Are Eco-Labels Too Overwhelming For Consumers?

Lots of people have heard about “going green” and most probably feel like they should participate in this global shift. The question, however, is how. Do you change all your light bulbs? Eliminate plastic packaging? Eat only organic food? Eco-labeling, the process of marking products that claim to have less of an environmental impact that their competitors, is supposed to help people live more sustainable lives, but a new study shows that this play may be backfiring.

According to the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, there are well over 400 eco-labels used in almost 250 countries and across 25 industries. Researchers say that this fragmentation and market saturation are confusing and overwhelming for both the consumers and companies they claim to help.

Eco Labels

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The study, which IMD and the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne, surveyed more than 1,000 executives around the globe about their attitudes towards eco-labels. Results showed that many of these executives felt “substantial scepticism” over eco-labels’ enduring credibility and the rigour of the criteria and certification procedures. Researchers also found that continuing fragmentation, consumer confusion and lack of consensus on qualifying criteria are viewed as the greatest challenges to hopes of eco-labeling continuing in its current form.

“It’s not just consumers who are confused. Selecting an eco-label has become a highly complex decision for firms,” said IMD Professor Ralf Seifert, the study’s co-author. “The fact is that the initial momentum and high expectations of more than 30 years ago are giving way to different challenges – ones that urgently need to be addressed.”

Researchers say that greater dialogue and cooperation between both companies,  green certification organizations, and consumers is needed if eco-labels are to retain credibility in the marketplace. The findings also highlight a desire for improved consolidation and standardization in order to avoid paralyzing shoppers with constant questions about which label is more important or accurate.

 Tell us: Do you think there are too many eco-labels in use? Does the variety confuse you or make it easier to shop?

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog