Eco-Promise, but no follow through

Many fashion-savy young female LA residents have at some point donned the most comfortable of their strappy sandal collection and, armed with a grande iced latte and mental catalogue of the months’ current hot items, ventured downtown to spend a Saturday in the sun, among blaring ghetto blasters, people hawking anything from brass belt buckles to stolen radios, and the smell of dirty city gutters and roasting hot dogs.

There, browsing through thousands of knock-off designer purses in Santee Alley, every fashionista encounters the classic moral dilemma: what does a label really mean, in the presence of? such a proliferation of inauthentic knock-offs? The skill to tell the difference between the authentic and the posing becomes invaluable, when misleading labels are being circulated on such a large level.

The consumer products world is seeing the proliferation of misleading labels on another? plane as well. As the buzz words “green” and “eco-friendly” rise to the forefront of consumer attention, manufacturers are scrambling to cash in on this feeding frenzy, and find a way to slap an “environmentally- friendly” label on their product, one way or another, even if it’s a plastic water bottle that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Hey, it doesn’t matter that the bottle will probably end up as a permanent component of a jellyfish’s body if one cent of the profit was donated to a child in Nigeria, right?

One can now find anything from eggs to fertilizer with the labels “organic”, or “eco-friendly” label stamped across it, as certified by some vague authority (most often the company itself). The effect on the overwhelmed consumer is much the same as the tired fashionista who walks out of Santee Alley empty-handed, disillusioned, and distrustful of labels at face value.

Consumers eager to make a difference with their purchase are realizing they are being targeted, and now the massive green movement is starting to backfire, as consumers slowly begin to become immune to “eco-friendly” stamps, and “green fatigue” sets in.

“Nearly half of consumers are confusedabout the differences between Fairtrade, ethical and organic products.”
– Richard Lloyd, Director General, Consumers International

The European non-profit BSR, Business for Social Responsibility, saw this as an increasing problem, and partnered with Forum for the Future, a sustainable development charity, to produce a report called “Eco Promising: Communicating the Environmental Credentials of your products and Services”.? The report was designed to guide manufactures on how to communicate the environmental credentials of products more honestly, and thereby increase sales through a more transparent mission statement.

The report also examines the different types of environmental claims made, and gives advice on how to eco-promising can improve brand differentiation. It also warns how misleading claims can cause negative consumer backlash. Some of their recommendations include using a third party to objectively measure a products’ touted improved environmental impact.

BSR has been working with NGO’s across the globe to coordinate universal standards for social responsibility since 1992, and if they get their way, all products will have a rating similar to the Energy Star stamp, and the criteria and ratings will be universal.

All in all, a very valuable read. Check it out here.

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