In a sea of confusing - and often misleading - product labels, it can be tough for consumers to choose healthy, sustainable products that are good for both the planet and their families. Since 2007, the makers of the increasingly popular Web and mobile app GoodGuide have been quietly compiling a massive database of consumer products with ratings based on health, environmental impact and society to help shoppers do just that.
Now, the GoodGuide team is teaming up with Target to rate thousands of products on the retail giant's shelves and develop an industry standard that allows consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. Target's recently announced Sustainable Product Standard, which was developed over the last two years "in partnership with industry experts, vendors and NGOs," will help establish a common standard, definition and process for what makes a product sustainable, the company said.
Beginning this month, the Minneapolis-based retail chain will ask vendors representing 7,500 products in household cleaners, personal care and beauty, and baby care to complete an assessment for the initial rollout of its standard. Each product in these categories will be assigned up to 100 points based on the sustainability of ingredients, ingredient transparency and overall environmental impact.
"Currently, there is no widely accepted industry standard by which vendors and retailers can judge the environmental impact and sustainability of products," said Dara O’Rourke, co-founder and chief sustainability officer of GoodGuide. "With the Target Sustainable Product Standard, Target will help push the industry toward consensus on what sustainable standards should be and create incentives for innovation in this highly competitive space, ultimately broadening the sustainable product selection for their guests."
If the caliber of corporate partnerships for the standard is any indication, Target plans to take its new rating system seriously. In addition to GoodGuide - which was acquired last year by not-for-profit product safety testing organization Underwriters Laboratories - a number of top names in the sustainable products industry jumped on board to develop the standard. John Replogle, president and CEO of Seventh Generation - one of Target's partners on the standard, said that the move is good for business, as quantifiable rating systems help truly sustainable products stand out on retail shelves.
"We were thrilled to be a partner in developing the Target Sustainable Product Standard," Replogle said in a press release. "We know more and more Target guests want greater transparency about the ingredients in the products that they’re purchasing. This tool will help us showcase the authenticity of our products while pushing for industry-wide clarity around what really makes a product sustainable."
If you're feeling a bit of deja vu, that may be because rival retail giant Walmart released a similar standard in August 2012. At a recent meeting of employees, suppliers and nonprofit organizations, the company reported that its Sustainability Index has reached 200 product categories and more than 1,000 suppliers in the past year - with a goal of reaching 5,000 suppliers by the end of 2013.
Target plans to roll out its standard for cosmetics next year and will use collected data to "inform merchandising and product-placement decisions," the company said. While the true value of Target's rating system remains to be seen, it surely receives a boost from the GoodGuide partnership and - if expert opinion is any indication - just may serve as a catalyst for industry-wide agreement on what defines a sustainable product.
Mary Mazzoni has reported on sustainability in business for over a decade and now serves as managing editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of brands and organizations on sustainability storytelling. Along with 3p, Mary's recent work can be found in publications like Conscious Company, Salon and Vice's Motherboard. She also works with nonprofits on media projects, including the women's entrepreneurship coaching organization Street Business School. She is an alumna of Temple University in Philadelphia and lives in the city with her partner and two spoiled dogs.