The 3 Essential Ingredients for a Successful Eco-Seal

Emily Kalish

As the general public has become more concerned with the environment, this concern has been extended to daily life. A greater interest in purchasing green and sustainable products has been well-documented along with greater general environmental awareness. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the offerings of green and sustainable products have increased over the years.

Accordingly, efforts for companies to communicate the sustainable nature of their products to their consumers has gone up as well. One of the most popular ways that companies have tried to communicate this is through the use of eco-seals (which are also interchangeably called eco-labels).

Not every eco-seal is successful – sometimes they are viewed as greenwashing, which is defined as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service” by the Underwriters Laboratories. Eco-seals, as well as other forms of greenwashing have been known to cause consumer confusion and are to blame for consumer skepticism.

After thoroughly examining a variety of sources as well as observing three case studies of incredibly successful eco-seal examples in the United States, there are some general best practices that have been observed for eco-seals. Three essential components for a successful eco-seal are listed below:

  1. Get governmental backing. Two out of the three case studies (ENERGY STAR and the USDA Organic programs) that were examined had significant government backing. Having government backing for an eco-seal provides credibility and makes consumers more comfortable with the eco-seal. The government also provides standards for the eco-seal and the products that carry it, which further lends legitimacy to it. Additionally, having the support of the government can be beneficial from a financial angle as well – they will help pay for the costs of research and implementation.
  2. Create an eco-seal in response to consumer demand. From a marketing perspective, this seems fairly obvious. However, several eco-seals that have failed in the past were created not because consumers wanted them but because a sponsoring program was trying to create a receptive market for the eco-seals. Pushing eco-seals onto consumers who do not want them will not benefit anyone- least of all the eco-seal sponsors.
  3. Steer clear of committing one of the Seven Sins of Greenwashing. In 2010, TerraChoice released its most recent report of the prevalence of greenwashing in grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada. These sins, which are listed and defined at http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/findings/the-seven-sins/, are still fairly present in stores today throughout the U.S. and Canada. Companies that commit one (or more) of these sins with their eco-labels risk damage to their reputation, may suffer financial consequences in having to modify or remove the eco-label altogether, and may even face legal action.

Although there are several other things that companies should keep in mind when trying to create a successful eco-seal, these three tips are a great starting place. For more about the world of eco-seals and its accompanying background, consumer decision making, and governmental information, be sure to check out “A Comprehensive Look at the Past, Present, and Future of Green Messaging in Marketing in the United States.”