Sustainability Meta Labelling: an effective measure to facilitate more sustainable consumption and production?

TitleSustainability Meta Labelling: an effective measure to facilitate more sustainable consumption and production?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsDendler, L
JournalJournal for Cleaner Production
Start Page74–83
KeywordsSustainable consumption and production; Sustainability Meta Labelling; Legitimacy; Institutional entrepreneurship; Institutional change

Arguably one of the most prominent measures to facilitate more Sustainable Consumption and Production has been the instrument of product labelling. But with a plethora of labelling schemes having been implemented by various actors over the last decade, many now accuse them of being confusing rather than facilitating. As a result, governments in France, UK and Germany, as well as businesses such as Walmart and non-governmental organisations, like WWF, have begun to consider seriously the implementation of some form of ‘meta’ scheme that condenses existing product labels and other communication measures into an overarching Sustainability message. Yet so far, in depth studies on the potential institutionalisation of a Sustainability Meta Labelling Scheme are missing.

Drawing upon a novel theoretically integrative framework that combines theoretical arguments of constructivist institutionalism and institutional entrepreneurship with the concept of legitimacy, this paper addresses this gap by exploring how the notion of Sustainability Meta Labelling has so far been discussed and investigating the prospects for such an overarching scheme to become institutionalised. Empirically, the paper bases on documentary analysis and elite interviews focussed on case studies of four existing product labelling schemes (EU ecolabel, EU energy label, Marine Stewardship Council and Fairtrade label) as well as the notion of Sustainability Meta Labelling.

Legitimacy constructions are demonstrated to be highly dynamic and oftentimes inherently conflicting. Many of these conflicts thereby appear to be likely to increase rather than decrease with the implementation of an overarching Sustainability Meta Labelling scheme. In a sense, this study shows that the very issue that is claimed to drive the establishment of a Sustainability Meta Labelling Scheme-the different interpretations of the Sustainable Development concept through different product labels-might in fact pose one of the main challenges for its institutionalisation and effectiveness in facilitating more Sustainable Consumption and Production.