Apple's abrupt decision to abandon and then re-embrace the EPEAT green technology certification over the last 10 days focuses heightened attention on the value of eco-labels, especially as certification possibilities mature.
That maturation process is seeing more businesses embrace third-party programs that harmonize a range of industry-wide considerations rather than opt for their own green labels, said sustainability experts.
"We are moving toward radical transparency," said Will Sarni, director and practice leader within the sustainability and climate change practice at Deloitte Consulting. "There is consensus building around certain standards, and the notion that an internal one might have more value is waning."
Still, there's a dizzing array of choices.
The latest count by EcoLabel Index puts the number of programs that qualify products according to various environmental or sustainable resource credentials at 433 across 246 countries.
A separate database maintained by chemical company BASF, called SELECT (for Sustainability, Eco-Labeling and Environmental Certification Tracking), is tracking 270 programs, almost tripling the number that it followed last year.
Pat Meyer, senior product steward for BASF SELECT, said he expects a stronger push for independent scientific validation and credibility assessments around these programs. "The best case scenario would be harmonization and standardization," he said.
"At some point, there will be a culling of methodologies and certifications down to the ones that really matter," Sarni echoed.
For some industries, green labeling increasingly is not an option, one thing that made Apple's decision to remove its products from EPEAT (aka the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool) all the more puzzling.
That's because many government agencies and corporations use the registry as a guideline for IT procurement. In Apple's case, high-profile clients such as Kaiser Permanente, McKesson and HDR would have been unable to buy its monitors, laptops, or desktop computers.
Next page: Customer concern fueled Apple's reversal, Sprint interest in eco-labels