Gauteng and NW Province

Green labelling gets red light

Plan to alert consumers to eco-friendly products ends with closure of government agency.

Fiona MacLeod

Government attempts to set up green labelling system to guide consumers and businesses to eco-friendly products were scuppered this week with the announcement that the national environmental agency Indalo Yethu would be dissolved.
Launched in 2006 by then-environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Indalo Yethu’s main aims were to raise environmental awareness and set up an eco-endorsement system. Its operational costs so far total R36.5 million.

One of the government officials involved in setting up Indalo Yethu, who did not want to be named, said it was the leading legacy project of the World Summit on Sustainable Development hosted in Johannesburg in 2002.

“It is short-sighted to close such an initiative down when, around the world, there is emphasis on the green economy. The visionary thing to do would have been to give it a new agenda and focus,” he said.

Another insider said the move followed a recent pattern in the department of closing down costly environmental initiatives that took years to set up. Last year Buyisa-e-Bag, a R65-million recycling initiative funded by plastic bag levies, was also wound down.

“It’s a pity to lose all the research, consultations with provinces, branding, etc. that went into Indalo Yethu’s eco-endorsement campaign. It seems when new people come into the department, they have to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Indalo Yethu’s original aim was to counter “green wash” marketing campaigns with a credible eco-standard similar to Fairtrade label. Because it had to be independent, a trust was set up and the funds were administered by an environmental non-governmental organisation, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa).

Mike Ward, the NGO’s chief financial officer, said although almost R4-million “went in and out” of the society’s account, it had nothing to do with the management of Indalo Yethu.

Environmental department spokesperson Albi Modise said “As it was never the intention of the department to fund the operations on Indalo Yethu in perpetuity, it was decided to discuss the dissolution of the trust with its trustees. If the dissolution is not agreed to, the department will nevertheless formally withdraw its funding from the trusts, following the withdrawal of Wessa.”

According to Hlobsile Manana, Indalo Yethu’s communications manager “traction has been lower than expected, ecostandards had been established for cleaning detergents, responsible tourism, a private recycling initiative and Indalo Yethu was collaborating with the public works department on the development of ecocriteria for the built environment”.

Manna said Ecotowns programme, launched in 2010 in collaboration with the expanded public works department to focus on building green skills and jobs in 10 rural and peri-urban sites, was not meant to last more than two years. A few municipalities had agreed to take on some of the 3 200 beneficiaries contracted for the pilot project.

The environment department would take over the other Indalo Yethu programmes.

Mail & Guardian July 20 to 26 2012

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