Monday, May 4, 2009

Eco-labeling - Can consumers sort out the hype from the facts?

According to Joshua Saunders at, there are now over 300 different so-called eco-labels in use in North America alone. Sounds good, right? All that information for consumers and business buyers who want to make the most environmentally friendly choice in their shopping decisions. Except:

  • Most consumers, including B2B shoppers, don't understand more than a few of the most basic labels

  • Even when they do understand them, having a high score on one green factor doesn't necessarily mean the product is better for the environment than a similar item without that factor. (For instance, a product may contain a high percentage of recycled material, but the process needed to transport and reuse that product may leave a larger carbon footprint than a locally made virgin materials product.)

  • When faced with two or more different types of eco-labels on similar products, consumers have no idea which green element is more significant

  • Many misleading or ill-defined labels are in use

  • Enforcement of many labels is non-existent. In fact, many companies are self-certifying their products as "green" or "environmentally friendly" with no data to back that up. This so-called "greenwashing" is on the rise.

  • Useful information about the real environmental costs of a product or service over its useful lifetime are expensive and difficult to measure. Small to medium sized companies simply cannot afford the invest of time or money needed to generate that data.

  • Even basic titles like "organic" which was supposed to be defined once and for all by federal legislation continues to be fuzzy. State, local and industry standards for organic products remain in use, and are in fact, increasing.

So what is a consumer or a business to do?

Educate yourself.

  • Start with for a some good guidelines on what all the labels really mean.

  • Look for trusted labels like the California Organic Certification or the National Forest Service's Forest Stewardship Counsel logo.

  • Learn about the benefits and environmental costs of various green factors, so you can make rational choices when faced with multiple labels.