WHAT IS IT?

With no internationally agreed upon standards for providing sustainability information to consumers, businesses struggle to create sound claims, while the public suffers from information overload and mistrust of corporate greenwashing. The Consumer Information Programme is a global platform that works to get consumers reliable, easily understandable information on the sustainability of products and services they buy.

Through educating the public, helping businesses get the tools to measure their impact, and championing public policies, they focus three objectives: improving access to consumer information, driving change in government and business and changing behaviors across all parts of society.

The Guidelines for Providing Product Sustainability Information provide guidance and examples so that companies of all sizes and in all regions can present effective, trustworthy sustainability claims to consumers. More than 140 stakeholders collaborated on the report, which targets companies, public and private organizations that regulate product sustainability information schemes, and ‘watchdog’ groups that check the quality of existing claims.

The Guidelines’ structure has two objectives: to establish minimum requirements that must be met when providing product sustainability information to consumers (fundamental principles); and to encourage ambition, improvement and sustainability leadership over time (aspirational principles).

“The Guidelines have offered us a clear learning on how to communicate the sustainability attributes of our products to consumers, and the exercise was a turning point for a deep reflection on such communication.”

– Auchan Retail España

EDUCATION

The Mi Codigo Verde project in Chile is changing the consumer goods industry and making it easier for consumers to make informed choices.

As part of the project, Fundación Chile and SERNAC developed a website that gives science-based, clear, comparable and complete information on the sustainability of everyday items like milk, toilet paper, toothbrushes, eggs and even beer. By creating more informed consumers, the platform intends to incentivise and guide producers to improve sustainability of their products and raise the standard of the Chilean consumer goods industry.

LITTLE CHANGES ADD UP

The Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption is educating Brazilian consumers about the impact of their daily choices, and showing that little changes can make a big difference!

LABELS

Sell by? Use by? Best by? Reading food labels is going to get easier. The Consumer Goods Forum is issuing three recommendations to simplify date labels and reduce food waste by 2020:

  • Use just one label at a time
  • Only have two labels to choose from: one expiration date for perishable items (e.g., “Use by”) and one food quality indicator for non-perishable items (e.g., “Best by”).
  • Educate consumers so they understand what date labels mean— and not throw away still good food.

In partnership with the UN Environment-led Advance SCP Project, 10 hotels in Morocco reduced their environmental footprint in order to get an environmental label. They implemented changes like installing solar panels; swapping individually sized toiletries for larger, refillable bottles; replacing halogen lamps with LED lights; using natural toiletries, and using drainwater heat recovery systems.

THESE CHANGES HAVE RESULTED IN:

  • 20% reduction in on-site water consumption22% reduction in energy consumption
  • 17% reduction in CO2 emissions
  • 30% rise in environmentally friendly and certified organic products

Malaysia’s Ministry of Energy is going green with its Malaysia Green Technology programme. In addition to tax breaks and financial aid for companies that bring eco-friendly products to market, the government has created the MyHIJAU mark—an eco-label—to guarantee products’ sustainability and make Malaysians conscious of environmental protection. More than 850 products have received the MyHIJAU label so far.

The Working Group on Social Impact Communication brings together experts to develop a white paper on communicating the social impacts of products. Led by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission, New Earth and UN Environment, its aim is to make knowledge in this emerging field more widely available, highlighting and recommending good practices in the communication of social impacts to consumers.

LIFE CYCLES

THE LONG VIEW:
EXPLORING PRODUCT LIFETIME EXTENSION

Short use and fast replacement of products has become the norm in many regions. But with the expected doubling of the global middle class incoming years, the way we consume — and discard — will have an enormous influence on the planet’s ability to support us.

Product lifetime extension—increasing the amount of time that we use a product before getting rid of it—reduces resource use and waste, while preserving the economic value embedded in products. This study analyses the optimal replacement times for key items, and proposes actions that the private sector, governments and consumers can take to extend the useful life of products.

COUNTRY CASE STUDY: National Programme on Sustainable Consumption (Germany)

Germany’s National Programme on Sustainable Consumption, adopted by the Federal Government in 2016, involves government agencies, businesses and individuals in driving structural change towards sustainability in the economy and society.

It developed five key ideas for a sustainable consumption policy: making sustainable consumption feasible for all, bringing sustainable consumption into the mainstream, ensuring all parts of society participate, looking at products and services from a lifecycle perspective, and shifting the focus from products to systems – and will evaluate efforts by measuring impact indicators including material use efficiency, waste reduction, energy use efficiency, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity conservation and sustainable land-use, and share of sustainable products on the markets.


For consumer information to be reliable, it needs to be based on robust data and sound methodologies. To enable this, UN Environment and the Life Cycle Initiative have collaborated with national partners, trained practitioners and policy-makers to create Life Cycle Analysis training. In Peru, a training for public institutions supported the management of life cycle analysis data and national inventory databases as a way for policymakers to make more informed decisions and improve consumer information. In Sri Lanka, a “train the trainer” programme increased capacities on life cycle analysis, and helped develop a Life Cycle Inventory Database for food products, and ultimately a green certification scheme.

In order to increase transparency and connectivity in international value chains, the SustainabilityMap provides information on worldwide sustainability initiatives and standards, enabling better trade practices. This platform allows users to review and compare requirements and audit procedures of voluntary sustainability standards, as well as for producers to gain visibility and get connected to potential buyers and clients.

The EU Consumer Footprint measures the environmental impacts of the goods and services purchased and used in one year by a EU citizen. It isa life cycle assessment framework, designed to monitor the evolution of environmental impact of consumption in the European Union, and support resource efficiency, eco-innovation and circular economy policies.

GOVERNMENT ACTION

Brazil’s Action Plan for Sustainable Production and Consumption addresses the country’s complex and challenging priorities, and points to potential improvements, actions, partnerships and initiatives to change the patterns of production and consumption in Brazil. It highlights the need to strengthen and expand policies, programs, projects and initiatives that contribute to the goals of the Plan; identify ways to monitor and evaluate them; and involve all sectors of society in the effort to ensure a high quality of life for present and future generations.