There is a lot of hope for creating far-reaching standards for rating and labeling of products and services along sustainability criteria. Some standards focus only on the environmental aspects, some only on the social and governance
criteria, some attempt to comingle them, and others hope to allow customers to mix their own ratios. For all of the interest in this area, the development is slow-going, partly due to the inherent complexity and partly because, although it seems that everyone wants to use these systems, it’s decidedly not sexy in comparison to investments in “clean energy” and other sustainability innovations.
Some of the existing systems created for consumers include the following:
• alonovo. com (one of the oldest, having started in 2005)
• goodguide. com
• betterworldshopper. com (one of the most complete but only a book, not an online resource)
• ethiscore. org
• hrc. org/cei (Corporate Equity Index)
• pharosproject. net (focused on building materials)
• www. c2ccertified. com (Cradle to Cradle certificate program—very extensive and expensive)
Other rating systems are already in use (such as those developed by the various SRIs), but intended only for use by other businesses (making them expensive):
• www. kld. com (KLD Research)
• www. innovest. com (Innovest)
Some proposed systems, in development, include the following:
• SBAR (Sustainable Business Rating System)
Some manufacturers aren’t waiting for standards to emerge and are creating their own, for use with their products:
• Home Depot
• Carbon Trusts/Tesco Carbon Label
All of these systems have their strengths and weaknesses. Some are focused only on single issues while others attempt a full-spectrum rating. It’s safe to say that all describe various subsets of the total measurement solution.
The systems listed previously are ratings systems, meaning they rate companies (and sometimes individual products and services) in a way that allows them to be compared to others. These can lead to Type III labels (as defined by the ISO 14000 standards). They differ from binary seals (Type I) that only report whether a company, product, or service passed the screen. There are many of these in use throughout the world and across the spectrum of issues. Organic, Fairtrade, Kosher, and Dolphin Safe labels, for example, are Type I labels. A product with one of these labels designates that it meets the requirements of the certifying body, but products without these labels don’t necessarily signal that they don’t meet the standards. (The manufacturer may simply not have paid for the certification procedure.) In addition, it’s not possible to compare two products, both certified by one of these binary labels, in terms of their relative performance in this area. While Type I labels can be important, they are ultimately less helpful in enabling customers to make choices based on their values and concerns.
All of these systems have their strengths and weaknesses. Some are focused only on single issues while others attempt a full-spectrum rating. It’s probably safe to say that all describe various subsets of the total measurement solution.
According to Terrachoice Environmental marketing study, more than half the eco labels today hype some narrow claim at the expense of larger sustainability issues.