The ecolabelling scheme is a European Community initiative which has been delayed by negotiations between and within EC institutions. In the meantime France and the Netherlands have set up national schemes, joining Germany which already had one. British ministers had threatened to make a similar unilateral move but never did.
Some manufacturers - including the Body Shop - are threatening boycotts. Body Shop says the scheme will include products whose development involved testing on animals.
So-called ecolabels have been on products some for more than four years but these have been unofficial, granted by companies to their own products.
The Government-appointed UK Ecolabelling Board is in charge of devising standards for a variety of products from washing machines to hairsprays, sanitary towels, light bulbs and soil improvers. It consists of environmental experts, representatives from industry, consumer groups and retail chains.
Similar groups in six other EC countries are drawing up criteria for a range of other products reflecting the environmental damage they do from the time they are made through use in the home to final disposal.
The UK's standards for washing machines and dishwashers were accepted by the European Commission this month - the first batch to be endorsed.
However, the scheme is voluntary. Companies have to pay about pounds 400 to apply for a label and, if granted, a licence fee of at least pounds 400 a year to use it.