The History of the Labelling System and its Operating Bodies
In 1989, the Nordic Council of Ministers introduced a voluntary and neutral seal-of-approval certification program known as the Nordic Swan. Currently, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark are participating in the program. The program was introduced in an attempt to unify the emerging ecolabeling programs that were appearing throughout the Nordic countries.
The Nordic Swan program is administered in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark by national boards co-ordinated by the Nordic Ecolabelling Board. The Nordic Ecolabelling Board acts under the Nordic Council of Ministers and makes final program-related decisions.
The program’s agency in Norway is administered as a foundation, while the Swedish, Finnish, and Danish agencies are incorporated into their national standardisation organisations. The program in Iceland is housed in the Ministry of Environment. The five programs are very similar to ensure smooth operation and mutual recognition of activities among participating countries.
The text "Nordic environmental label" or equivalent text in other languages follows the rounded form of the label at the top of the label. The explanatory text below the label is specified in the corresponding criteria document. The text shall be black and the label shall be green and white. If the use of a green colour is impractical, the label shall be black and white.
Development of new product categories
Criteria for 55 product categories had been established so far. Anyone can propose new product categories. Proposals are registered by the national organisations, which evaluate and rank the proposals.
The Nordic Ecolabelling Board chooses the product categories to be developed, and decides which national organisation should prepare the preliminary assessment.
The preliminary study assesses the:
1) qualitative and quantitative environmental problems associated with the product,
2) scope available for environmental improvements,
3) information needed by consumers,
4) requirements of commerce and industry for ecolabelling in the field,
5) expected costs of the development of criteria and
6) product and market analyses for the Nordic market.
The Ecolabelling Board usually appoints an expert group to work in an advisory capacity with the national organisations to develop the product criteria.
The expert group is made up of representatives from the particular industry and consumer and environmental organisations and includes representatives from each of the Nordic countries. Once developed into a draft, the criteria are sent out for review in the Nordic countries.
The final set of criteria is either accepted or rejected by the Ecolabelling Board, and all decisions must be unanimous. Once approved by the Board, a product category and its criteria are valid in all of the Nordic Council countries.
Product criteria are usually valid for three years, at which point they are reviewed, taking into consideration changes in production technology and new knowledge. The Board has the ability to cancel or modify the criteria during this period if new information is discovered.
Application and label use
To receive the Nordic Swan, manufacturers from within a Nordic Council country send an application to the ecolabelling organisation in their own country. Foreign manufacturers seeking an award apply to the country that developed the product category.
Claims made by manufacturers are tested in independent laboratories, and manufacturers are required to perform and report the results of tests to ensure that all other requirements in the criteria are met for all labelled products. Permission is given by the national ecolabelling organisation that has dealt with the application.
Once an award has been made to a product by one country, the license to use the label is valid in any of the other participating countries, although manufacturers must pay an additional fee in each country to register their product.
Applicants for the Nordic Swan are required to pay a one-time application fee, depending on the country. If the application is granted, licensees also must pay an annual fee in each country where the label is used.
The validity of the licence is restricted to the validity time of the relevant criteria document. To obtain a licence in accordance with the terms in a revised criteria document, a new application must be made. If the validity of the criteria document is extended without change, no new application has to be made.
Products for which the certificate has been issued may be marked with the Nordic eco-label. The label may also be applied to the product packaging.
Every ecolabelling licence is allocated a mandatory six-digit identity, which enables the product to be identified. The number shall always be specified together with the label.
Follow-up inspections of products and processes are conducted to verify compliance with the award criteria. The ecolabelling organisation that has granted the ecolabelling registration shall ensure, by the necessary periodic inspection that licensed products conform to the requirements.
If inspection reveals that the provisions of the criteria document have not been met, the ecolabelling organisation that has issued the licence may instruct the licensee to immediately cease the use of the label.