Sunday, April 20, 2008

Earth Day 2008: A Proliferation of 'Green' and 'Eco-Friendly' Product Certification Seals Offers Both Good News and Bad News for Grocers and Consumers

As pro-environmental marketing, retailing and consumerism has grown over the last decade in the United States, there's also been a growth in and proliferation of certification seals and logos ranging from those claiming "100-percent natural," "eco-friendly," "biodegradable," "earth-friendly," "green" and more.

The U.S. federal government doesn't certify "natural" or "green" products like it does organic ingredients in foods and other consumer products. The Department of Agriculture's USDA Organic logo means a user of that logo on its products has met a series of certification tests and measures set out in law, thus earning it the right to use the organic logo.

On the other hand, the dozens of seals and logos touting products as "green," sustainable," or natural, belong to either independent for-profit or non-profit certification organizations, non-profit environmental groups who allow the companies to use the certification seals or logos for a fee, or to companies themselves who have created their own "green seals" for their products.

Food, grocery and other consumer products retailers also have began to use terms such as "100% natural," "sustainable," "eco-friendly" and the like in their stores and on their own-brand products.

Since there currently is no national governmental scheme for certifying "green" or "sustainable" products in the U.S., these groups and companies are allowed to do as they wish basically.

For example, when it comes to the claim "all natural," the only category the U.S. government regulates in terms of putting the words on a product package is fresh poultry. And even in that case, poultry marketers are allowed to call birds which are injected with water or seaweed for example "all natural," in addition to the fact these fresh poultry marketers also can use the term "all natural" on birds that have had antibiotics and hormones used in their raising.

The proliferation of independent companies creating "green" seals or logos along with various companies using their own, poses difficulties for food and grocery retailers who are the agent for consumers by virtue of the business such retailers are in.

Further, the proliferation of these environmental seals and logos is causing lots of consumer confusion. Many wish there was a single certification seal or logo either administered by the U.S. Federal Government like the USDA organic certification program and logo, or by a government recognized independent organization, say on the order of the Good Housekeeping Seal for approved products.

Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle has a good piece on this issue. The story looks at the various independent organizations in the U.S. who are certifying food, grocery and other products as "green," as well as the logos they've created.

The piece also discusses various consumer packaged goods and other consumer products companies that have created their own "green" logos and are using them on their brands.

Additionally, the piece speaks to the retailer issue--both from the perspective of what we refer to as being the consumers' agent--and also about retailer's that have created "green" sections in their stores and their own green certification programs and seals and logos.

Lastly, but far from least, the Chronicle story looks at how this proliferation of "green" and "eco-friendly product logos and certification schemes are affecting consumers.

As we approach Earth Day 2008 (Tuesday, April 22), issues of green marketing are taking center stage. Food and grocery retailers are at the very center of the environmental issue, from sustainability and energy conservation to green marketing. And, the issue and opportunities are only going to grow "greener."

Note: The cleaning bottle graphic above is courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle. The illustration is by Tracy Cox. The Earth Day 2008 logo at the top was created by Ms. Adrienne Lay.

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