Challenges in Eco Labeling: Brand Recognition and Credibility

Challenges in Eco Labeling: Brand Recognition and Credibility

My last post covered the Dean Foods announcement about their Horizon Natural line … this post covers another, quieter announcement:  Green Seal recently announced they’re rolling out a certification program for personal care products.

This is a good move, and I’m starting to think Green Seal may be the certification program to watch in the coming years. They have now established standards for 40 product groupings in seven categories, ranging from paints and coatings to alternative fuel vehicles and, now, to soaps and shower products. Their process is fairly stringent, manufacturers seem to respect them, and they appear to be in this for the long haul.  They’re also going after the right product categories. Sixty percent of the population told us in our Eco Pulse study they’re looking for greener products.  When we asked in what categories they’re looking for greener options, personal care products was the No. 3 category, chosen by a little over half the population.

Green Seal’s challenge will be brand awareness.  We’ve tested Green Seal alongside multiple other green labels in several focus groups now, and consumers simply don’t recognize it and have never heard of it.  If Green Seal wants to be THE green seal, they’ll have to launch a full-on marketing effort and deal with the David and Goliath situation they’re in against much larger, more recognized brand names that are beginning to play in this space, like UL and Good Housekeeping.

And, sadly, they’re going to have to deal with lots of pretenders that erode consumer trust in any seal. I literally got an email in my inbox a few days ago with the subject line “New Accredited Green Self-Certification Program.” The email went on to try and convince me that they, in fact, weren’t that new -- they’re “the leader with over 45,000 certifications in place.”  That may well be true, because if you click on the link to their Web site, plunk down $189.95 and fill in a little info -- poof -- you can have your product certified and get a website you can edit yourself to tell your green story any way you want!

Sigh.

All legitimate certification programs will have to deal with this sort of thing and build consumer confidence. And the winning certification programs will be those with the most stringent, believable, transparent standards and the greatest marketing muscle. One won’t work without the other.

Suzanne C. Shelton is founder, president and CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency focused exclusively on motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices.

Soap - Images CC licensed by Flickr user mwri