Green Certifications: Do Consumers Care?

half-leaf-300The same day I posted the whys and meanings of green certifications, I caught a link to a report that says that consumers pay little or no attention to the certifications. Consumers don’t trust the trustmarks. That is disheartening for those who are trying to do right by consumers—or even those who are looking for an effective marketing tool.

For familiarity, three U.S. government seals rank highest:

  • Recyclable (89% familiar),
  • Energy Star (87% familiar), and
  • USDA Organic (62% familiar).

Familiarity is one thing, but does the seal influence purchase? Some do:

  • Energy Star (31% always),
  • Recyclable (20% always),
  • USDA Organic (8% always), and
  • Smart Choice (7% always).

The most interesting point to me was the fact that most trustmarks fail to drive sales—most. To which consumers do the seals and certifications connect? To the “Enlighteneds.” According to this particular segmentation of consumers, there are: Enlighteneds (10% of consumers), Aspirationals (20%), Practicals (30%), and Indifferents (40%).

Enlightened consumers are the most driven by their values when making purchasing decisions and will go out of their way to reward companies who align with their social goals. Aspirationals are more likely to balance their ideals with convenience and often switch between social concerns, availability and price when making purchasing decisions. Practicals are looking for convenience and prioritize products based on price, quality and energy efficiency. Indifferents are the least motivated by social concerns and prioritize price, quality, convenience and products manufactured in the United States.” From Food Marketing Institute.

Want to hear the rest of the story? You can order the Conscious Consumer Report for only US$2,495. Knowledge can loses its appeal when you check the price tag.

Given the 400+ seals, there is a danger that seals and certifications will become so diluted that they are meaningless. Maybe they already are. When I saw the row of seals on a booth at the ABC Kids Expo, I thought, “Wow, they have a lot of certifications.” When I checked more closely, there were NO certifications. The seals represented memberships and affiliations. This isn’t meaningless, of course, but it was a let down.

There are times that certifications matter. As an example, coffee growers and marketers have made it really clear that there are three relevant certifications: organic (important for the health of the fields and the workers), fair trade (which indicates where profits go, that workers are owners not serfs on plantations), and shade grown (which is important for the workers). In this case, consumers who are concerned tend to be well educated about the three important seals to look for.

What seals and certifications matter in buying products for your family? As I wrote earlier, this will depend where your own values lead you, but it is worth seeking out those products that meet your expectations and aspirations. It may be worth it to you to reward those companies who make an effort to let you know more about themselves and their products through memberships and pledges as well as certifications.

In the next installment, I will go through some of the seals you may see when buying products for your baby and family.

See also:

Image © Budda | Dreamstime.com

Green Certifications: Comparing Green Apples to Oranges

half-leaf-300At the ABC Kids Expo, I found striking the prominent display of many seals and certifications. One booth displayed a whole row of seals across the back of their booth, the sign looking a bit like a scouting sash full of badges. You’ve probably noticed a similar collection of badges on product packaging in the store.

There is a proliferation of green seals and certifications in the marketplace. I’ve seen estimates as high as 400 eco-seals, but surely that doesn’t take into account the many awards and other types of seals.

At one end, with so many small certifications looking at one aspect of a product, you have to become informed about a huge variety of standards in order to find any meaning in the seals you see. At the other end, with broader certifying systems, you put your trust in one organization to tell you what is of value in products.

You can’t spend a whole day deciding what to spend 5 minutes buying, but most of us want to be responsible for our choices. How do you navigate all of the assurances in all of their forms? How do you choose?


What are the seals for?

We want to understand where things come from. We want to know provenance. When we are face to face with producers, we can ask. In a global marketplace, we need a substitute for personal trust. We transfer our trust to the certifying organizations and, eventually in some cases, to the seals themselves.

Without education and guidelines to understand what all of the seals mean, we’re lost.


What does the certification mean?

If you see a seal on a product, ask yourself what it means. Is it just a membership in an organization? An award? A note that they signed a pledge or petition? Or maybe a certification of rigorous testing to meet exacting standards?

  • Memberships are not necessarily certifications, though they do show you where a company’s priorities or marketing intentions are.
  • Awards often come from independent organizations, most of which had to take time to establish the credibility of their awards. The value of an award depends on the reputation of the award-giving body. Is it a venerated nonprofit or a blog that started last year?
  • A pledge or petition can be another sign of a company’s values. If a body care company pledges not to use certain ingredients that might be harmful but have not yet been recognized as such or banned by certifying bodies, the value depends on whether you are persuaded by the proposition of the pledge or petition.
  • Certifications can be made by public, private, or trade organizations, all of which usually make their standards available for the public to see. Certifications can be made by second-parties (the certifying body itself) or through third-party testing (perhaps more independent and neutral). What is often most interesting is what is left out of the standards for certification.

A certification might address: labor, environmental impact, lifecycle analysis (LCA), energy use by end user, functional safety, water use, sustainable forestry, professional training, performance, supply chain, production, or even office practices of the business that makes the product.

When you see a seal or certification claim, ask these questions.

  • WHO is the certifying body?
  • WHO are the certifiers? Is the decision in the hands of one person, an organization with an agenda, a panel of experts, a third-party?
  • WHAT is being certified? Certification can be single-attribute or multiple-attribute. It can apply to a product or a business.
  • HOW were the standards developed? Is the process open and transparent? If not, how can you be sure that the certification means what you think it does?


Greenwashing

When you are dealing with environmental claims, there is always a danger of greenwashing—though some companies will be accused of greenwashing just because the certifications they receive don’t take into account the measures others might want them to. Just because a plastic product has a certification that says the plastic can be recycled doesn’t make it fair trade. Yes, I know you know that. That’s just simple, right?

It isn’t necessarily obvious to people, though. Some people won’t notice that we’re comparing apples to oranges. Some will just see a seal that is green in color and it will trigger a response. They don’t ask, do I want that green thing?


Grand Systems of Sustainability Measurement

What if you could compare apples to oranges? What if there were a way to compare each product in a massive store to every other product in the store and place them on a scale of sustainability? The world’s largest retailer is trying to do just that. Walmart’s new Sustainability Index attempts to compare the environmental impact of an apple, an orange, a wide-screen TV, and every other product in their store. This is a first pass at a universal eco-labelling system. It is a complex measure of everything their experts tell them matters for sustainability.

  • What about labor? Is it a part of sustainability to ask how much workers in the field and factory earn for their labor?
  • What about local solutions? Is it part of sustainability to ask whether a one-size-fits-all global corporate answer provides a better solution than the small and the local?

It all depends where you put your values. We don’t all look for the same measurements of goodness when we make choices for our families. Fair Trade certification might be more important to you than energy efficiency. Even if universal systems of measurement emerge to compare selected attributes of products, there will always be outliers asking, “What about. . . ?”

If seals and certifications are a substitute for personal trust, we may also need to ask whether we trust the certifier. In some cases, the certifying body or the global corporation sponsoring the index may be fighting against a deficit of trust. What does it take to come back from such a deficit in the eyes of consumers to reach a position of trust? Is that even possible?


How do you choose?

Backing off of some of the bigger issues of trust for a moment so you don’t become paralyzed into inaction, how do you choose which products to buy or whether to buy at all?

In the end, your choices will be very personal just as your values are very personal. There are some choices that will be clearly better than others when we consider environmental impact, at least I hope that will be the case when we start to see the results of a very extensive (if not exactly global) index. But as with all broad answers, there will have been compromises made. Some will be happy living with these compromises. If one particular aspect of sustainability isn’t included in the measures and this is very important to you, what good is the global index for you?

In order to make your choice, you need to become conscious of why you are choosing. Cost? Renewable resources? Energy consumption? Local? Labor? Know your important measures then which seals and certifications share your values.

If you have a choice between picking an apple off the tree in your backyard then eating it tonight and buying an orange picked in a grove in Brazil a few weeks ago then shipped to your town, which will you pick? Are they comparable?

See also:

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Green Standards hosted this month by In Women We Trust.

Image © Budda | Dreamstime.com

Family Eco Books


Toxic Chemical Exposure

Earlier this week, I mentioned the cloth diaper business meetings and Real Diaper Industry Association annual meeting. One of the treats of the meeting was hearing Jennifer Taggart, The Smart Mama (an environmental attorney and previously an environmental engineer who has been doing a lot of testing for compliance to new U.S. child safety laws). She has also recently published a book, Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure.

I’m not quite over the back-to-school theme and the newness of our school books yet, so I’m thinking of what other books might be helpful to families concerned about lowering their impact through eco baby steps.


Simple Ideas

A book that has been around for a while but still full of great ideas is Gillian Deacon, Green for Life: 200 Simple Eco-Ideas for Every Day. Gill Deacon is a CBC television host who promotes lower-impact living for the average person. The book was reissued last year, so it may be available to you locally in Canada.


Canada-specific

If you are looking for great tips about how you can push lighten your step even more, read Adria Vasil, Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada. The book is very broad—and entertaining! The U.S. edition came out this year.


Classroom

Since I’m still thinking about back-to-school, I’ll add The Everything Green Classroom Book: From recycling to conservation, all you need to create an eco-friendly learning environment from the Everything Series. Last year, Nature Mom gave this as a classroom gift for the holidays.


Your Reviews

There are so many books on low- and no-impact living. What are your favorites? Send us a review of your favorite eco book for families, and we’ll consider publishing your review.

Top 10 Tips for Enjoyable Eco-Friendly Family Outings

Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld once said, “There is no such thing as fun for the whole family.” While family outings do require a lot of work they can be enjoyable for the whole family if properly planned. Toddler tantrums, overtired babies and diaper emergencies can be prevented with proper planning and the right products. The following 10 tips will help you prepare for any outing with your kids while taking steps to reduce your ecological footprint.

1. Plan Ahead
Have a flexible game plan. Know where you want to go and the activities you want to accomplish for that day but be flexible on the timing and activities depending on your kids’ moods.

2. Be Prepared
Get as much ready the night before such as

  • Map to location
  • Snacks prepared
  • Bags packed
  • Clothes laid out

3. Carefully Time Your Outing
While some events have set times, other events allow you to show up at your convenience. Consider your child’s nap time when planning when you should arrive. If it’s an evening event, try to get your child to take a second nap in the afternoon or delay their morning nap. Younger children can sleep at the event if you bring along a baby carrier or a stroller.

4. Bring Snacks
Even a quick trip usually requires a snack break. Bring along easy to eat snacks such as crackers, baby carrots, cut up apples or grapes. Avoid using plastic containers if you can, there are reusable stainless steel containers available. For the breastfeeding baby, you can easily continue walking while nursing in a sling. Nursing in public is easy to do if you wear a shirt that easily lifts up. If you feel more comfortable being covered up you can use a nursing cover which can also help keep the baby from being too distracted by the surrounding events.

5. Bring Water
If you’re spending the day out in the sun you want to make sure your kids are getting enough water. Use stainless steel or other reusable drink containers and avoid packaged juice boxes.

6. Don’t forget the diapers
Always pack more diapers than you think you will need. Some families who use cloth diapers opt to use disposables for outings. While it’s true you can’t simply toss out cloth diapers, you can easily store them in a travel wet bag.

7. Plan your Transportation
Kids get tired of walking quickly so you need to decide if you should bring a stroller or use a carrier to carry your children around. Strollers can be difficult to navigate in large crowds but can be used to hold all of your extra gear. Using a carrier such as an Ergo allows you to comfortably hold children up to 4 years old for extended periods of time. You may be able to store all your gear in a backpack.

8. Use Sun Protection
Children’s skin is especially sensitive to the sun so make sure you are applying sunscreen regularly. You can use a non-toxic sunscreen to reduce your children’s exposure to chemicals. Sunscreen is not recommended for babies under 6 months old, so make sure they are kept in the shade as much as possible. A great way to protect babies from sun exposure is to use a Peekaru baby sun protector which is a lightweight, breathable fabric that fits over baby carriers, car seats and strollers and filters out UVA and UVB rays.

9. Arrange To Go With Another Family
If you can meet another family at the event it will give your kids someone to play with as well as an extra set of eyes and hands. If you need to wait in a line-up or take one of the kids to the bathroom you don’t have to worry about your stuff being stolen.

10. Make Some Memories
Even the best laid plans don’t always work but remember that you’re there to have fun. Don’t forget to bring along your camera to capture all the fun you and your family will have.

Guest author: Freelance writer, Kelly Neufeld is a breastfeeding, babywearing, vbac mom to two toddler daughters living near Vancouver, Canada.

The Growing Cloth Diaper Industry

Nature Mom and I just got home from the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas, the big trade show for the juvenile products industries. We walked the show floor looking at a stunning variety of great new products. When we weren’t walking from booth to booth, we attended the cloth diaper business meetings and Real Diaper Industry Association (RDIA) annual meetings.

It was so great to meet so many business people with similar goals and business ideals. RDIA, the cloth diaper industry association, is experiencing a lot of growth as many more diaper services and retailers in particular, the businesses that have the most contact with cloth diaper users, join the association. We learned at the meetings that there are about 130 members of the association right now, and more new members joined at the meetings.

A week ago, Monday, September 14th, breakout sessions were designed to help business owners build their businesses—look at ways to reach out to our communities, consider how best to set up a brick and mortar store, and make plans to use social media. Monday was a day for business building.

Tuesday evening was the business meeting with awards for service, review of projects like the free Consider Cloth diaper demo kit that has been sent to childbirth educators in Canada and the U.S., presentation of goals for the coming year, and a keynote address by outgoing Chair Jenn Labit of Cotton Babies and bumGenius. Especially considering that the industry association is only one year old, we are doing great things together.

If you are in business in the cloth diaper industry as a manufacturer, retailer, diaper service or info service (website or consultant) of any size, join RDIA.

During the business meeting, people talked about what they did B.D. (Before Diapers). So many of us have backgrounds that we could use to build the industry and help put more babies in cloth diapers. This past year the association drew on many members’ experience B.D. Scientists reviewed cloth diaper detergent guidelines. A writer put together the website. A market researcher drew up plans for upcoming research. Marketers created publicity materials for public awareness. Meeting planners helped put together the annual meeting. A university teacher ran the annual meeting. And so on.

What is coming up? Nature Mom has been networking, and I know she is going to work on recruiting more Canadian cloth diaper businesses to the association in the coming year. She can’t do it alone (though I know she will try). Help her. Help the industry. Join here.