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.

Related Posts
ISO 14020 Series: 3 Types of Environmental Labels and Declarations
ISO Principles for Environmental Labels and Claims
The History and Value of Environmental Labeling
Canadian Guidelines on Environmental Claims
Organic Standards and Certified Labels
ISO 50001 Energy Management Standard
The Implications of ISO 50001 for Your Business
ISO Standards and Greener Vehicles
ISO 14001 Certification in the Solar Sector
Cititec ISO Environmental Management
G3 Guidelines and GRI Sustainability Reporting
Best Practices for Sustainable Businesses

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