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Challenges to eco-labeling

1. Misleading or fraudulent claims

An eco-label has no value to the environmentally-conscious customer if it is misleading or fraudulent. Trust is a major component of a labeling program's credibility, and the label must be above suspicion. Terms such as 'recyclable', 'biodegradable' and 'ozone friendly' must be used accurately. When claims are used arbitrarily in advertising and labeling, customers will become confused, discouraged, and sceptical - even of legitimate claims.

2. Uninformative claims

Labels that provide trivial or irrelevant 'green' information do nothing to reduce environmental impacts.

3. Unfair competition

Some companies are concerned about unfair competition. They are reluctant to rely on the assurance of an overseas eco-labeling program that specific environmental criteria are being met. Indeed, some companies may intentionally misrepresent their products as 'environmentally friendly' in order to bolster profits. This amounts to unfair competition for those companies which must spend the time and money to adhere to regulations.

4. Green consumerism

Many environmentalists are critical of consumerism. They argue that 'green consumerism' is a self-contradicting term, and believe that the goal should be to reduce consumption, not merely redefine it. 'Green shopping' will do little to bring about the more fundamental economic and social changes that are required to protect the planet, they claim. Indeed, consumer preference and market forces cannot, by themselves, guarantee environmental protection.

5. Feasibility

Another concern is that only a small number of products can realistically be labeled as 'green'. Since the vast majority of goods will not be covered by eco-labeling programs, some critics point to regulation as a more effective tool than the development of voluntary standards.

6. Methodologies

Differences in testing and certification methods have created difficulties in the application of an eco-label to a particular product category. For example, should the label represent an overall assessment of a product's environmental burden over its entire life cycle, or some subset of it? What techniques can be used to measure environmental impact? Who determines what specific environmental impacts are the most important? And what criteria are appropriate in rating impacts?

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