A panel of about 1,000 products

Nearly 170 companies, were selected among 230 volunteers, to participate to the experimentation phase on the environmental information on consumer products, starting in France as of 1 July 2011.

Companies were selected on the base of the immediately operational nature of their project for a kick off on due time, and in order to set up a varied panel of products originating from all industry sectors and focused on current household consumption. Overall, about 1,000 products are concerned, mainly food and drinks, equipments (electrical, electronics, furniture), stationery and printing products, clothing, hygiene and cosmetic products.

French Minister of Ecology, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet

French Minister of Ecology, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet

In the cosmetic sector, several companies were selected for this test phase, namely the Laboratoire Vendôme (Johnson & Johnson) with its shampoo and shower gel brand Le Petit Marseillais, L’Occitane en Provence, the L’Oréal group (Laboratoires Garnier), Natura Europe SAS, the French subsidiary of the Brazilian group, the Pierre Fabre Dermo Cosmétique group, with its brand Ducray, Sephora (LVMH) and Weleda.

Experimentation in a dispersed order

Contrary to what was already experimented in other countries in particular the UK, or by some distributors in France, the Ministry of Ecology has adopted a multi-criteria approach, which is not only limited to greenhouse gas emissions but also takes into account other product impacts, such as water pollution. The aim being to prevent pollution transfers.

But the experimentation will be conducted in dispersed order. The ways in which the information is made available might therefore change from one product to another, in their form and in their content. For the time being, a number of companies have only made plans to communicate through paperless media such as the Internet and mobile phones, while others have undertaken to display information in stores or directly on their products, on the packaging or in their catalogues. As for the provided information, it will either be given in absolute value for some, in the form a note within a scale of 1 to 10 or even of graphics for others.

On the side of the environmental federation, France Nature Environnement its members are more in favour of a single note, synthesizing several criteria, and easily visible on the product or its packaging.

As regards calculation methods, again, they vary from one category to another and even from one product to another. The ADEME [1], the AFNOR [2] and industrialists have been working for several years on the elaboration of repositories for each product groups and databases. The majority of companies involved in the experimentation phase are also part of a collective. This is how, producers of detergent (Colgate-Palmolive SAS, Henkel France Mc Bride SAS, Novamex, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt Benckiser France, Unilever) joined together for the purposes of an operation led by the AFISE (French association of detergents, and maintenance products industry).

On the contrary, as regards cosmetics, the FEBEA (French trade association representing manufacturers specialised in beauty products), who conducted the working group in charge of developing a guide for the environmental information concerning shampoos, allowed its members to appear in a dispersed order. Main reason to this: serious differences of opinion among stakeholders, regarding the methodology to apply.

Officials at the Ministry of Ecology tend to minimize these difficulties by stating that the objective of this experimentation is precisely to evaluate its technical and economic feasibility, to test various options so to only keep the most interesting ones. The "consumers degree of visibility" as well as the "readability and comprehensibility of the different formats" should as such represent key factors in the evaluation.

Next Steps

In the immediate future, participating companies, most of them not being totally ready, must undertake or complete environmental analysis of the products they selected. The actual circulation of information to consumers will begin on 1 July 2011, when officially begins the experimentation phase, for a minimum period of one year. The evaluation of operations initiated by each company and the overall national experimentation will start in the second half of 2012. After the experimental phase, a report will be forwarded to the Parliament who will decide whether or not to generalize the system and make it compulsory.