How the Austrian Consumers’ Association reaches a wider audience to discuss the criteria for eco-labeling

Nowadays an increasing number of consumers prefers buying products or using services that are labeled eco-friendly. However, consumers often lack appropriate information.

For this reason the “Austrian Ecolabel” was created on the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Environment. Since 1990 it offers reliable orientation for the general public. To ensure the Ecolabels are awarded based on up-to-date standards, the Austrian Consumers’ Association (VKI) regularly revises the criteria. Since 2013 the VKI uses Discuto.io to discuss the new criteria proposals online.

Here’s what we did

In the discussion about the criteria for the Ecolabel for tourism, 52 participants collaboratively and constructively discussed the proposal for the new label criteria, leaving 415 comments and 2532 votes.

By the end of the discussion, 87% of all participants agreed with the final document including the new label criteria for awarding an Ecolabel to a tourist enterprise.

Christian Kornherr, Head of Studies VKI says: “Discuto helps us incorporating comments from various stakeholders on criteria being discussed. It facilitates the participation for stakeholders that would not be able to take part in the discussion process.”


The discussion in a nutshell

In order to gather a diverse range of input and include internal stakeholders as well as stakeholders outside of the organisation, the Austrian Consumers’ Association chose to run a public discussion on Discuto.

Regulators, customers, consultants and business practitioners joined the discussion and evaluated the existing document that contained new proposals for the label criteria by which a tourist enterprise is awarded the Ecolabel for tourism.

All 52 participants shared experiences, evaluated proposals and helped create a common understanding. Participants expressed their general agreement or disagreement with a paragraph by voting on a paragraph. By commenting on specific paragraphs or sentences a more complex dialogue with the moderator and other participants was enabled.

The benefits

The Austrian Consumers’ Association uses a standardized stakeholder process involving experts of the relevant sectors, environmental experts and representatives of the civil society. Initially, the process included questionnaires, telephone interviews and meetings.

While these methods all have their unique benefits, they also come with limitations. Personal meetings allow for in-depth discussions, but are also resource-intensive and often don’t reach a diverse audience. Telephone interviews and questionnaires allow for the collection of a comparable set of data, but don’t facilitate a discussion among all stakeholders.That’s why the VKI decided to add a new element to their process: an online discussion where they invite all stakeholder groups to discuss the criteria collaboratively.

The VKI chose Discuto as crowdbased decision-making platform, because

  • decision makers can identify controversial issues early on
  • a variety of stakeholders can be included in an open discussion, regardless of time and location.
  • moderators can engage stakeholders and promote inclusion.
  • it’s easy to upload an existing document which is automatically split into headlines and paragraphs.
  • invitations and updates about the discussion are sent to participants with the build-in email and notification system.
  • participants can easily vote and comment on specific paragraphs or sentences.
  • all changes in the document can be tracked and the result can be downloaded.

Highlights from the discussion

One major challenge was to define and explain the basic processes tourist enterprises need to apply in order to establish a sustainable management process. While these processes need to be clearly understood for enterprises to put theory into practice, they also need to include all relevant aspects that are judged during the award process. By discussing these aspects with 14 participants controversial elements were identified and the VKI was able to change the document incorporating a variety of the feedback given.

This example showcases how

  1. Discuto helped to broaden the discussion that was started in a small advisory group, find controversial issues in the proposed criteria in advance and to develop solutions with the community.
  2. The community developed a better understanding of diverging opinions that have to be taken into the decision-making process. Through an open and transparent discussion, viable compromises were reached.
  3. By moderating the discussion the decision-makers were able to easily inform the community about the reasons why certain solutions have been reached, which fosters acceptance.

Overall, an open discussion with a variety of stakeholders guarantees criteria that are both realistic and challenging, foster the broad acceptance of the eco-label as such, avoid problems with criteria that are out of touch with the real world, and make the work done by the VKI visible to a wider audience.

About the VKI

VKI, the Austrian Consumers’ Association, represents and strengthens consumer interest by informing and educating consumers about their rights and responsibilities. The non-profit organisation has a long tradition in testing goods and services in an unbiased way. The results are published in the monthly magazine Konsument. Additionally, the VKI offers help and resolution services to consumers eventually undertaking court cases and acts in different national and international institutions as the consumers’ spokesperson.

While the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management is responsible for the creation, management and awarding of the Austrian Eco-label, the VKI advances and aligns criteria for awarding the label.