Can 400 Green Labels Do Anything But Confuse The World's Consumers?

BBMG green label recognition image

Certification seals, consumer familiarity or "recognition." Image credit:BBMG

The market research group BBMG just reported on his year's annual survey of green consumer attitudes. Questions were asked to determine recognition of 13 of the estimated 400+ green labels already out there. Two thousand adult consumers were polled. Recognition was strongest for government sponsored, single attribute labels and weaker for non-government marks, as pictured. BBMG conclude that too-numerous labels might confuse consumers. Ya think? Four hundred competing labels is a near-perfect way to devalue the whole idea. Green Globes and Green Leaves: every body's got 'em. Makes me wonder if industries in opposition are donating money to label originators.

Durable goods makers contribute to label proliferation, as more brands come up with their own.

The smaller the physical product, the more likely that "label clutter" will contribute to consumer discouragement. Look on the back of your cell phone, under the battery, for an example of label clutter.

It gets worse.

Some green labels are well known single attribute: like USDA Organic and Energy Star. These are among the most widely recognized and trusted. Others are multi-attribute composites no one ever heard of.

Some labels issue a certification based on a proprietary index. Some rely on subjective judgments offered by PhD's, lurking behind the web address where manufacturers send their payment checks. Other certifiers are entirely transparent. But, transparency may not do enough to improve consumer understanding.

Some require expensive life cycle inventories all the time; others, only some of the time.

Most don't deal with carbon footprints. But, there is a movement to label "green buildings" as if they were organic foods to be eaten.

Some print their standards in English. Some don't. I don't read Japanese.

The EU is supposed to consolidate all the older national green labels under a single banner; but, don't hold your breath waiting. There's an undercurrent of "eco-nationalism" that tends to keep the branding separated. This exists not just in the European countries, but: pretty much everywhere but the USA . The USA only has a couple of prominent ones and they are very simplistic and inexpensive.

For how many years have these green labels been a-blossoming and changing? At least two decades. In another decade, we might have at least 500 green labels if we are lucky. Surely that will halt climate change in its tracks.

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