Thursday, April 2, 2009

Eco-Labels: The Coming Shakeout

How do you know that something marketed as green is really green? Marketers need transparency and disclosure to gain customers' trust, but eco-labels are still evolving and nobody really knows which will survive the coming shakeout.

Certainly a shakeout is overdue. Today's WSJ points out that consumers are confused by the many competing green certification programs, from Green Seal to Greenguard, the Forest Stewardship Council to Biodegradable Products Institute, and beyond.

Then there's the carbon footprint labeling movement, including third-party labels such as those awarded by the Carbon Trust. Just to add to the confusion, Timberland and some other companies are doing their own eco-labeling. (If you want to calculate your carbon footprint, try this tool.)

In the US, the FTC is mulling new Green Guides for claims of environmental product benefits. The Australian Association of National Advertisers has drafted a self-regulation code for environmental claims advertising and marketing. In Europe, the EU Ecolabel is in the works. Change is coming, and soon.

Actually, marketers and customers alike would benefit from clear standards and guidelines. Meanwhile, brands with overblown or unsubstantiated eco-claims should watch out--they'll be outed sooner or later by consumers who will spread the bad buzz around the world.

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