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Industry Insight

Seal of Approval

By Richard Romano
Published: July 10, 2012

More than a century ago (1909), the even-then-venerable Good Housekeeping magazine launched its famous “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for household products. Items given this seal were tested by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI), which to this day (it was founded in 1900) is “the product-evaluation laboratory of the magazine, with a staff of scientists, engineers, nutritionists, and researchers dedicated to evaluating and testing everything from moisturizers to bed sheets to cell phones. Also part of GHRI is the test kitchen, which creates, tastes, and triple-tests (at least) the thousands of recipes appearing in the magazine.” If there is one limitation to the Seal of Approval, it is that it is only bestowed upon products that are advertised in the magazine. I don’t know what the public perception of the Seal of Approval is these days, but in the 1970s and 1980s I recall it being a fairly ubiquitous shorthand for something of very high quality. Three years ago, Good Housekeeping expanded its Seal of Approval to evaluate product sustainability, and thus the Good Housekeeping Green Seal of Approval eco-label was born, and into an already-crowded eco-label field as well as a deep recession that has helped sour consumer interest in premium green products. GreenBiz has a three-year update on how this eco-label has fared, and while it’s been a slow climb into the public consciousness, like most eco-labels, the Seal is attracting some high-profile partners, and expanding the products it evaluates. For example, when the Green Seal was launched in 2009, it only covered cleaning and beauty products, but it has since added appliances, paper products, paints, and coatings.
“Consumers have reason to be very cynical about promises and claims. People are inundated with product claims that demand so much research,” said Miriam Arond, the director of Good Housekeeping Research Institute. “They’re hungry for guidance.” “We have taken this slow and steady,” she added, emphasizing the quality of certifications over their number. “Companies are frustrated. They’re making environmental advances, but it’s such a complicated story for them to tell consumers. For them, the Green Good Housekeeping Seal sends a simple, clear message.”
As many in the Going Greenosphere point out, certifications and labels are best relied on with caution, but I think the legacy of the certifying organization should add some weight to the evaluation of a given eco-label. It is not unheard of for people to invent faux eco-labels, and then bestow them upon their own products. And sometimes a once-useful certification can be diluted so as to be virtually useless (such as the “organic” food label, as this New York Times article points out). So what does the Good Housekeeping Green Seal entail?
Products for the green seal program must go through a multi-step process. Once the Good Housekeeping Institute approves a product for advertising, it can then be submitted for a conventional seal of quality. If granted, the product can then apply for a separate Green Good Housekeeping Seal. At this stage, the product is put through a deeper evaluation based on life cycle assessment (LCA) practices. Detailed here, the process looks at a wide range of factors, from upstream variables such as raw materials, manufacturing, and supply chain, to down stream issues, including, packaging and product use.
Ultimately, the goal of any eco-label or certification process should not only be to guide consumers to making sustainable choices, but also help manufacturers raise their own standards—and keep up with the current state of sustainability.
“What’s green today may not be a stand out two years ago," added [Arond]. “The standards will have to shift to raise the bar.”
The key is to have an eco-label whose bestower has a positive reputation for reliability and credibility. That will encourage high-profile consumer products companies work with those standards (Procter & Gamble has had two of its products recently qualify for Good Housekeeping Green Seals), ideally setting in motion a chain reaction that will help bolster the efficacy of the eco-label, and improve the companies and products at the same time.

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.



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