Environmental Protection

WRI, Big Room Vet Ecolabel Claims

The World Resources Institute (WRI) and Big Room Inc. have released the 2010 Global Ecolabel Monitor – a report and searchable online database to help companies and consumers navigate the “green” claims of different environmental certifications and labels for food and consumer products.

“Demand for products with ecolabels is growing, there is still confusion about which products are truly environmentally responsible,” said Jeff Rodgers, an associate at WRI. “By identifying and comparing the many different standards, the Ecolabel Monitor makes it easier for companies and consumers to reduce their environmental impact.”

In November 2009, WRI and Big Room Inc. invited more than 340 ecolabels in 42 countries to complete a survey of 66 questions ranging from certification criteria to funding sources. More than 113 ecolabel programs participated in the survey while more than half, including some prominent labels, could not be reached or elected not to participate when asked about certification requirements.

“Some ecolabels are regionally specific while others are global, and some have stricter criteria than others,” said Trevor Bowden, co-founder of Big Room Inc. “There is a real need for improvement in transparency and accountability along with high quality information that’s standardized and comparable worldwide.”

Credibility is a constant concern for companies and products entering the green marketplace. A lack of transparency about an ecolabel can cause consumer confusion or even backlash. According to one European study, marketing and competing claims on what makes a product green have caused low market penetration for some ecolabels.

Many ecolabels employ different strategies to ensure credibility. For instance, 92 percent of the programs surveyed require some verification before they award the ecolabel, compared to those requiring registration but no certification upfront. Of those requiring certification, 66 percent require third-party certification in order to avoid perceived or real conflicts of interest.

The analysis also reveals that programs run by non-profits generally have more rigorous requirements, such as site visits, audits and third party certifications. Organizations, such as the ISEAL Alliance, have implemented codes of good practice for standard setting, measuring environmental or social impacts and performance as well as compliance verification. The establishment of these practices emphasizes the need and desire for increased transparency and accountability in the green marketplace.

Of growing concern is whether an ecolabel’s claim as environmentally or socially beneficial is accurate. Less than one-third of the ecolabels surveyed regularly monitor environmental and social impacts of their certification, while more than 21 percent of ecolabels have developed plans to study impacts for the first time. This trend is expected to grow as companies become more concerned about the credibility of the certifications they seek.

Rodgers added, “Several large companies and government agencies have recently announced or improved their green or eco-purchasing policies. In order to meet their policies, these large-scale institutional purchasers need standards, detailed information, and proof that a product is green.”

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