Look around you. Unless you’re reading this on a laptop in a tent high in the mountains (lucky you), you can probably find the Underwriter Laboratories’ UL symbol on a nearby electrical product. That ubiquitous little logo conveys to consumers that the product they’re about to plug into a wall socket meets its safety standards. But soon, you may also see a new UL logo, one that will certify that the product meets basic standards for efficiency, renewable materials, sustainable design and other metrics. It’s part of an effort UL rolled out earlier this year, called UL Environment.
UL’s motivation in creating the UL Environment label is to help consumers see through the fog of competing eco-labels in the marketplace. Since UL is such a well-known standards organization, it expect its UL environment label will help ease consumers’ concerns and confusion surrounding what products can walk their green talk.
The group is planning to offer two categories of certifications: Environmental Claims Validation and Sustainable Product Certification. Under the former, manufacturers can submit their products and UL Environment will vet all of the environmental claims the manufacturer makes in association with the product. For example, UL Environment will validate a product’s professed energy or water efficiency levels. (Expect to see the first round of validated products on the UL Environment site by late summer.) Under the Sustainable Product Certification program, UL Environment aims to create its own sustainability index and standards program.
But will UL Environment really clear the fog around eco-labels or just add to it?
There are already many hundreds of different logos and standards for environmentally-friendly products. The website Ecolabelling.org lists 99 different eco-labels for food (five different labels for coffee, alone), 80 for retail goods, 40 for textile and 27 for tourism. (Tourism? Yes, they tend to certify eco-lodges and services by country. Italy has one, the Czech Republic has one, etc.) The website endeavors to clarify the various standards by giving a background page on each label that shows what the label is meant to convey, at what frequency the products bearing the label are re-certified or audited, what organization is behind the label, etc.
In an effort to prove their products’ green cred, marketers might just be confusing their customers with a litany of claims and labels. A recent study by a French marketing firm found that 64 percent of respondents are highly skeptical of the sustainability claims that accompany green products.
This means that in order to clear the confusion and stem the skepticism around eco-label claims, UL Environment is going to need to launch a major effort to educate consumers and shine a light on eco-labels that amount to nothing more than a greenwash. But it looks like the organization is already at work. Check out this column written by Joshua Saunders, Global Service line manager for UL Environment, for GreenBiz. It offers up a good primer on the different types of eco-labels and why various industries need strong standards and certification systems to support claims of sustainability.