By Chris Soh
On 10 January, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) held a media conference to announce its enhanced Green Label scheme for pulp and paper products.
The enhanced scheme had taken more than a year for the SEC to implement since it first made an announcement about the enhanced label in 2015, in the aftermath of the haze crisis which enveloped much of the region.
The assessment criteria for certification also includes the way companies prevented the outbreak of fire on their plantations, as well as how they manage their environmentally sensitive peatlands.
At the media conference, the Chairman of SEC Isabella Loh Wai Kiew said: “The revised scheme is benchmarked against international eco-labelling schemes in the EU, Australia, New Zealand and Japan to ensure it is amongst the most stringent anywhere in the world.”
However, what is interesting is that the SEC did not reveal the assessment criteria for the label, nor has it been revealed publicly on its website.
All the countries or regions named by the SEC in its release and at the media conference have their criteria listed on their websites.
- Japan: https://www.ecomark.jp/english/nintei.html
- European Union: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/ecolabel/products-groups-and-criteria.html
- New Zealand: https://www.environmentalchoice.org.nz/specifications/published-specifications/
- Australia: http://www.forestrystandard.org.au/standards/australian-standards/forest-management
SEC’s lack of transparency over the criteria raises some serious questions over the administration of voluntary eco-labeling in Singapore.
The Green Label, as in all other eco-labels mentioned by the SEC in its release, are voluntary labelling schemes, which require stakeholders buy-in.
Hence, the lack of transparency is troubling, especially from a charity organisation which has People’s Action Party Members of Parliament and senior civil servants on its Board.
As one pulp and paper industry watcher puts it, “without the criteria being transparent, we don’t know if companies are being offered the same criteria. Are there double or multiple standards for different companies? If this is a transparent system, the SEC should put the criteria online and make it visible for all to see. It is disturbing that the organisation which is demanding transparency from pulp producers isn’t doing the same for its own criteria.”
Tan Yi Han, who heads the People’s Movement Against the Haze (PM Haze) said that advocacy group was not consulted in any phase of the development of the criteria.
The SEC also declined to name the industry, civil society and academic representatives it consulted during the process.
SEC’s criteria on peatland management for the enhanced Green Label looks at issues such as biodiversity protection, water management, and rehabilitation of damaged areas.
The SEC’s approach, however, has been lambasted by Greenpeace.
Greenpeace’s senior campaign advisor Andy Tait told Eco-Business that “this approach from SEC risks being overly simplistic and achieving little”.
“SEC appears to be badly misinformed about peatland management—the reality is that any drainage of peat to plant pulpwood makes it susceptible to fire,” said Tait. “This is not just about uncontrolled drainage.”