Why certification's time has come

Speaking Sustainably

Why certification's time has come

Every year in our Eco Pulse study, we ask Americans, “How do you know a product is green?” and offer a long list of options they can choose from. Every year about a quarter of the population chooses, “I rely on third-party certifications.” This year (the study published Friday), that percentage is statistically unchanged at 27 percent — but the people who check this box are a very attractive audience for most brands.

They are affluent and educated. In fact, 33 percent of Americans with household incomes of $75,000-plus rely on third-party certifications, and 39 percent of those with a graduate/professional degree do. They also skew older, with one-third of the over-55 crowd picking this option.

Not incidentally, those are the same demographic characteristics we see in our Actives consumer segment — the segment most likely to buy greener products and most interested in aligning their purchases with companies they believe are “doing the right things.” So the right certification can help put products in consumers’ consideration sets and help people short-hand their decisions, aligning their preferences and purchases with products that carry believable certifications.

If you’re a manufacturer, how do you choose the certifications that will best help you get there — help you make a verifiable, believable claim that gives your desired customer comfort and an easy way to choose you?

We shared a long list of third-party certification logos and found that the most well-established brand names continued to be ranked the “best” out of the 21 certifiers tested. But while ENERGY STAR® continued to be selected most often, preference for the mark fell seven percentage points since 2012.

Interestingly, two other certifications ranked near the top of the “best” list have very limited (or no) distribution and seem to be popular simply based on recognition of their parent logos. The Green Good Housekeeping Seal is on less than a dozen products, and while we included Consumer Reports Greener ChoicesSM on our list, it is a bit of a red herring. While its website provides a report card for 139 eco-labels/claims, Consumer Reports Greener Choices isn’t actually a certification label that can be found “on” products.

This seems to confirm that the perceived value of a certification label depends more on recognition/brand awareness than on the stringency of its certification criteria. So certifiers need to invest in brand awareness in order to enhance their value proposition to manufacturers and make a real difference to consumers at shelf. And manufacturers need to help build the value of the certifications, as well, by including them on their websites, advertising and social media efforts.

This truly is a virtuous cycle: If manufacturers build products meeting the most stringent certifications, those certifications will hold more meaning for consumers at shelf — and give those same consumers a really good reason to buy the manufacturers’ products.

Image by GreenBiz Group