By Lara Koritzke
Most busy professionals like me recognize the mad dash during your lunch break to pick up a few much-needed items and wolf down a sandwich. Today my mission focused on a light bulb, bed sheets and dish liquid. The light bulb had the U.S. government’s Energy Star mark, a label based on independent testing and certification.
The bed sheets were a bit more confusing for the conscious consumer. They professed to be ‘100 percent natural,’ but the ‘made in India’ tag and the fact that they were cotton had me wondering about child labor, water and chemicals. Because the vague ‘natural’ text was immediately followed by ‘soft and silky,’ I began to realize this sustainability claim was more a product of clever marketing than credible practice.
So, on to my dish liquid: This one I am embarrassed to say I purchased because it was the brand my mother used when I was a child. Yes, consumer researchers, you know me well. The bottle showed a fuzzy baby animal and had a statement about ‘helping save wildlife.’ Upon a bit more investigation once I got home, I learned that the claim was a cause marketing campaign – the company was giving a portion of its profits to charity. Okay, cool. I love most forms of corporate philanthropy. But this was confusing when I dug a bit further and learned that the product had been criticized in the media for its EU-banned chemicals known to be dangerous to aquatic life. I began to think the dish liquid’s claims were trying to distract me from more important issues.
So, are these bad companies with the confusing labels? It’s probably true that many not-so-credible labels and claims are not deliberately created to be confusing or misleading. Okay, some definitely are. Some see greenwashing as low risk and high reward. But most companies are just eager to differentiate their products, and sometimes they forget about what really makes a credible sustainability claim.
This month, a new tool called Challenge the Label was unveiled for company buyers. With the tool, corporate responsibility, marketing or procurement professionals can access a list of questions for their suppliers and partners, and assess B2B and B2C claims for their credibility. They can also explore whether those claims and labels meet five universal truths. The truths were defined by ISEAL Alliance over a period of almost two years from conversations with experts, as well as research into the regulatory and guidance documents from the claims and labeling space. They are:
Image credit: Flicker/foodethicscouncil
Lara Koritzke is Director of Development & Communications at the ISEAL Alliance. Prior to joining ISEAL in 2011, she spent 11 years with Rainforest Alliance, where she developed global strategy for partnerships. She is based in Toronto.