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The Eco-Label Free-For-All

Retailers and manufacturers of non-food items are creating their own seals of approval for earth-friendly goods, Business Week reports.

In mid-April, Home Depot began rolling out “Eco Options” products and signage in its nearly 1,900 U.S. stores. Since the fall of 2006, packaging for Timberland has featured eco-labels that resemble the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s text-only nutritional label. On a smaller, more upmarket, scale, at ABC Carpet & Home, shoppers find signs and hang tags with one or more icons. These include, for example, a spare rendering of a drop of water, meant to signify that a table or chair is “pure,” or free of toxic chemicals.

The strategy is clear: To market their eco-friendliness, and to quickly and effectively communicate how socially responsible they are.

Without any governmental mandate on how best to disclose the chemical, carbon-neutral, or other characteristics that communicate earth-friendliness, these companies are choosing to do it themselves.

This spring, Stonyfield Farm is expected to announce that Climate Counts, a nonprofit group it helped found, will independently evaluate leading consumer-products companies’ efforts to manage their climate effect. The idea is to create a metric that will allow consumers to compare, say, McDonald’s and Burger King.

British supermarket chain Tesco, which is launching 100 U.S. stores by 2008, has proposed labeling products to reflect their carbon footprint, starting with tens of thousands of Tesco-branded food and clothing products. The company plans to help create a Sustainable Consumption Institute, which will develop a universal carbon measure.

Next year, Wal-Mart plans to make sustainability information for the electronics it sells available available to consumers.

Third-party environmental certifications – aimed at specific areas – already exist. The Marine Stewardship Council covers seafood; VeriFlora certifies flowers; and Green Seal puts its stamp on government and corporate buying.

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