Looking Behind the Scenes at Ecolabels' Green Claims
As consumers and companies become increasingly aware of their environmental impact, a surge of ecolabels have flooded the marketplace.
Today, hundreds of ecolabels worldwide compete to tell us which products are best for the planet. These colorful stamps on labels declare products to be “carbon neutral,” “forest safe,” “fairly traded,” or any number of standards of sustainability.
But in the self-regulated ecocertification industry, how can consumers and institutional buyers really know what these stamps of approval mean?
Enter the 2010 Global Ecolabel Monitor, a collaboration between the World Resources Institute and ecolabelling.org founders Big Room Inc. that gives a behind-the-scenes look at how different ecolabels certify their products.
We invited 340 ecolabels in 42 countries to participate in a survey of their performance, organizational structure, and verification systems. The results are housed at ecolabelindex.com, a web resource that gathers ecolabels onto a common platform to make it easier for consumers and institutional buyers alike to interpret and compare them.
The survey covers questions such as how the ecolabels’ rules were created and how they are funded. It also asks how the ecolabel is enforced -- for example, via site visits, audits, and/or third party verification.
The Global Ecolabel Monitor illustrates that there is clearly scope for improvement in ecolabel transparency and accountability. More than half of the ecolabels we invited to participate were unreachable or unwilling to share information about the metrics underlying their certification.
Additionally, less than 30 percent of the ecolabels surveyed recognized, or were recognized by, any of their fellow labeling organizations, making it impossible to know for certain if one ecolabel’s interpretation of “green” would pass muster with their peers.
More than a third of U.S. consumers say they are willing to pay a premium for eco-friendly products. But ecolabels, like nutritional labels on food, are only helpful when they are clear, transparent, and consistent from product to product. Imagine if one cereal box only had calories listed and another had only protein content, and both measured their nutritional content in different ways. How would you make an informed decision about which box was healthier?
From environmentally-conscious individuals shopping for themselves and their families, to institutional buyers stocking the shelves of multi-billion dollar retailers, purchasers of all sizes need transparent, concise comparisons to decode the ecolabels on the products they are choosing between.
Improving transparency in the ecolabel marketplace is an important first step to reduce consumer confusion and increase credibility. Ecolabelindex.com will continue updating and tracking the developments of ecolabels, making it easier for consumers and companies to identify and select the ecolabels that are credibly, transparent and effective.
Jeff is an associate with the ENVEST objective of the markets and enterprise program at WRI, where this article originally appeared.
Image CC licensed by Flickr user gwire.