Eco Labels – 100 % Green?

In a recent Business Week article, they examined the marketing tactics of various retailers, including Home Depot. As we have mentioned numerous times on our website, Home Depot is heavily promoting their green products in Canada. On a recent visit to the store I found tons of copies of their green publication, Eco Options and walking through their seasonal department the eco options labels are everywhere. The question I keep asking myself is, “who determines what is a green product.”

There is no doubt that the eco-chic trend is becoming entrenched in North America. Marketers are jumping on the bandwagon and we are becoming inundated with their campaign messages as they try to position their products as being earth-friendly. We are witnessing how consumer opinion can have an enormous influence and impact on the decisions corporations make.

logo green

The influence doesn’t stop there, have a look at the Canadian Government and Stephen Harper. The words “environment” and “climate change” were excluded from the Harper government’s vocabulary when first elected. Through opinion polls and evaluating what Canadians deem important, the pendulum swung and buckets of green paint are being handed out by Harper and his staffers. Perhaps come election time, Stephen will wear some eco-friendly (non-animal tested) green lipstick, so when he kisses the babies it will leave a lasting green imprint.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to be careful when it comes to over-zealous marketing campaigns and look past all of the noise to really understand and evaluate how genuine the person, corporation or government is when waving their green flag.

Can we believe the Label?
According to the Business Week article, there is a company SCS, Scientific Certification Systems, that independently certifies the products that fall under the Eco Options branding. I had a chance to head over to the SCS website and this is what I found:

SCS is a leading third-party provider of certification, auditing and testing services, and standards. Our goal is to recognize the highest levels of performance in food safety and quality, environmental protection and social responsibility in the private and public sectors, and to stimulate continuous improvement in sustainable development.

If you search the site you will be able to find the questionnaire they provide vendors who are looking to become a Home Depot Eco Options Vendor. Some of the key questions:

1. Do you currently make environmental claim (s) for this product on product
packaging or collateral? If yes, what is the claim(s)?

2. Is the claim(s) independently certified?

If yes, provide the certifier name, certificate copy, certification number, and
certification report. Name___________________ Number _____________

3. Do you have documentation to support your claim(s)? _____________________

If yes, please attach the documentation for review.

4. If your claim states or implies that your product(s) is better for the environment
than other products in the same product category, please attach a brief
explanation including a description of the typical product used as a benchmark to make the in-category comparison.

For those vendors who want to go through the review process, it will cost them $750 for SCC to review their application. The price seems minimal compared to what they could gain by having the Eco Options label affixed to their product.

The official Home Depot definition of Eco Options:

Products with the Eco Options label are either eco friendly by definition, such as solar lights that use natural power, or have met certain environmental performance criteria verified by Scientific Certification Systems, an independent standards development and certification company. Eco Options products fall into one of five categories: clean air, water conservation, energy efficiency, healthy home and sustainable forestry.

Are Eco Labels Misleading?

I guess it all depends on how you interpret the labels. One of the arguments presented in the article from Business Week is some consumers could be mislead into believing that the labels are endorsed by a government agency. I think if we leave industry to self-regulate, misrepresentation will run rampant. Presently, companies are able to wave their green banner without disclosing what makes their products earth-friendly. The old saying, “Buyer Beware” holds true when it comes to eco products. I believe that as the eco-chic trend evolves into a regular habit, labeling and packaging standards will be established to offer consumers the reassurance that they are truly buying green.

From the BusinessWeek article:

Do Your Eco-Homework
“Eco labels are a great start. Companies need to educate consumers even if there’s no government mandate—there’s an ethical responsibility to do so,” says Giampietro. “But there’s also a morality of data. The brand needs to be trusted. They need to have completed research. And the label needs to add value to the customer experience.” In other words, an eye-catching logo is simply not enough.

If you are looking for more information about eco labels, you can head over to a very informative website, eco-labels.org. You can search their database and review products that tout themselves as eco-friendly. The site is very informative and will help provide you with additional insight into eco labels.

If we all bought locally from trusted and reliable sources, we would be one step closer in preserving our climate!