.
The Steering Committee has specific functions which include section of the logo, determine the product categories, mass awareness for promotion and acceptance, coordination with industries to ensure their active involvement, securing the involvement of other Ministries, Departments, Industry Associations and other Non- Government Organizations, formulations of strategies for future development, identify instructions in India or outside to build consumer awareness, promoting programmes of Comparative Testing of products and supporting any research for the formulations of Eco Mark products.
The technical committee is headed by the Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board in the Ministry of Environment and Forests. It identifies specific products for classifying as environment friendly, review the existing state of knowledge and the environmental criteria being followed in other countries and various technologies available for determining the criteria, recommend the most appropriate criteria and parameters to designate products as environment friendly. It reviews from time to time, the implementation of the scheme by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and set-up sub-Committee for each product category including formulation of test programmes for comparative testing of products by consumer organizations.
Functions of BIS
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) implements the Eco Mark scheme under BIS Act, 1986. It incorporates the criteria into Indian Standards, assess and certify the product for award of the Eco Mark. It allows the use of the label, on payment of a fee and inspects and takes samples for analysis to see the conformance with the Eco Mark criteria.
BIS charges for application fee, testing of samples, annual licence fee, renewal of application fee and marketing fee depending upon the quantum of the annual production. The label is awarded for a minimum period of one year and the product is re-assessed after the prescribed periods for renewal of licence. The BIS has a power to withdraw the licence at any time if they find any misleading information or any change in criteria due to the advancement of technology or any other valid reasons in consultation with the Technical Committee.
Eco Mark Licence
The licence is granted for a minimum period of one year and is renewed subsequently for the same period, after reassessment of the products. The manufacturer must ensure that the product qualify the quality criteria as per Indian Standard before applying to BIS for Eco Mark. A manufacturer desirous to obtain licence for eco Mark has to apply to BIS on the prescribed form with an application fee. On receipt of the application, BIS arranges inspection of the industry collects samples and arranges testing of the products. A licence is granted if, the product conforms to the relevant set criteria. On grant of a licence, the manufactures is authorized to use Eco Mark logo on their products.
Success of Indian Eco Mark Scheme
For satisfactory performance of the Eco Mark scheme, awareness among consumer is required. Industries also need incentives. Support from Government to manufacturers through purchase preference will give impetus to the scheme. Environment which plays a minor role in consumer’s decision to buy a product, the price is still a main factor for consumer’s decision.
The Government initiated steps to popularize the scheme. During the year 2006-2007, 238 Consumer Awareness Programmes and 42 Industry Awareness Programme were conducted by BIS all over the country. In addition comparative testing of products and dissemination of its findings have been got done by a consumer organization (Voice).
International Eco Labelling Programmes
Blue Angel programme of Germany is the oldest eco-label programme, which was started in 1997 and has more than 3,000 certified products in the market. Eco Mark of Japan is the second oldest eco-labelling programme after Blue Angel, which was started in 1989 and 1,902 companies have been issued licences under which 5,673 products have been certified. Sweden and Canada also have successful eco-labelling programme and have more than 3,000 certified products. Australia, Brazil, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Korea, New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Croatia, Taiwan, Thailand and Ukraine are other countries which have adopted Eco Mark scheme.

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