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GECA: helping professionals and consumers make good choices

GECA is Australia’s only not-for-profit multi-sector ecolabelling program. Started in 2000, the company is dedicated to enabling architects, specifiers, procurement professionals and consumers to make good choices for their clients and the environment.

We spoke to Kendall Benton-Collins, GECA’s Strategic Communications Manager, about the company’s story, certification programs and advisory services.

1/. GECA was started in 2000. Please tell us a bit about your foundation story and the original vision for the business.

GECA is an independent not-for-profit organisation with over twenty-three years of experience engaging with stakeholders across the entire lifecycle of products and services. Since 2000 we've been dedicated to enabling architects, specifiers, procurement professionals and consumers to make good choices for their clients and the environment.

Previously known as Good Environmental Choice Australia, GECA was founded around a vision for a sustainable future for people and planet. Since the beginning, we have aimed to facilitate this vision via our ecolabel program following ISO 14024 principles for global best practices.

Our ecolabelling scheme was the first of its kind in Australia, and we're proud to be the only Australian member of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN), the leading network of the world's most credible and robust lifecycle ecolabels. Our ecolabel was also the first to be recognised by the Green Building Council of Australia's (GBCA) Green Star rating system.

Regional leadership in the built environment has been a significant driver for GECA from the start, and in 2014 we received GENICES recognition, a formal peer review process based on ISO 14024 guidelines to benchmark member programmes as a basis for mutual trust. Our recognition is beneficial for Australian manufacturers seeking third-party certification in international markets. It also benefits Australian architects specifying products and materials for overseas green building projects.

In 2016, the APEC Ministers of Trade officially endorsed GECA as the Australian representative for the APEC Green Supply Chain Network (GSCNET). GECA was tasked with promoting certified products throughout the APEC region and supporting developing South-East Asian countries in improving sustainable consumption and production practices. In the same year, we also helped to develop ISO 20400 - Sustainable Procurement Guidance as a member of the Australian delegation to the United Nations Environment Program's Global Forum on Sustainable Procurement.

Our holistic approach to sustainability, which embraces environmental, social and health impacts, has been greatly informed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UN Global Compact and its Ten Principles align with the work GECA does daily. As part of this alignment with the UN SDGs, our team of experts has integrated relevant SDGs into all our ecolabel standards, providing clarity to consumers, specifiers, and procurement professionals about how they actively contribute to these targets.

GECA has proudly been a Certified B Corporation since 2015, named one of the Best For

The World™ B Corps for our governance structures for the past two years. Our B Corp status is significant to us as we take the concept of continuous improvement very seriously, not just for our licensees but also for ourselves! The value of credible independent third-party certification is at our core.

Today we have over 2,000 certified products and services across 27 lifecycle ecolabel standards ranging from furniture, carpets and cleaning products to waste collection services, steel and cement. We've also expanded our environmental labelling services to include our Claims Authentication Service based on ISO 14021 and LCA & EPD Suite following internationally recognised ISO 14025 principles.

2/. GECA's lifecycle ecolabel provides independent certification that a product or service is a good choice for people and the planet. How do you go about establishing a standard that underpins that certification?

GECA certified products and services must meet criteria for a wide range of environmental, human health and social impacts across their entire lifecycle while proving that they perform as promised. Meaning they're a better choice for people and the planet!

We develop our rigorous standards, following ISO 14024 principles and ISEAL frameworks for global best practices in ecolabelling, which are then independently assessed by our Assurance Providers. Our transparent and comprehensive standard development process is highly collaborative, involving consultation with stakeholders and relevant industry experts.

In practical terms, five main steps are involved in developing a standard. First, we identify a possible new standard through research or requests to meet a pressing sustainability need in the marketplace. Then our Standards & Technical team will undertake extensive background research to investigate best practices for the proposed product or service category. Once the research phase is completed, we prepare a preliminary draft standard which undergoes consultation with a Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

The TAG is an expert group of stakeholders who assist us in developing our standards and setting high sustainability goals that are still achievable. To produce high-quality standards, the TAG represents a diversity of stakeholders; manufacturers, consumers, government agencies, academics, special interest groups and relevant industry bodies and associations.

Once the TAG is completed, the draft is reviewed by our Standards Committee members, who provide oversight and recommendations to ensure the continued effectiveness of GECA's standards and their alignment with ISO 14024. We then publish the draft standard on our website for a 60-day public comment period. Any feedback provided during this period is reviewed and incorporated into the draft standard where relevant. A final draft is presented to the Standards Committee and the GECA Board before finalisation and publication.

An example of the collaborative nature of standards development is our Waste Collection Services standard, which came to fruition thanks to support from the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP), NABERS, the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, the City of Sydney and the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority (EPA). Together we aimed to set a sustainability benchmark for services collecting waste from the point of collation and collection to a lawful processing or disposal facility.

Our industry constantly evolves, so developing a lifecycle ecolabel standard is only the beginning! We must also continue to monitor our standards for relevance and impact and revise them as needed, which includes additional TAG consultation and public comment periods.

An authentic lifecycle ecolabel has the following attributes:

transparency and consistency in its standards

  • tests the product or service on multiple environmental, human health, performance, and social criteria rather than a single issue

  • is assessed by an independent third-party

  • looks at the entire lifecycle from raw materials to end of life

3/. As well as the labels, GECA offers consultancy and advisory services to help companies achieve their environmental goals. Can you tell us more about those services?

We work with all those committed to addressing the social and environmental challenges ahead, including all levels of government, businesses, our fellow not-for-profits, and all communities seeking to create positive change. At GECA, we specialise in sustainable procurement of materials, products and services. Through our consultation and advisory services, we can help organisations achieve their circular economy, carbon, biodiversity and human and labour rights solutions with rigour.

Examples of how we can help organisations achieve their environmental goals include:

  • Developing sustainable policy, frameworks, guidelines or roadmaps

  • Mapping supply chains and the responsible sourcing of materials, products and services Advising on ways to implement sustainable procurement processes

  • Inputting into internal sustainability training programs and resources

We also continue to develop tools to empower our clients, such as our Sustainable Sourcing Scorecard, Environmental Hotspot Analysis and Social Hotspot Assessment.

GECA has also partnered with our fellow B Corporation, Marque Lawyers, to deliver environmental claims training that we can tailor to any business. Together we designed this training module to educate employees, marketing teams and management on making and substantiating claims correctly and ensuring compliance with Australian Consumer Law. In parallel with this, we developed the Marque Lawyers and GECA Environmental Claims Guide, which is free to download.

4/. GECA provides LCA and EPD services for clients. How do LCA and EPDs integrate with GECA certification? Are there ways in which this could be improved in the future?

Many specifiers, architects, and green building programs ask for EPDs and incorporate EPD information into specifications. An EPD can assist in earning points in schemes such as GBCA's Green Star, the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), and ISC's IS Rating Scheme.

At GECA, we provide EPDs registered with EPD Australasia, which are publicly available and internationally recognised. LCAs and EPDs can deliver meaningful data which enables companies to improve their processes and highlight critical areas for future sustainability gains. For example, the data gathered can provide a robust baseline to identify where to increase the circularity of a product and reduce its carbon emissions. However, an LCA or EPD does not imply that a declared product or service is environmentally superior to alternatives. Therefore, they are important supporting services on the pathway to achieving lifecycle ecolabel certification.

We've designed GECA's services firmly on the concept of continuous improvement. Our Sustainable Products & Services standard, for example, is a unique fusion containing the robust nature of a lifecycle ecolabel and the data generation of an LCA. Unlike other LCA services, by certifying under this lifecycle ecolabel standard, a product or service must demonstrate that it produces a reduced environmental load compared to current typical offerings without compromising other areas of sustainability, such as social or health impacts. The standard is especially suited to those products and services not currently covered by existing GECA standard categories, designed using circular economy principles.

Geosentinel Australia was our first licensee to certify under the Sustainable Products & Services standard for their Washbox product - a multi-trade tool wash station for construction projects which saves 98% of the water usually used by trades and eliminates the discharge of liquid waste pollution.

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