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The truth behind Sustainability Labels

We, at Zero Packaging, looked into which features of packaging influence the sustainable look. This research has shown certified sustainability labels have the greatest impact. But a new study by the Consumer and market authority (ACM) shows that consumers know remarkably little about sustainability labels. Moreover, the quality marks do not provide consumers with enough information to provide guidance. The current lacking of a legal framework makes enforcement more difficult. "It is the legislator's turn to set clear rules for labels," says Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, board member of the ACM.

Photo: The Dutch parliament in The Hague

Sustainable consumption

It is becoming increasingly important to make sustainable choices. Hence, consumers and companies want to contribute to a sustainable society. Sustainable production is a competitive advantage for companies. If consumers prefer the sustainable option, the sustainable company wins from the less sustainable producer. This is necessary for the transition to a more sustainable society. For that reason, communicating the reduced environmental impact is important. Because eco-conscious consumers cannot identify the most sustainable option without further visual indicators.

Sustainability labels

When shopping for clothes, you come across dozens of different sustainability labels. These are intended to help consumers make more sustainable choices. But this does not happen. There are simply just too many quality marks, therefore it is not surprising that consumers lose sight of the true meaning behind those sustainable claims.

“The large number of sustainability quality marks, labels and claims reduces usability for consumers,” concludes ACM in a new study into how consumers understand, interpret and use sustainability labels in their purchasing process. This research shows that consumers' knowledge of sustainability labels is remarkably low. A few quality marks are known, but people have no clue of what they stand for or who issues and controls them. So they offer no guidance to make more sustainable choices. But the information provided by quality marks is of value, because consumers cannot recognize the most sustainable products without further visual indicators.

ACM states: “It is up to the legislator to help consumers make sustainable choices based on reliable information.”

Role of legislator

Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh says, “Consumers are looking for something to hold on to. They find it difficult to determine how sustainable a product is. Sustainability labels can help consumers to make sustainable choices, but then the information must be verifiable, comparable and clear. That is unfortunately not the case now. It is up to the legislator to set clear rules for quality marks.” To prevent the uprise of misleading sustainability claims, the ACM is investigating sustainability claims in the clothing, energy and dairy sectors. Which companies they are investigating has not been said


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ACM. (2022). Up to the legislator to provide consumers with reliable information to help them make sustainable choices. Retrieved from


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