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Defining Green: Innovation, Labeling and Self-examination

By: Frederic Holzberger
Posted: February 24, 2010, from the March 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Eco-labeling, or eco-branding, is at the forefront of retailing today, and its aim is to help consumers separate the products that are truly green and have real environmental or social benefits from those that are green-washed with unfounded environmental claims.

There are now several companies providing certification of green products. One of the first was the Canadian-based EcoLogo Program, which was established to provide third-party certification of environmentally preferable products while also offering a reliable online source for green certified consumer and professional products. Now managed by TerraChoice, EcoLogo is a world leader in setting standards and is a founding member of the Global EcoLabelling Network (GEN), an association of third-party environmental performance labeling organizations whose goal is to improve and promote the eco-labeling of products and services.

The U.S.-based Green Seal organization, founded in 1989, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity that provides science-based environmental certification standards to help manufacturers, purchasers and consumers make responsible choices that positively impact business behavior and improve quality of life. Since 1992, Green Seal has certified hundreds of products and services from major companies such as 3M, Benjamin Moore and Andersen Windows to meet Green Seal standards, and the number of major product categories covered by Green Seal standards has increased to more than 40, including some personal care product companies.

California certifier Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) also works directly with companies to assist them in “setting the standard for sustainability.” SCS provides eco-labeling certification for companies such as Starbucks, Home Depot and Safeway, to name a few, and it works with companies to set standards and create environmental practices that they can adhere to in order to provide a superior product and alleviate confusion for the consumer.

So, this is great news, right? Of course it is, but what do these new eco-labels mean exactly? When you are in a store and you see a bright, shiny new environmentally friendly looking logo on a product package, how can you be sure of its meaning?