Ecolabels: Friend or Foe?

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friend foe picWhile seals do provide simplicity and proof, there are an overwhelming number of them.  There are more than 400 registered green logos around the world. Not surprisingly, about half of consumers in the U.S. feel there are too many green seals and certifications.  To avoid “Green Seal Clutter,” three-fifths of U.S. consumers are looking for one overarching universal seal that crosses industries. The hundreds of green seals and certifications in the market make it difficult to know what each seal means, whether it’s credible, and hence make this simple solution desirable.  Unrealistic or not, simply adding to the green seal clutter is not a solution that will be sustainable with consumers in the long run.

Green Seal Clutter 

Ecolabels are ubiquitous in today’s green marketplace as proof of the environmental claims marketers wants to make.  They do have a strong potential impact on consumer purchase, as consumers find comfort in the fact that someone has vouched for the claim. As shown in Figure 1 below, roughly 8 in 10 consumers in developing countries indicate a green seal or certification mark increases the likelihood they’ll buy it. Chinese are most likely to state they’re positively impacted by ecolabels, while Americans are least likely to indicate they are further driven to purchase by ecolabels. That’s not to say that ecolabels don’t matter in developed countries, but perhaps just that consumers have more confidence in manufacturer’s claims in developed markets.

Figure 1: (General population of each country indicating that they agree completely/somewhat that a seal or certification mark indicating a product is environmentally-friendly increases the likelihood they’ll buy it)

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Source: NMI’s LOHAS Consumer Trends Database

Global Awareness and Purchase Impact of Specific Seals and Certifications 

The consequence of seal-clutter is diminished effectiveness of each individual seal. Whenever possible, leverage existing seals and programs so consumers do not have to become familiar with an entirely new system (and you don’t have to single-handedly raise awareness). 

Although the majority of consumers state they are more likely to buy products with green seals, few consumers, on average one-third or less, recognize and understand specific seals, as shown in Figure 2. Recognition and understanding of each individual seal is higher in developing countries. The recycled logo, the only exception, is the oldest in the market and the most recognized and understood logo around the world. 

The gap between recognition/understanding and positive purchase impact is important to highlight. Large gaps between understanding and purchase intent indicate that while consumers understand the seal, it is not meaningful enough to change purchase behavior.  This is an opportunity to better educate consumers about the underlying issues and why their purchase matters.  For example, while more than three-quarters of global consumers recognize the recycled logo, it only positively impacts purchase intent among 54% of the global population. While recognition is a precursor to purchase intent, the end goal is to change consumer behavior. If that is not happening, the brands using it need to increase the seal’s value to consumers. 

Figure 2: (General population of developing and developed countries indicating that they recognize and understand the following seals and that they have a positive impact on purchasing)

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*only measured where Developing is NOT significantly higher than Developed

Source: NMI’s LOHAS Consumer Trends Database


Seals can be a valuable part of the marketing mix for green products, but marketers should be aware of the growing clutter, and that seals, like any brand, need to be supported with consistent marketing.

Availability of marketing resources has a direct impact on awareness. Some of the non-profit-backed seals are tackling important issues, are very credible, and aligned with consumer interest; but, as products of non-profits, are under-supported. This clearly can lead to a catch-22, where promoting seals is limited by the lack of marketing dollars, but higher fees would limit participation.  Balancing education and outreach with accessibility and value is a difficult, but an important, balance to strike.

To learn more about this trend and other unique opportunities, contact Gwynne Rogers, Managing Partner, NMI, 215-513-7300 ext. 227, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The LOHAS Consumer Trends Database® is the original and only global consumer tracking tool that explores sustainable consumption around the world through the LOHAS lens. The LCTD is an annual quantitative study focused on health and sustainability, corporate social responsibility, environmentalism, and social issues, among other topics. The study has been conducted by NMI in the U.S. since 2002, with subsequent global introductions across 25+ countries.

All materials herein are © 2012 by NMI. All rights reserved. Reproduction, publication (internal and/or external), transmission, or other use of any of the within materials, including but not limited to graphics, data, and/or text, for any commercial or non-commercial purposes, is strictly prohibited without the prior express written permission of NMI.


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