Advisory Council on the Environment

Green Consumerism:
Eco-Labelling Scheme for Hong Kong - Progress Report


(ACE Paper 54/98)
for information


Members were informed in August 1997 (ACE Paper 41/97) that the time was not ready for the introduction of an eco-label scheme in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, the Government agreed to:

  • monitor overseas developments in eco-labelling;
  • pursue the introduction of "green specifications" in the Government procurement process.

This paper gives an update on these two issues.


Studies conducted in 1994 and 1996 led us to conclude that it was not yet feasible to introduce a comprehensive eco-labelling scheme in Hong Kong because of:

    (a) our reliance on imported goods and the World Trade Organisation's requirements to prevent the misuse of eco-labelling schemes as trade barriers;
    (b) the lack of consistent and internationally recognised eco-labelling standards;
    (c) the limited local interest in participation.

Nonetheless, we have continued to develop the Energy Efficiency Labelling Scheme (EELS) issued by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD). This is a specific type of eco-label, relating to energy efficiency. Currently, EELS can be sought for refrigerators, room air-conditioners and washing machines. EMSD is planning to extend the scheme to compact fluorescent lamps and clothes dryers, and later to office appliances.

To monitor the trade effects and international standardisation of eco-labelling, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has established a focused monitoring programme. Ten representative organisations were selected for establishing contacts to obtain information, encompassing the following sectors:

  • international organisations involved in trade and environmental issues;
  • management bodies of eco-labelling schemes;
  • key business, consumer and environmental groups;
  • standards institutions involved in the development of eco-labelling standards.

So far, EPD has successfully established contacts with eight of these organisations. The key developments are reported as below.

I.   Monitoring of trade effects of eco-labelling

Broadly speaking, developed and developing countries hold different views on the potential trade effects of eco-labelling schemes. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), comprising mainly developed countries, considers that the effect is small. However, they accept that harmonisation of standards and mutual recognition are required. However, progress in mutual recognition recently experienced a set back when the European Parliament rejected a European Commission proposal to replace the Member States' national schemes by a single European Ecolabelling scheme.

The general lack of mutually agreed product criteria and recognition framework among existing eco-labelling schemes worldwide is the major obstacle to pursuing mutual recognition. This problem is also recognised by the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) (an NGO formed by the management bodies of 21 eco-labelling schemes), under which a working group has been established to develop practical guidelines for pursuing mutual recognition. EPD will continue to monitor this issue, particularly the work of GEN and any other mutual recognition developed between different eco-labelling schemes.

II.  Development in standardisation for eco-labelling schemes

For the past several years, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has been working on the development of three international standards on eco-labelling (Table 1). ISO 14020 was published in August 1998 while the other two standards are expected to be published in 1999.

ISO 14020 contains nine principles on environmental labels and declarations. Significantly, these principles are very general and not intended for certification. It is not yet clear whether this new standard will gain wide recognition internationally. EPD will keep track of the impacts, if any, of this new standard on the existing eco-labelling schemes and continue to monitor the development of the other two standards. Table 1. Development stage of three international standards on eco-labelling.

Standards Titles Stage of development*
ISO 14020 Environmental labels and declarations - General principles Published in August 1998
ISO 14021 Environmental labels and declarations - Self-declared environmental claims draft International Standard (DIS)
ISO 14024 Environmental labels and declarations - Type I# environmental labelling - Guiding principles and procedures draft International Standard (DIS)

* Before approved as an International Standard, a draft International Standard (DIS) has to go through a period for voting and comment before it is approved for submission as a final draft International Standard (FDIS).

# Type I environmental label refers to a third-party scheme where an eco-label is awarded to a tested product by an independent body with reference to certain predetermined product criteria.

Environmentally Responsible Purchasing

The Government has already adopted some green purchasing practices by buying products with reduced packing materials, greater durability or enhanced energy efficiency. A working group was formed within government to develop "green specifications" for more products (e.g. recycled copying paper, recycled lube oil) although this has not been as successful as hoped. It is accepted that we need to improve this process by greater involvement of the end-user departments. Ultimately, it is end-users who have greatest influence on the specifications.

The Government's commitment towards green purchasing has been further strengthened under the Waste Reduction Framework Plan.

One of the initiatives announced in the "Policy Objectives" booklet in October was for Controlling Officers to produce annual Environmental Reports. We expect that this will give departments considerable incentive to examine opportunities to make the specifications of the products they need more environmentally friendly.

Advice Sought

Members are welcome to comment and advise on the highlighted developments and the way forward.

Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau
December 1998


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