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Combining of Policy Instruments

One of the most commonly used instruments for influencing sustainable consumer choices is voluntary labelling which has expanded to more products and countries in recent years. The most viable labels are those where environmental or social claims are verified by a third party, including governments and non-governmental organisations. These can be multicriteria labels, which compare products with others in the same category on a number of impacts throughout their lifecycle, or single issue labels which refer to a specific environmental or social characteristic of a product, such as organic cotton, dolphin-safe tuna or sustainable forestry. These labels are most useful when they communicate complex information on sustainability in a simple way and provide transparency which enables consumers to make informed choices. Studies show that the sustainability effects of labelling schemes are growing with heightened consumer interest in environmental and social issues in OECD countries. However, the general weaknesses of labels, including low levels of consumer awareness, criteria differences across products, market competition between various schemes, and possible technological lock-ins for business thus limiting innovation, still persist (OECD, 1997). The proliferation of voluntary labels on the market has also led to consumer confusion between self-declarations and third-party certified labels. The effect of labels on purchasing patterns is more marked in some countries than others. The best-known environmental or eco-labels, in terms of high levels of consumer recognition and effects on producers, are the German Blue Angel (introduced in 1977) and the Nordic Swan (introduced in 1989). The former is applied to some 3 800 products from 710 companies, while the latter marks a similarly high numbers of products and has consumer recognition of up to 90%. Other countries with national eco-label schemes include Austria, Canada (Environmental Choice), the Czech Republic, the European Union (the Flower), France (NF Environnement), Japan (Eco Mark), Korea (Eco Mark), the Netherlands, Sweden (Environmental Choice), and the United States 30 – VOLUNTARY LABELLING PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION: GOOD PRACTICES IN OECD COUNTRIES – © OECD 2008 (Green Seal). Some of these eco-labelling programmes are run and certified by governments (e.g. Austria, Czech Republic), while others are administered by non-governmental agencies or organisations (e.g. Germany, Japan).