With more than 300 different organizations claiming to certify various products and services as “green” or “sustainable,” industry leaders are pondering whether the time has come for a unified U.S. Green Product Council.
Leaders say that possible consumer confusion on just what constitutes “green” may be reason enough to consider a unified green standard, reports Detroit News.
Consumers can’t be expected to verify the legitimacy of each and every green certification system, said Steve Odland, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Office Depot Inc., who spoke June 16 at the National Summit session on Sustainable Business Solutions in Detroit.
“Maybe it’s time for a U.S. Green Product Council which could then take on the task of mapping all these various certifications,” he said, according to the article.
To Odland, it would make sense to divide such a standard into three levels of “greenness”: light green, green and dark green, reports the Detroit Free Press. Indeed, Office Depot is moving forward with just such a tiered rating system.
Fellow panelist Thomas Lyon, a professor and director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, also is in favor of a common standard. “We’re getting a proliferation of labels and the average consumer can’t tell which label is better,” he said.
The Federal Trade Commission has taken up the subject of late. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has charged Kmart Corp., Tender Corp., and Dyna-E International with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their paper products were “biodegradable.”
In a June 9 hearing before the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection entitled “It’s Too Easy Being Green: Defining Fair Green Marketing Practices,” representatives from the FTC and other organizations spoke on the topic.
“Consumer interest in conserving energy and protecting the environment will likely result in continued environmental marketing,” James Kohm, Director of FTC’s Enforcement Division, said during the hearing. “Competition based on green claims drives businesses to greater innovation, which ultimately benefits consumers by increasing the availability of the types of green products and services they desire. For the marketplace to thrive, however, companies must compete on the basis of legitimate advertising claims and consumers must be able to rely on those claims.”
Also at the hearing, Urvashi Rangan, Director of Technical Policy for Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), said consumers face a “dizzying array” of labels — from specific claims like “no phthalates” to vague and undefined claims like “natural” and “green.”
“Of the certified label programs, there are several viable business models including public, private, non-profit, for-profit—that may or may not be of interest to a particular consumer,” Rangan said.
When Consumers Union surveys green labels, it looks at criteria including: verification, consistency, transparency, stakeholder input and independence.
“Comprehension and accessibility are challenges for all green claims. Whether specific or broad, the maintenance and evolution of standards over time must be addressed,” Rangan said.
Government and industry should work toward defining what constitutes fair green marketing practices, said Scott Cooper, Vice President of Government Relations for the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
“In order to make this vision a reality, we need to make more efficient use of the standards and conformance resources that are already in place . . . and we need to identify every gap that exists,” Cooper said.
ANSI offers accreditation in sustainable forestry, environmental management and food and agriculture best practices.
The European Union has an official eco-label program, which recently began certifying foods.