News / Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Green and Red-Faced

Posted 25 August 2010 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Opinion | No Comments |

FTC Green Guidelines May Leave Marketers Red-Faced – Advertising Age – News.

Ad Age is reporting that new FTC green Guides are coming, and coming soon. While this is yet to be confirmed from the FTC, it brings to light some important issues:

  • Firstly, the US Government is not first to do this. Canada, UK and Australia have all recently updated their own green marketing guides, and are worth taking a look at. Pretty sure that FTC did.
  • Will it really make the 300 different seals invalid? We are not convinced. Firstly, there are not 300 seals in the US, unless you are defining it REALLY broadly, like every kind of tick and leaf you see on a package. Secondly, to do so, FTC will have to take a stand on what is a credible ecolabel – a topic for which there is little current consensus.
  • Substantiation appears to be the key. Want to make a claim that a gizmo is green, greener, green-est? At the least, make sure you can back it up.
  • It’s not only the guides themselves, but also how they are enforced that is at issue. Wonder what is their budget.

A good outcome will be if some of those with dodgy green claims are given pause by this news. A less good outcome is if it stalls the growth of the green economy for legal-department fear of being caught saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the wrong place.

Smart Choices and Why Categories Matter

Posted 30 October 2009 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Opinion | 2 Comments |

Defining what is good is really hard. Defining what is “better” slightly easier, but still tricky. And making that into a simple label that clearly says to people “this is good, buy this” is also harder than it seems, as label-geeks well know.

Today we hear that the Smart Choices program has been scaled back in response to mounting criticism. What lessons can be gleaned for eco-labels and green claims?

The Smart Choices program had set criteria for foods in 19 categories, including cheeses; snack foods and sweets; breakfast cereals; fats, oils and spreads; meals and entrees. Automatically qualifying are fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables without additives. Then, within each category the label indicates products that have met the criteria of being more “healthful”, based on: limiting substances  (including fats, sugars and sodium); nutrients to encourage (such as calcium, fiber and some vitamins and minerals); and food groups to encourage (fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low- or nonfat dairy).

Sounds pretty logical. The problem, it seems, is that the limits set were just not strict enough and did not match broader conceptions of “healthful”. So that the now classic example of fruit-loops qualifying for the Smart Choices label simply did not pass the sniff (or laugh) test and subsequently raised the ire of harder core nutritionists and the skeptical eye of various government officials.

There are some analogies we can draw here between “healthful” and “nutritional” and “green” and “eco-friendly”. These are hard concepts to pin down, subject to a range of opinions, science that changes over time, and depend very much on what you are comparing yourself to.

So for those into green or eco- labels, the first lesson is one of choosing the right categories and benchmark groups. So Fruit Loops might be better nutritionally than doughnuts for breakfast, but compared to my home-made museli? Not so much.

Secondly, setting limits within those bounds needs to be carefully considered, tested and measured.

The debate over Smart Foods also reminds me of discussions over clean coal. Yes its cleaner-coal (compared to regular coal delivering electrical power), but is it really clean? Well, perhaps not compared to wind power or other renewable energy resources.

How boring I am becoming: categories matter and so do benchmarks. Much more fun to think about scandals involving fruit loops, cocoa pops, cakes, pastries etc. Afternoon tea break time clearly!

Interested to hear people’s perspectives on what is going on with Smart Choices.

Speeding Up: Off-the-Shelf Green Big-Box Stores

Posted 16 January 2009 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Opinion | No Comments |

One of the biggest complaints people have against green certification is time (well maybe also cost, but that’s nothing new). It takes time to figure out if a complex product, building or company is meeting all the various criteria – especially where complicated global supply chains are involved.

How to speed up and save money doing this? Big-box retail and the USGBC may have cracked the code.

Case in point: Office Depot has had a prototype store certified LEED Gold by the USGBC under its new pilot portfolio program (cudos to the Sustainable Life Media blog for the story). This means that for each new Office Depot store that uses the prototype, is automatically certified under LEED.  Looks like the conditions are that Office Deport also “manage the new construction process from the ground up”.

This makes total sense for companies whose trajectory is already to make all their buildings or products virtually identical (like big box stores, malls, fast food etc). But it kind of goes against the idea of good design being responsive to the local environ’s from an aesthetic, cultural, and even local ecology point of view…  I am sure that’s already come up in discussion at Home Depot and the USGBC. So if you’re reading guys, we’d love to hear about it.

We’re also interested to see how many future Office Depot stores do indeed follow the prototype and gain the certification. And, what are their calculations for savings being achieved? If you are going down the efficiency track, might as well get some nice graphs and stats out of it!

Look for Safer Chemicals with the DfE Ecolabel

Posted 8 January 2009 by admin to Opinion | No Comments |

When we say ‘design’, usually some interior design, furniture, cars or fashionable cloth marches in front of our eyes … however, ‘design’ relates to a purposeful creation of material stuff. Nevertheless, designers do not necessarily relate ‘design’ to chemical substances. The chemical substances that industries involve in their manufacturing, and that we routinely purchase in stores, and use in our daily lives, are man-made and therefore designed.

Having worked for four years in a water utility, I happen to be sensitive in noticing everything that is related to pipe drain and treatment by various means, and further discharge to a stream or a sea. Even where compliance with environmental regulations is present, the artificial chemical compounds reach the natural elements or interact with us, humans. How much a dose it needs to be to hit us either in the form of food or other accumulation processes? There is a way to prevent this…

The U.S. EPA established in 1997 the Design for the Environment (DfE) program, which is set up by a number of partnership projects that focus on different chemicals and their use. Companies get awarded a partner status under the DfE program when they prove hard work in finding environmentally benign solutions for ingredients or final products. The DfE team also provides technical reviews and recommendations for substitution of chemicals and obtaining a more positive environmental profile. As the development of this partnership, a database evolved, listing more environmentally friendly chemical ingredients (that are ultimately biodegradable).

The database designed to be used by companies to improve their performance and profile. In December 2008 a first supplier of renewably sourced solvent was registered. A third party review applies against the DfE requirements in order to be qualified for listing in the database. If an organisation is purchasing or distributing detergents, it is also eligible for certification under the Safer Detergents Stewardship Initiative, which is one of the ongoing partnerships. If you have anything to do with cleaning products, at the front or use-end, why not go for it? We will all win!

Are you for Greener IT? There is a Way to Act!

Posted 21 December 2008 by admin to Opinion | No Comments |

Computers have for many of us become a natural part of lives. Both at home and at work we are spending hours in front of them. Switching on a computer is as natural as switching on lights. Developing more efficient lighting and transforming that market took over a decade of effort. How will it be with computers?

There are quite a few certification schemes and standards that aim to make it easier to choose among numerous models and brands for energy efficiency.  Yet, how many people do make a purchase giving a due priority to energy efficiency or some other environmental features?

We ran across an initiative that was launched not so long ago by some IT professionals which focuses on the individual consumer’s computing habits. Climate Savers computing specializes on computers and servers only and power efficiency. It refers to Energy Star for its baseline requirements.

Buying an efficient product is not the whole story, which is well understood by the Smart Computing guys. Using it efficiently is the key! Computer power management is also a part of requirements and members’ commitments respectively (see the technical specifications at their home-page). While focused on end consumers, it is also a good resource for corporate procurers looking into improving their environmental profiles.

They seek to join up different international efforts, and to engage and spread the word to facilitate the efforts of manufacturers and procurers. This is indeed a smart approach and a good example of co-operation between existing labelling schemes and the end consumer. We are responsible for the choices and decisions we make on a continuous basis and not just for a purchase.

Why not this motto for 2009: “Buying efficient and using it efficiently!”