Ecolables – The Decoder Ring?

By Anne Cavazos (originally posted on San Ramon Patch on May 10, 2011)

When I can, I like to attend events and webinars to learn new things about sustainability trends. This week, I attended an enlightening webinar sponsored by Sustainable Industries called “The Ecolable Shakeout”. An ecolable is a seal or logo indicating environmentally or socially preferable products, services or companies that are based on standards or criteria. Over the past few years the number of ecolables and ensuing confusion has exploded. The presenters predict that 2011 will be a big year for ecolables with more organizations getting into the fray.

Big Room, Inc. tracks 447 ecolables for industry sectors and regions around the world.  If you want to know more about the ecolables you find on your purchases or displayed on store fronts, you may be able find it on Big Room’s ecolable index website.  Some of the more recognizable ecolables include the ENERGY STAR label, which is a symbol for energy efficient appliances and USDA Organic, a U.S. national standard for organic food. Lesser known ecolables are listed such as Animal Welfare Approved, a standard for farm animal welfare, and The Green Restaurant Association Seal which provides a way for consumers to choose restaurants that are more environmentally sustainable.

Another potentially handy website is at GoodGuide.com which also has a smart phone application. The GoodGuide rates products from 1 to 10 based on health, environmental, and social responsibility impacts. A summary rating integrates the three ratings for quick comparison. I enjoyed surfing the website to find products such as the worst breakfast foods and top-rated household cleansers.  The smartphone app allows you to scan the item while in the store and if it is the database, it will come up with the score. So while I was shopping earlier this week, I decided to try it on breakfast cereals. The scanner function worked the best with national brands but not with the store brand. For those items not found in the database, the application asked if I wanted to suggest it. I selected a fairly high-scoring cereal to purchase but it did not seem to matter when I explained it to my 8-year-old who wanted one of the sugary and thus low-scoring cereals. The scanner function is nice but it takes time for the search function to find the item. And, just by picking up the sugary cereal, I got my 8-year-old’s hopes up.

I recommend that the best way to use this resource is to investigate purchases before leaving for the store. As it turns out I decided to search the website for shorts since my just turned 12-year-old growing-like-a-weed son needed them. I found that several clothing brands scored higher (above 6.0) and I didn’t need to spend double in order to feel better about my purchases.  None of the brands listed on the website scored over 7.8 which may mean that the market for high scoring apparel just doesn’t exist yet.

If you decide to try any of these websites or the smartphone app, let me know if they are useful to you.  You can reach me at anne@sustainablesanramon.org. Also, please visit Sustainable San Ramon’s website www.sustainablesanramon.org for useful resources and information on our latest events.

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