Thu, 25 Aug 1994

Eco-labeling is voluntary, Minister Sarwono says

JAKARTA (JP): State Minister of Environment Sarwono Kusumaatmadja yesterday assured entrepreneurs that the government would not compel them to label their products as environmentally friendly, stressing that the move was to be made on a voluntary basis.

"The government will simply introduce eco-labeling. It does not intend to set up any regulations ... because if the industrial world cannot win the heart of its consumers, then it is their lost. It's their money," Sarwono said during a one-day seminar on the Eco-labeling System for Pulp and Paper Products held by the Agency for Environmental Impact Management (Bapedal) and the Association of Indonesian Pulp and Paper Producers.

Sarwono, who chairs Bapedal, told reporters on a separate occasion that regulating eco-labeling would simply mean more paper work which in turn could encourage corruption. "I don't want to give a chance to people of my office to be corrupt."

During the seminar, attended by pulp and paper industrialists and government officials, Sarwono emphasized that the eco- labeling system comes as a result of a consumer-driven movement.

"Our competitiveness is not only determined by (pressures) from other countries but also by consumers in these countries," he said. "You have to win the hearts of these consumers."

He challenged manufacturers to see eco-labeling, or the "green competitive advantage", as an opportunity rather than a weakness.

Manufacturers should "stop whining" over the issue of trade pressures and protectionism and instead increase their sense of self-regulation and awareness of the eco-labeling system.

The assessment of the eco-labeling system is conducted on a "cradle to grave" basis, meaning that a product is analyzed by its life cycle, from the provision of raw material, its production and distribution to its discharge processes after it has been used.

The International Organization managing the ISO-9000 certificate for product quality has already formulated the ISO- 14000, which includes an assessment of companies' consciousness towards their environmental responsibilities.

In Southeast Asia, only Singapore has started anticipating and participating in the implementation of ISO-14000, Sarwono said.

Other countries, which are vigorously pursuing eco-labeling include India, Germany and Canada.

Responding to questions on the environmental rating scheme, Sarwono said his office would announce the criteria and "exact rules" of the rating in September, while the names of industries and their rating would be publicized afterwards.

He said his office still required time to consider the combination of foreign, domestic and state companies, which would be included in the rating in order to present a balanced assessment.

The environmental rating scheme calls for the grading of manufacturers of processed foods, textiles, pulp and paper, and electro-plating industries into five groups starting from the "gold label" for companies with the best environmental records, to the "black label" for those with the worst records.

Sarwono said that 180 companies along the area covered by the "Clean River" project in Jakarta will be rated and 30 companies outside this area have also volunteered to be rated. (pwn)