To sales & marketing
There are many times when information about the environmental impact of a product never reaches the customer. If it is not relevant to the product’s purchase or use, the information can just stay “behind the scenes.” However, there are two main reasons why impact information is shared with customers: to promote its sustainability as a specific product benefit, and to show that the product meets certain standards. In both cases, it is very important that sales and marketing people understand the regulations that apply to making environmental impact claims.
In the first case, it is often tempting to promote a product’s sustainability. Green marketing is on the rise and many customers are starting to pay attention to environmental and social impacts in making buying decisions. Unfortunately, some organizations have gotten a little overzealous in their claims, often leading to accusations of “greenwashing.” As a result, the Federal Trade Commission has issued a set of Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, known more popularly as the Green Guides. These guides lay out principles and guidelines to help marketers avoid making claims about environmental benefits that are considered unfair or deceptive, as defined by Section 5 of the FTC Act.
The second way in which environmental impact information is represented to customers is through criteria-based labeling programs. First, it is important to note that there are ISO standards in the 14000 family that apply to environmental labeling and life cycle assessment. These specify how LCA results can be used and what labeling can claim. Products can be certified as ISO compliant and labeled as such. In addition, there are many criteria-based certification programs for which products can qualify. Well known examples include EnergyStar, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), and EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool).
Another important consideration in promoting the sustainability of a product is whether it is visibly “green” or whether its “greenness” is less apparent. A product that has an outer shell of bamboo, instead of plastic for instance, is in many ways its own advertisement. SimpleTech’s [re]drive external USB hard drive has some good energy-saving capabilities designed into it, but the fact that its case is largely bamboo helps customers identify it as a “green” option right away. Meanwhile, in many situations, the best ways to reduce a product’s impacts are invisible to the user and need much more explicit advertising. For instance, the EnergyStar label can help identify products that use less power than their nearly identical-looking peers.