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How to Fix the Broken Green Product Labeling System

Tom Szaky | Wednesday July 7th, 2010 | 1 Comment

I’ve been at the green business game for while now, and I’m happy to see consumers getting smarter, and a wider range of people being aware of and seeking out greener options, not only in special things but the everyday as well. But there’s a problem. A big one that could, and I feel is, threatening the vitality of the market for sustainable goods:

Half ass (green) labeling.

What do I mean? Just about all the green certification labels out there merely say the product is certified. Or if they say more, it’s still positive. And, with many so-called certifications being created by the companies themselves, the credibility of them is minimal to none. People, justifiably, aren’t buying it.

I have a solution. It’s going to take some boldness. But if it’s done, it will be good for all of us: consumers, businesses, stores. It goes like this: Do full spectrum rating. As in show if a product is excellent, good, fair, and not so good. It could be as simple as a point scale, detailing the areas where the product is doing well as well as those areas where there is room for improvement.

The system created by the people at BuyGreen is among the best for consumer products I’ve seen. It’s clear, thorough, and relevant to consumers.

Now of course, companies whose products aren’t so sustainable will have a fit about this. You know what? Too bad. I think stores should mandate that these details be made transparent. Just like foods have to show what they’re made of (except, regrettably, their GMO status, here in America)


Because when people have clear information, they can make clear choices. Having only happy stamps on products numbs people to comparison shopping. If labeling were clearer, consumers may well make the exact same choices they do now, but my sense is they’ll choose the greener options if they are given useful information that they can make sense of. Better yet, the products that are less green will have to pick up their game or be left behind.

Some may say that’s a rough stance to hold in this economy, but really, it’s ultimately going to lead to a more robust, durable one, as people will feel more trusting in and confident about their purchases. The same goes for stores that are hesitant to be up front about what they carry. Again, the more people know, and the more clear they are in what they do/don’t want carried in your store, the better off you’ll be as a business.

So who’s with me? Where should we start? Who should lead it? How can we make it happen as quickly as possible? What suggestions do you have to improve it? What are some good examples of businesses, stores, and countries effectively including useful, transparent sustainability ratings on products?

image credit: Horia Varian

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