What is Sustainable Consumption and Production? | What is Eco-labelling? | Why Eco-labelling for Africa? | Which sectors does the EMA work with? | Is the EMA credible? | Why another label? | How does EMA respond to barriers to trade?

What is Sustainable Consumption and Production?

The globally established patterns of consumption and production lead to an overexploitation of our environment and natural resources: The increasing scarcity of water, energy, food or deployable soil and many others of our most pressing environmental problems (e.g. climate change), are direct outcomes of non-sustainable consumption. While less developed countries are most affected, their "ecological footprint" is still insignificant compared with industrialized nations. However, the fast growing emerging economies in particular seem to be following the traditional growth paths trodden by today's industrialized countries, with the concomitant high demand for energy and excessive resource consumption that often entails serious environmental impacts and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

A global and sustainable development will only be possible if we achieve to decouple economic growth from resource consumption. In order to accomplish this vision of a global "Green Economy", the model of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) has been developed. SCP is a holistic approach that embraces a wide spectrum of fields of action, including cleaner production and environmental management, corporate social and environmental responsibility, consumer protection and information, sustainable energy and transport systems, and the sustainable management of materials, chemicals and solid waste.

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What is Eco-labelling?

The International Standardization Organization (ISO) defines three types of eco-labelling schemes, Type I being the one that the EMA is working with: "Voluntary, multiple-criteria based, third party programs that award a license authorizing the use of a label on products which, based on life cycle considerations, indicates the overall environmental preferability of a product within a particular product category."

Thus, an eco-label functions as a market-driven instrument to promote environmentally preferable goods and services. The label is applied to a product or service, warranting that the product or service complies with certain pre-determined environmental - and sometimes also social - criteria. An eco-label makes a positive statement about the environmental aspects of a product or service and/or its value chain compared to other products of the same category. Thus, an eco-label is potentially an attractive instrument for informing consumers, including institutions and governments that consume input materials, products and services, about the environmental impact of their purchasing decisions. Simultaneously, it provides producers with a tool for extracting market place preference, and thus market share.

Meanwhile the label or seal is a communication tool, providing certain environmental information and thus linking the producer and the consumer, it is only the visible part of an entire standards system. The content of a standards system defines its sustainability requirements, which are refined through manageable and verifiable principles, criteria and indicators. A verification mechanism provides for the assessment of the level of compliance with the criteria and for the final decision of certification. The governance structure of a standards system specifies which stakeholders can define and change the rules of the system, adhering to certain procedures. The stringency of content and the transparency of verification and decision mechanisms as well as the relevance of the standards system's members determine the credibility and legitimacy of a standard and its label.

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Why Eco-labelling for Africa?

African economies are among the most heavily affected by the detrimental effects of climate change such as prolonged drought periods and flooding. Mitigation of climate change and adaptation to its impacts will be vital for the continent. Sustainable production methods are an effective means to enhance Africa's preparedness for these challenges.

However, fostering sustainable consumption and production patterns in Africa is not only a necessary safeguard to avert the risks of climate change. As the global demand for sustainably produced goods and services is soaring, green production creates new business opportunities for African producers and service providers. In order to benefit from these market opportunities, environmental claims need to be credibly verifiable and eco-labelling is an effective market-based instrument to prove the validity of such claims. Therefore, eco-labelling contributes to enhancing access for African products to international markets and to promoting their trade while at the same time fostering sustainable consumption and production patterns.

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Which sectors does the EMA work with?

To begin with, the EMA will work with standards systems operating in the agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism sectors. At a later stage, the scope of the EMA can be expanded to other sectors.

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Is the EMA credible?

Sustainability in Africa may mean something different to sustainability in industrialized nations. However, certain criteria of environmentally sound, socially acceptable and economically viable production can and should be abided to by African producers. Plenty of national and international standards systems have developed such criteria and grant certification to African producers. Some of them are not very well adapted to the local conditions on the continent; others are not known to the consumers. The EMA as pan-African standard will transparently stand for sustainable production in Africa, taking into account local conditions by putting a special emphasis on the support for smallholders (SMEs) to reach certification, and making use of its political backing in the marketing of the label.

Also, as transparency dwindles with the proliferation of labels, consumers are increasingly incapable of keeping an overview and differentiate between them. The EMA offers certain threshold criteria other standards systems operating in Africa should fulfill in order to guarantee a minimum of sustainability in the production processes. Thus, it enhances transparency and assures a certain, well-communicated quality of the products and services that carry the additional EMA label.

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Why another label?

The EMA label will not only be a stand-alone label. Instead, it will explicitly offer to also work as an additional or "add-on"-label expressing the African origin, climate friendliness and a certain level of sustainability of a product/service. The EMA label will be available for public relations and marketing of companies that sell products/services certified by the EMA standard or a standard recognized by EMA.

Through its feature as an "add-on", the EMA label will serve as guidance to consumers, transmitting transparent and credible information on sustainable African production.

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How does EMA respond to barriers to trade?

EMA responds directly to the common fear of developing countries that social and environmental considerations serve as technical barriers to trade. Contrary to this misperception, eco-labelling is a recognized tool to gain access to the skyrocketing markets for responsibly produced goods and services. An African label that also can be used as an "add-on" or "co-"label will benefit from the political support throughout the continent as well as the strong reputation of internationally recognized standards systems, and through this give more credibility to sustainable African production. Through the mechanism of brand recognition and regional and sustainability branding, the image of sustainable African products will be enhanced and their trading and marketing opportunities will be improved.

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What are the benefits of the EMA?
How does the EMA work?
Who governs the EMA?
How can I get involved?
How are the reference criteria being developed?
Why is climate friendliness Africa's concern?