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Marketing the Green, the Greener, and teh Greenest!

Rich (and others),

Thank you so much for the kind words -- and just to prove that 
we're still wide awake up here in snowy Vermont, I've inserted the 
text of the article I did on Eco-labeling and Environmental 
Certification back in 1997. Hope it stimulates more good thinking. If 
anyone is interested in receiving a copy of that particular issue, 
please just let me know -- and do make it a GREAT day! I have 
truly enjoyed everyone's thoughts on P2, washwater, mops and 
buckets, realism vs. pragmatism, and how to conduct more 
effective site visits. 

Eco-labeling and Environmental Certification 
Programs: Marketing the Green, the Greener, and the Greenest

Prepared by Doug Kievit-Kylar, Pollution Prevention Planner
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Environmental 
Assistance Division

	An eco-orchestra that includes the complete audio spectrum 
of nature includes producers, consumers, and decomposers. 
That’s all of us that make up the natural order of life on Earth; 
and we humans are undoubtedly consumers — in both the 
ecological and the economic sense of the word.
	As consumers we use resources and products made available 
to us through a free-market system of exchange based on 
currency. Our money, however, often buys us more than the 
goods we cart home with us from the store. Our money, besides 
buying us for example a new computer, buys us packaging, the 
marketing that shaped our final decision to buy, and we pay for 
(either directly or indirectly) a portion of the waste disposal and 
environmental remediation costs associated with manufacturing 
that computer and all of its components.
	The “green” shopper is a relatively new phenomenon. It has 
only been within the last few decades that consumers have 
purposefully sought out products in the marketplace that satisfied 
their desire for environmentally-sensitive products. More and 
more, however, consumers are expressing environmental 
preferences in their purchases. Environmentally aware consumers 
have stimulated markets for dolphinsafe tuna and 
energyefficient light bulbs. By including environmental criteria in 
purchasing decisions, consumers implicitly stimulate the markets 
for technologies that support environmentally friendly production.

	Consumers often find it difficult to obtain the information they 
need to make thoughtful decisions. Environmental labeling, or eco-
labeling, programs help them make those choices. By regarding 
products and packaging in terms of recyclability, biodegradability, 
and/or "environmental friendliness" an eco-label or certification by 
a third party provides information not typically available to 
consumers in the mareketplace.
	Third party certification programs, such as Green Seal, 
Scientific Certification Systems, Canada’s Environmental Choice, 
and Germany's Blue Angel program act as independent bodies 
that evaluate and certify products for marketers to; give 
customers a reliable source of information about specific products 
and services; to differentiate their products and services based on 
relative environmental impacts; and to increase their company's 
competitiveness by reducing waste costs and meeting the 
demands of an expanding market niche.
	Approximately 25 national level environmental labeling 
programs exist. The U.S. does not have a federal program, 
although Green Seal and Scientific Certification Systems are two 
competing private programs. The U.S. Federal Trade commission 
provides guidelines for environmental claims. Complying with its 
guidelines can protect companies from possible prosecution for 
fraudulent environmental claims.
	To succeed, ecolabeling programs must find a delicate 
balance between the interests of producers and consumers. If the 
environmental criteria are unrealistic, industries will not 
participate. At the same time, if the environmental standards are 
too low, consumers will not trust the label and may turn away 
from the products which carry the mark. Another problem is that 
as ecolabeling programs emerge in more countries, the different 
national standards create confusion for industries that want to 
apply for ecolabels in several countries.
	Opposition to eco-labeling in the United States has come from 
The United States Council on International Business (USCIB). 
This organization argues that a host of third party multicriteria 
ecolabels threaten to mislead consumers and burden industry, and 
fail to improve environmental quality. The USCIB asserts that of 
the ecolabeling programs in operation globally none share the 
same criteria or standards and that companies failing to seek the 
eco-label for their products could, by inverse logic, lead to their 
companies and their products being perceived as environmentally 
insensitive or even worse, harmful.
	Other opponents of ecolabels have joined the Coalition for 
Truth in Environmental Marketing Information, a coalition 
representing over 2,900 companies. This group includes the 
American Forest and Paper Association, the Grocery 
Manufacturers of America, the Electronic Industries Association, 
the American Forest and Paper Association, the National Food 
Processors Association, the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers 
Association, the Can Manufacturers Association and the 
American Plastics Council. The coalition favors providing 
information and complains that others are promoting "ecoseals." 
The coalition asserts that these seals are "akin to a food label that 
simply says 'good for you,' rather than providing objective 
information about calories, fat and sodium content." The coalition 
maintains that "ecoseals are easily abused as protectionist trade 
barriers and will result in numerous international trade disputes."
	Eco-label promoters argue on the other hand that the labels 
bring greater, not less clarity to environmental claims. 
Manufacturers have utilized third party certification programs to 
as the “safe harbors” in which they can make real environmental 
claims without fear of being sued for “green-washing” or 
deceptive environmental advertising. In addition, where for 
example Green Seal sets standards for its awarding of the seal, it 
is Underwriter Laboratories that is the primary testing and factory 
inspection contractor that performs the necessary tests and 
inspections to decide whether or not a manufacturer’s product 
meets Green Seal’s standards.

Environmental Certification
	Where ecolabeling programs help consumers identify 
environmentally superior products and services, seldom do they 
consider the environmental consequences of manufacturing those 
products or providing those services. Environmental certification 
programs, however, often extend to the entire life cycle of the 
product. This would include an analysis of the raw materials used 
to assemble the product, production methods, emissions produced 
when the product is used and could even include an obligation (as 
it does in Germany) that producers take back a product for 
recycling or reuse when the consumer no longer wants the 
	Professor Raymond Coates, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in 
Economics once said that “When companies fulfill their social 
contract with consumers, there is no need for regulations. 
Government regulations are borne when industry fails to maintain 
this contract.”  Environmental certification programs make clear a 
company’s fulfillment of one dimension of that social contract. 
Whether sector-specific, like the Chemical Manufacturers 
Association’s Responsible Care program or more broadly 
focused, like the CERES Principles these certification programs 
are voluntary initiatives to build greater responsibility for 
preventing harm to the environment. 
	Created by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible 
Economies, the CERES Principles (formerly known as the 
Valdez Principles) were designed to codify voluntary corporate 
stewardship of the environment. The sixth of the ten CERES 
Principles, “Safe Products and Services”, reads like an eco-label 
standard stating; “We will reduce and where possible eliminate 
the use, manufacture or sale of products and services that cause 
environmental damage or health or safety hazards. We will inform 
our customers of the environmental impacts of our products or 
services and try to correct unsafe use.”  Companies that endorse 
the CERES Principles, however, also pledge to; reduce 
environmental releases and emissions, to make sustainable use of 
renewable natural resources and to conserve nonrenewable 
natural resources, to practice toxics use reduction, to eliminate or 
reduce environmental, health and safety risks to employees and 
the community, to environmental restoration, to inform the public 
about health, safety and environmental conditions caused by the 
company, and to conduct annual self-evaluations of progress in 
implementing the Principles.
	Another organization certifying more than just the product is 
the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), a 
worldwide federation of national standards bodies. The mission of 
ISO is to promote the development of standardization and related 
activities in the world with a view to facilitating the international 
exchange of goods and services. Best known of its standards 
series are ISO 9000 and ISO 14000. Both provide generic 
requirements for a management systems approach to a specific 
function of an organization: Whereas ISO 9000 deals with an 
organization’s Quality Systems, ISO 14000 deals with an 
organization’s Environmental Management Systems (EMS).
	Companies seeking “registration” to ISO 14001 (the 
specification document) utilize independent, third-party auditors or 
“registrars” to verify that their EMS includes;  guidelines on 
principles, environmental auditing, environmental performance 
evaluation, ecolabeling, lifecycle assessment (LCA) and 
environmental aspects in product standards. 

The Vermont Business Environmental Partnership
	Although there is no state program to provide certification or 
an eco-label for environmentally superior products the Vermont 
Business Environmental Partnership serves to recognize 
environmental and economic excellence. The Vermont Business 
Environmental Partnership is a voluntary, environmental 
assistance and business recognition program offered by the 
Environmental Assistance Division of the Vermont Agency of 
Natural Resources.  The Partnership joins efforts of the public 
and private sectors to achieve environmental and economic goals 
	The program allows participants to be recognized and market 
themselves as environmental partners when they have made a 
good faith effort to adopt a set of core environmental standards 
and a total of six elective standards. Once Partnership status is 
those wishing even greater recognition can strive to have their facilities 
designated as 
model environmental facilities
. Such designation entails meeting additional standards and completing a 
regulatory compliance review. Like CERES and ISO, participation in the 
Vermont Business Environmental Partnership
 reflects a corporate commitment to pollution prevention and exemplary 
environmental management.

Going Beyond Awareness
	Admittedly this article provides but little to go on in deciding to 
pursue an eco-label or certification of your environmental 
management system. To go beyond awareness, please be sure to 
read the other articles in this issue — and for additional, more 
detailed information please call Doug Kievit-Kylar at (802) 241-
3628 or e-mail him at Doug.Kievit-Kylar@anrmail.anr.state.vt.us

Doug Kievit-Kylar, Pollution Prevention Planner
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Environmental Assistance Division
103 South Main Street
Waterbury   VT   05671-0411
phone: (802) 241-3628
FAX: (802) 241-3273
e-mail: Doug.Kievit-Kylar@anrmail.anr.state.vt.us
"Smart people solve problems. Geniuses prevent them."
-- The wisdom of Albert Einstein --