The jungle of 435 eco-labels

After today’s lecture I headed to a convenience store to buy some cleaning detergents. For my big surprise the shop had widen their selection by offering now “green” cleaning detergents in some of their product categories. As a conscious consumer, I naturally took one of those eco-friendly cleaning detergents bottles out of the shelf and had a closer look. The bottle was lime green – of course – and the package design communicated environmental values, that a conscious consumer (like me) would appreciate. And on the top of all this, the package was carrying an eco-label…which I had never seen before. Even though that particular eco-label might be completely appropriate, for me it did not tell anything. That’s why I ended up putting the cleaning detergent bottle back to the shelf and choosing the detergent that I usually buy, as it is carrying the eco-label I know for sure – The Swan eco-label.

Because of the cleaning detergent episode, I ended up looking more information about the existing labels. There are some eco-labels that are widely recognized and trusted, but the growing interest towards green products has accelerated the need for new eco-labels that either are sincere, or then not. For a consumer, it is not an easy task always to evaluate the veracity of each label, and that is why we consumers sometimes end up being greenwashed against our better knowledge. And even if we buy products that are certified with a well-known label, do we actually know what the label stands for?

The growing amount of all kinds of labels have led to the situation where “the value of the label is eventually in the eyes of the beholder, or the end-user”, says Joshua Saunders, a blog writer of the GreenBiz. In his blog, he examines the growing amount of eco-labels, noting that the different eco-labels also serve different purposes and speak different audiences, which makes understandable the fact, that there cannot be just one, one-size-fits-all-eco-label. However, according to Ecolabel Index, there are at the moment 435 eco-labels that cover 197 countries and 25 industries. I do agree with Joshua that there cannot be just one eco-label, but isn’t 435 different eco-labels already out of control? I wonder who are all these eco-labels supposed to serve? I do understand that the brand owners want to promote their own environmental achievements, but on what cost? Is it possible that in some point, when the consumers have just given up of trying to stay on track of all the labels, the eco-labels will just become meaningless packaging graphics? Maybe the time of the eco-labels is already running out, and this is the time to start thinking new ways of communicating environmental values.

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