Best practices in sustainability communication

What brands and label holders need to know

Many consumers want to make sustainable purchasing choices but struggle in their effort to do so. Here, Label and Certification Schemes (LCS) for bio-based products can provide an impactful support system to disentangle sustainable from conventional products. One key aspect of fostering consumers` purchasing behaviour towards bio-based alternatives is to understand consumers’ decision-making processes and motivation towards sustainable consumption, as well as their perception of and trust in labels and certificates. By providing an overview of best practices in sustainability communication among LCS, the EU funded research project 3-CO is lying comprehensive groundwork. The team assessed 25 existing LCS, and defined consumers’ needs and requirements towards future certification and labelling of industrial bio-based products (BBPs).

How can LCS ensure sustainability of certified bio-based products ?

In contrast to mandatory LCS, that companies need to hold by law (e.g., EU energy efficiency labelling), voluntary LCS can be freely chosen by a company. In 3-CO, the assessed LCS were selected based on a number of criteria, e.g., environmental and social sustainability information, operability in a B2C context, independence from the company producing the product. The results obtained by 3-CO indicate that while certain indicators in some situations will bring most benefits to consumers, the same indicators might prove less effective for a different consumer group or product category. The results also point at the risk of misleading consumers through problematic practices that should be avoided like vague or non-specific information, implying that the product is beneficial or benign for sustainability overall, unclear assessment criteria or labels that only refer to the packaging but not the product itself.

Challenges in the customisation of LCS

Additional pressure is set on brands and producers through policy measures like the Empowering Consumer in the Green Transition (European Commission, 2022) and the Green Claims Directive (European Commission, 2023). Although both are still to be adopted and transposed in national law, it is important that LCS anticipate legal changes and already follow existing guidelines to concisely inform consumers.
Most LCS adopt at least some good or best practices, but there is room for improvement, especially regarding aspects such as bio-based content, and for LCS that have only recently started proposing labels directed to consumers. At the same time, business-to-business (B2B) LCS need to improve accessibility for and acceptance by consumers. Various logos also lack clarity, have vague scopes and lack detailed information about the covered criteria. This is especially problematic considering that some LCS cover multiple criteria, while others include only few, that may not be representative of a product’s sustainability performance.

Seven Key Criteria for LCS

The list of recommendations for LCS holders by the 3-CO team was organised around seven key criteria:

Accessibility: Sustainability claims and accompanying information need to be easily accessible to consumers. This means that key criteria of LCS should be displayed on the website, should provide explanatory statements on the scheme, and that placement of claims alongside logos should follow concise and specified guidelines.

Clarity: Specific and easily understandable sustainability claims should follow various guidelines and regulations such as those by UNEP, ISO, and national authorities. Best practices include providing clear scope, precise information on sustainability aspects covered, utilising visuals effectively to enhance comprehension, ensuring clarity in grading systems, and combining descriptive and interpretative claims to build consumer trust and encourage action.

Relevance: It is necessary to evaluate that the selected criteria address pertinent issues, considering whether a green claim focuses on specific or broad sustainability concerns and whether it encourages meaningful behavioural change.

Transparency: In certification, public accessibility of documentation should become mandatory concerning operations, processes, governance, and criteria, with specific emphasis on disclosing the exact source of bio-based content and the nature of its environmental impacts reduction (as advocated by France’s Ministry of the Economy and National Council on Consumption).

Reliability: The truthfulness of green claims should be guaranteed through robust data, methodology, and independent evaluation processes, with best practices including publicising supporting information and indicating third-party assessment on product packaging. This should enhance consumer confidence, as highlighted by various guidelines and authorities.

Sustainable development: Considering environmental, social, and economic dimensions is crucial In sustainability communication to avoid burden-shifting and ensure inclusion of comprehensive criteria within LCS. It is imperative to educate consumers about the importance of sustainability issues and the impact of their purchasing decisions.

Display: The criteria described above should be reflected in the design of the label and the explanatory statements. Here, labels face the challenge of address all these issues while using limited space and overcoming language barriers.

The list of covered labels, detailed results of the LCS assessment by 3-CO and the full list of best practice recommendations, can be found in the full report at

The 3-CO Project

The key objective of the EU funded research project 3-CO (Concise Consumer Communication through Robust Labels for Biobased Systems) is to support sustainable consumption and improve consumer behaviour through smart digital solutions and guidelines for LCS holders. 3-CO will therefore develop and demonstrate the viability of a supportive framework for LCS on Business-to-Consumers (B2C) communication for industrial bio-based products, and will publish guidelines for label development.

More project-information will soon be available at

The 3-CO Project receives funding from the Horizon Europe framework program under grant agreement number 101086086. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.

European Flag Funding Statement

About nova-Institute

nova-Institute is a private and independent research institute, founded in 1994; nova offers research and consultancy with a focus on the transition of the chemical and material industry to renewable carbon: How to substitute fossil carbon with biomass, direct CO2 utilisation and recycling. We offer our unique understanding to support the transition of your business into a climate neutral future. 


Biomass Technology Group BV (BTG)
Ecologic Institute
ISEAL Alliance
nova-Institut GmbH
Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT)
Uniwersytet Warszawski (PL)
Utrecht University


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