Increase Regulation and Oversight
One of the most attractive features of eco-labeling is that it has the potential to drive sustainability without the need for government intervention. However, upon analysis it seems that there needs to be some regulation in the eco-labeling space in the United States. Greenwashing, redundancy, meaningless criteria, and increasing certification costs all point to this. A regulating body could provide consumers with assurance that eco-labels are credible and trustworthy, regardless of how many there may be on the market. To some extent the FTC Green Guides already addresses these issues, but because the FTC is not an enforcing agency, it has not eliminated such problems (FTC, 1998). Therefore, it is recommended that either the FTC is provided with enforcing power, or that a separate enforcing agency upholds their guidelines. By preventing labeling agencies from engaging in such greenwashing, eco-labels will once again become the reliable educational tools they were set out to be and consumer mistrust will be abated.
Facilitate Communication and Consolidation among Labeling Agencies
The current labeling environment includes hundreds of very similar labels, which confuses consumers and complicates the certification process for producers. It has already been proven that competition among eco-labels is detrimental; therefore it is recommended that labels that are similar or identical are consolidated (Mahenc, 2009). Consolidating labels will increase consumer recognition because there will be less labels on the market for consumers to know about. Increased communication among labeling agencies must be facilitated in order to encourage consolidation. The Global Ecolabelling Network is the perfect platform for such conservations. Members of the GEN should be provided with an incentive to team up with similar labeling agencies to decrease the amount of competition among them. A consolidation fund could be started to provide monetary support to agencies that decide to revise their criteria in the name of consolidation. This would allow more labels to achieve the market penetration they seek and need to be successful in achieving their objectives.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in order for eco-labels to meet their primary objective of informing consumers’ purchasing decisions, consumers must know more about them and the accolades they verify. When consumers do not recognize the label on a product, neither of the remaining two eco-label objectives can be met. Therefore, it is recommended that eco-labeling agencies unveil awareness campaigns regarding their labels. There are numerous avenues for spreading the word about the meaning of a particular eco-label including print ads, commercials, signage, and websites. If the eco-labeling agency charges a small additional fee at the time of certification, this money can be put towards awareness-raising. Producers will likely not oppose such a fee, because it ensures the reaction they seek from consumers and the competitive edge they seek in the marketplace from using a label. These measures, in combination with newly developed smart phone applications such as the Consumer Reports Eco-Label App, will allow eco-labels to achieve the visibility they need to really make an impact and drive sustainability (Consumer Reports, 2011c). In general, this area has been lacking and the entire eco-labeling space has suffered because of this.
Overall, these recommendations seek to improve one of the most prolific tools available to consumers regarding green product education. Eco-labeling is extremely important in order for green products to receive the preference they deserve among concerned consumers. Eco-labels encourage green production, drive sustainability in the marketplace, and lessen industry’s overall impact on the environment. More efforts should be taken to improve the quality of eco-labeling in meeting these worthy objectives.
Federal Trade Commission. (1998). Guides for the use of environmental marketing claims. Retrieved from http://ftc.gov/bcp/grnrule/guides980427.htm.
Mahenc, P. (2009). Wasteful Labeling. Jounrnal of Agricultural and Food Industrial Organization, 7(2).
Consumer Reports. (2011c). New Eco-Label mobile app for iPhone and iPad decodes green product labels and claims. Retrieved from http://news.consumerreports.org/money/2011/11/new-eco-label-mobile-app-for-iphone-and-ipad-decodes-green-product-labels-and-claims.html