My opinion regarding the following articles about eco-labeling: Seven Sins, Govt Accountability Office, and Debunking EnergyStar.
Q1: After reading the articles do you think that eco-labels should be endorsed by a third party?
Yes. The certification process should carried out by a third party to keep it competitive and credible. It could be similar to the validation of electronic products via the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) and CE (European Conformity) labeling program. This process requires the manufacturer to pay a 3rd party auditing company to validate their products. Another option would be to develop a type of ‘Nutrition Facts’ label for products that instead of calories, fat, and protein shows hourly energy consumption, production carbon footprint, and disposal recommendations. This could eliminate confusion and vagueness in marketing tactics, as well as, curb the number of unaccredited ‘eco’ products saturating the marketplace.
Q2: What role do you think the government should play?
The government’s initiative with EnergyStar is commendable. Programs like EnergyStar are essential in getting the ball rolling towards more responsible manufacturers, sellers, and users. EnergyStar is a great starting point for programs to police and market the concepts of energy conservation to the public. Greenwashing by manufacturers, although potentially misleading, will succeed in reminding consumers to live and buy responsibly.
Q3: Do you think that eco-labeling strategies can accommodate for the rapid growth of environmentally friendly products?
As I mentioned before, an energy or life cycle-type ‘nutrition facts’ label that spells out useful information would succeed in discerning the truly good products from the falsely-claimed ones. By providing a format to easily compare similar products, labeling will enable the consumers to decide which products succeed and fail in the eco-marketplace.
Q4: How does one quantify an acceptable eco “threshold” to provide valuable consumer information?
It would make sense to have a common set of tests, analysis, and measurements by a third party agency to validate and benchmark each product considered for eco-labeling. It makes no sense that a gas-powered alarm clock would be approved for EnergyStar solely on the data provided by the manufacturers. It is simply unacceptable that the government sight unseen would approve an item. By forming databases of useful info we will be able to set benchmarks and develop a history of valid product information. This will inform consumers to make better decisions and drive manufacturers to create more environmentally responsible products.
Q5: Lastly, as a consumer how would your buying decisions be affected by eco-labels?
To combat greenwashing, the consumer must question labeling/marketing strategies and recognize that there is more to the story than the manufacturer is telling you. Sustainability, energy use, and pollution are all very different concepts that are easily marketed independently of each other. EnergyStar is an effective tool for big-ticket household items like refrigerators, washer/dryer, and ovens. Because these are the biggest electricity consumers in a home, consumers recognize that investing in them will certainly reduce their electricity costs over their current models.
On a side note, I was surprised to see that the government has an Accountability Office.