Thursday, July 8, 2010

Standards are Required to Combat Eco-label and Eco-Certification Confusion

With the plethora of competing green claims it is imperative that we develop industry specific standards. There are a wide range of eco-labels and eco-certification approaches, they include self-managed or third-party-managed: verified in-house or independently verified and/or certified; based on the product life cycle or a single attribute; available for single or multiple sectors and product categories; and designed to demonstrate environmental leadership, relative performance, or just provide information.

It is becoming increasingly important for consumers and institutional buyers to know if a product or service is truly green.

Producers use eco-labels and eco-certification to validate green claims, guide green purchasing, and improve environmental performance standards. According to a 2007 USDA report, eco-labels in organic food products and forestry practices have grown at 20-30% per year since the late 1990s and early 2000s.

A report titled Global Ecolabel Monitor 2010, Towards Transparency (PDF), was produced by Ecolabel Index, the largest global database of ecolabels, in collaboration with the World Resources Institute. The report provides a snapshot of eco-label transparency, including the results of a survey of 340 eco-labels from 42 countries, conducted between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2010.

The report indicates that demand for products with eco-labels is growing, although confusion about which companies are truly environmentally responsible persists. A 2009 UK Carbon Trust study indicated that 44% of UK consumers want more information on what companies are doing to be green, but 70% do not feel confident about identifying which companies are environmentally responsible.

Several large companies and government agencies have recently announced or improved their green- or eco-purchasing policies, notably Wal-Mart, Office Depot, Mars, Dow, Dell and the US Federal Government. In order to meet their policies, these large-scale institutional purchasers need standards, detailed information, and proof that a product is green.

With differing criteria as to what constitutes green, eco-labels are lacking the credibility they require to be effective. According to a European market research study (OECD, 2006), marketing, consumer confusion and competition between similar schemes has caused low market penetration for some ecolabels.

Eco-labels and eco-certification can provide an effective baseline and encourage best practices and guidelines but only if we first develop industry specific standards.
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Organic Standards and Certified Labels
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The Implications of ISO 50001 for Your Business
ISO Standards and Greener Vehicles
ISO 14001 Certification in the Solar Sector
Cititec ISO Environmental Management
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