Infographic of the Day: We're Drowning in Green Label Glut

A glut of eco-labels has actually made it harder to consume responsibly.

green labels

The Washington Post has an infographic on the incredible number of green labels flooding the marketplace in recent years. Fair Trade, Certified Naturally Grown, Energy Star, FSC, LEED, OTCO, EPEAT.... How do you keep it all straight?

You don't. Based on a survey by the World Resources Institute, Duke University and the green analyst Big Room Inc., 600 labels worldwide dispatch some sort of eco -benchmark; 80 of those are in the United States. As the chart shows, topping the list are food (90); retail (74); buildings (64); and miscellaneous industry (79), including things like pest control. This has spawned all sorts of turf wars between environmentalists about whose label reigns supreme.

More importantly, we no longer have any easy way to tell between honest intent and greenwashing. Most certification systems aren't regulated at all, so unless you have a lot of time on your hands, it's impossible to determine which are best. Coffee that's USDA Organic or Fair Trade? Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative? Even if something has a green cert, how do you know it actually meets the standard? And with so many different labels on the books, how could you possibly keep track? Systems that were supposed to make it easier for us to consume responsibly have actually made it harder. And while rating groups like the Good Guide cut through all the B.S., there's still no obvious solution for the store shelf, where decisions are actually being made.

More on green-rating problems here and here.

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  • barbra batshalom

    One of the ways that the building industry needs to follow in food industry's footprints is in transparency. Too frequently in building products, toxic chemicals are hidden from the public's view - or camouflaged in false names. This must stop. Im not advocating the publishing of trade secrets or competitive advantage, but I am advocating for public health and the right to know if Im buying something toxic. If the food industry can survive the labeling, so can buildings. The Pharos project does a good job of crediting manufacturers who reveal their ingredients and creating a transparent apples-to-apples view for consumers. We need more transparency as a threshold to good decision making.

  • barbra batshalom

    Great article!
    Our organization is taking on the issues of 3rd party certs and greenwash in the building industry - and it is truly overwhelming. Specifiers/purchasers don't have time or energy to fight through the confusion and dilution of too many labels and no one (until now) is trying to make it easier for them (until now).
    I think every industry needs to have a central place where leadership is helping to provide literacy and boost demand while working in the supply chain to align efforts - especially in our industry where the market place is truly global and the fragmentation is exponential. If you are in the building industry and want to help increase demand, or spread literacy - check out our website and join our efforts!

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  • Naomi Robbins

    This infographic would be improved if the categories were ordered by number of labels rather than alphabetically.