How to Fix the Broken Green Product Labeling System

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

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at

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