News / Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The ISEAL 100 Survey Results

Posted 7 March 2011 by Jacob Malthouse to Ecolabel News, Opinion | No Comments |

We have been eagerly anticipating the results of the ISEAL 100 Survey (below). Today, we had a moment to plow through the results.

At 20 pages, it is a clear, readable and well compiled analysis. Well worth the short investment to read it.

Some of our favourite quotes and results:

73% would consider using more standards. We agree. When mapped across the whole of the MSCI for example, ecolabels cover only a fraction of the industries that make up an economy.

78% said ecolabels provide operational efficiencies. Indeed. We would expand this notion to include both brand and marketing or “demand side” efficiencies, as well as “supply side” efficiencies that arise from a more closely managed supply chain.

Quotes: “Standards are the easiest way to pass on advice to suppliers.” and “Standards allow us to speak the same language between companies”

49% believe diversity continues to be important in the ecolabel space. Our experience has been that, as in any healthy system, diversity is a sign of strength. Communication, transparency, and accountability remain key, but costs imposed by an ecolabel oligopoly outweigh those resulting from diversity.

Source: The ISEAL 100 Survey Results – Business and Certification: Beyond the Tipping Point | ISEAL Alliance.

The Traceability of Everyday Things

Posted 17 February 2011 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Opinion | No Comments |

We wonder if we are witnessing the emergence of a new type of ecolabel?

Traceability and place-based media are fast growing trends, and increasingly being applied to everyday “stuff”. Connecting consumers to the products they buy (using smart phones as their mediator) is enabled by technologies such as QR codes and smart phone apps of all persuasions.

A few interesting new services to illustrate:

Real Time Farms – a website and Android app that gets its community to build a database of food origins. Shoppers at farmer’s markets in the U.S. can snap pictures of produce, homemade jams, and other items while browsing and send the images to Real Time Farms where they are then tracked.

Harvest Mark – offers a code to scan and a logo so consumers can follow their food all the way back to the farm  and discover how, where, and when it was grown.

Shirt Scan – displays a QR code on your shirt that links scanners to more information; such as where the shirt was made; or more amusingly perhaps, to something about the wearer. My friend was given such a t-shirt for valentines day. If scanned, the QR code printed on the shirt linked people to her blog. Even if it got some geek points, she was slightly perplexed on the privacy front, not the least because someone “scanning your shirt” could be misconstrued.

Frivolities aside, these tools have huge potential for increasing the accountability and sustainability of global supply chains.

The More Information the Better

Posted 3 February 2011 by Jacob Malthouse to Opinion | No Comments |

While consumers might be confused about Ecolabels, the market data says that consumers still want more information. The more the better in fact.

GreenMuze called up the Organic Consumers Association and got some great feedback on a recommended shortlist of ecolabels and green claims. More info at the source below.

Source: Green Labels Explained.

FSC & SFI Debate Reprised on Treehugger

Posted 2 February 2011 by Jacob Malthouse to Opinion | No Comments |

In part 2 of his understanding ecolabels series, @lloydalter explores SFI and LEED, particularly their governance models, and how that might impact on the rigour of their certifications. Importantly, the article ends by recommending that a thorough analysis be undertaken before choosing an ecolabel that suits your needs.

Source: Understanding Labels Part 2: Separating Green Building from Greenwash : TreeHugger.

Raise, Lower, or Limbo? The Bar is Being Set

Posted 25 January 2011 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Ecolabel News, Opinion | No Comments |

The new label from USDA for bio-based products is generating some controversy in its release this week. The New York Times quotes the Deputy Secretary of the USDA Kathleen Merrigan:  “The biobased label will help fill some of that void. People like me who go to CVS can shop purposefully”. However the author notes that “such purpose could be lessened by the program’s generous threshold, however.”

USDA has already designated as biobased some 5,100 products in 50 product categories. And federal agencies are required to purchase these products over their oil-derived counterparts where they are otherwise equivalent. For consumers, purchasing is optional and thus the program operates as a voluntary labeling scheme.

There is some dissatisfaction with the label and the program, and two main issues appear to be fuelling the controversy:

1. Where the thresholds have been set. Right now, in many categories the bar is set at 25% of content being biobased in order to display the label. People rightly wonder if this is a meaningful amount when the USDA’s other organic label is at 95% levels. The label does at least require that producers state the actual percentage of biobased material when using the label, which should provide some transparency. However, clarity over what that actually means – is it a good thing that a lip-balm is made from 25% bio-based materials? – still makes it all a bit fuzzy.

2. It is, um,  green? Does bio-based actually mean that  the product is eco-friendly or greener than equivalents? The answer – rather unsatisfyingl for an eco-label – is “it depends” and “maybe” and “not necessarily”. Without doing an LCA that considers the different inputs in the value chain of a bio vs non-bio-based product, we just don’t know.  And the agricultural practices used to produce the material are not required to be more or less eco-friendly. The good-ness  is US agriculture and forestry in general, and this shouldn’t be a surprise coming from the USDA and a farm-bill introduced in 2002.

Nonetheless, in looking at the label, most people would connect “bio” to “green” to “eco”  and thus  a green-claim of sorts is being made by the BioPreferred label. Even if consumers know the exact percentage of the product that is bio-based, they are likely to generally assume that this must be a good thing if the USDA is highlighting it as such.  For the same reason we include “fair-trade” labels as eco-labesl because for the general consumer who wants to buy with a conscience, they all deal with some aspect of sustainable development.

A path forward may be for the USDA to provide some more evidence on the environmental benefits of being bio-based, and to build on the requirements they have already established to encourage more ecologically sustainable agricultural and forestry practices.

So perhaps the analogy is more of a wedge than a limbo?