Signed, Sealed... Delivered? Phase One

Eco-labels, trust and behavior change across the value chain

10 Mar 2011 – Report

Companies and brands are struggling with the question of how to mobilise consumers to give preference to products and brands that have the potential to deliver positive social and environmental outcomes. The tools available seem to be labels and brands, and I think there is room in the market for both. This research that SustainAbility is going to undertake will no doubt help us understand better how we can empower consumers. – Jan Kees Vis, Global Director Sustainable Sourcing, Unilever

More than ever before, customers have demonstrated that they are more likely to buy products and services from companies they trust. In response, a wide array of certification programs has been developed, creating confusion among customers and undue burden on farmers. We agree the industry needs to better understand what is meaningful to customers and works best for producers. SustainAbility is uniquely positioned to raise our collective thinking on this topic and the promise of certification. – Cliff Burrows, President, Starbucks Coffee Company

Today’s supply chains span the globe. While a century ago we might have known where, how and who produced the things we eat, wear and use, in so many instances today all we know is what we’re told. Such geographic and mental distance between where a good is produced and where it is consumed brings plenty of benefit, but also has the potential to create significant problems. And how can we be sure that what we’re told can be trusted?

Enter the eco-label: the independently verified, on-pack label that tells the consumer a product was produced (think Fairtrade or organic) or can be consumed (think nutritional labels or Energy Star) in a more sustainable way. It’s a powerful idea that combines sustainability standards-setting and branding, underpinned by the credibility of an independent body.

But thirty-three years after the world’s first eco-label appeared (Germany’s Blue Angel), we think the time is right to ask: How well has the eco-label lived up to its ambitions? How does the model need to evolve to accelerate more sustainable modes of production and consumption as seven billion of us – and counting – bump up against the limits of the planet’s natural resources? And how can it be complemented by other ways of creating trust and influencing behavior change across global supply chains? This white paper documents the initial findings of a research project that will tackle these questions.

The full final report is now available and can be downloaded here.

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