The Global Ecolabelling Network celebrates a quarter century of inspiring credible and critical green products and services.
2019 marks the 25th year of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN). The non-profit is celebrating a quarter century of protecting the planet by improving, promoting and developing the ecolabelling of green and sustainable products and services. The 33 member organisations of GEN work every day to recognise and reward the most environmentally responsible products and services available worldwide.
“I’m very proud to be on the Board as a Non-Executive Director,” said GECA CEO Kate Harris, “and of all that GEN has achieved over the past 25 years! At a time of global challenge and with a real need for leadership for good, GEN is a powerhouse of mission-aligned leading labels, out to change the world one purchase at a time. Congratulations to GEN!”
GEN members represent nearly 60 countries with over 600,000 ecolabelled products and services worldwide. Affiliate members include the ISEAL Alliance, International Green Purchasing Network, Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, and Google Inc. The network was formally established in Stockholm in November 1994 to promote ecolabelling and improve its effectiveness on an international level through the transfer of experience and technical information.
Some initial challenges, according to co-founder Dr Arthur Weissman, included multinational corporations’ concerns about inconsistent standards from different national and regional ecolabelling programs, the variety of GEN members at different stages of development, and perhaps the biggest challenge, industry feeling threatened about independent certifications beyond their control and their efforts to restrict ecolabelling.
GEN played a critical role in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) development of standards for environmental management (ISO 14000 series), including a set of standards on environmental information by ecolabels, claims and declarations (ISO 14020 series), that curtailed industry efforts to restrict the efficacy of ecolabels. GEN members later participated in World Trade Organization (WTO) discussions about the right to use ecolabels in the marketplace.
Dr Ning Yu of Taiwan, who served on the GEN Board for nearly 15 years, sees GEN participation in ISO as critical to its success. “Successfully representing the voice of ecolabelling organisations at the ISO meetings and producing a standard which is accepted by all stakeholders (including consumer groups and industry) and is still workable after so many years is a significant impact,” Dr Yu said.
GEN established mutual recognition programs among member ecolabels and encouraged the development of common criteria to address international trade concerns and overcome inconsistencies. The Global Ecolabelling Network International Coordinated Ecolabelling System (GENICES) was launched in 2004 as a formal peer review process based on ISO 14024 guidelines to benchmark member programmes as a basis for mutual trust. GECA proudly received GENICES recognition in 2014, providing benefits for Australian architects who are specifying for green building projects overseas.
Robin Taylor of New Zealand, GEN Board Chair from 2008 until 2014, said, “I think that GEN’s biggest impact has been the development of the GENICES process and its gradual adoption by members–it has helped pull people together and facilitated mutual recognition, encouraging countries to work together.”
In 2008 GEN developed an internal Technical Assistance Program to help new ecolabelling organisations receive expert onsite assistance from a team of experienced ecolabelling practitioners. This program has improved the consistency and credibility of member programs, among both the members and their stakeholders.
When asked about the future of the network, the current GEN chair, Bjorn-Erik Lonn of Norway said, “There is still a way to go until all products and services on the market are sustainable as the default. Voluntary ecolabelled products provide a model and act as benchmarks in greening the market. Regulatory actions and other mandatory instruments cannot react fast enough, and the voluntary characteristics of ecolabelling are an effective means for moving the economy in a sustainable direction.”
GEN owes its success and longevity to its members for developing strong and credible labels, to providers of ecolabel products for demonstrating leadership, to procurement officials for their commitment to purchasing green, and to consumers for not settling for anything less than the safest products for themselves, their families and the environment.