Federal Eco-Labeling Law Taking Shape

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The “Eco-Labeling Act of 2008” is far from becoming the law of the land, but U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is crafting federal legislation under that name to rein in the confusing proliferation of environmental product labels.

Feinstein, who may formally propose the bill during this session of Congress, is currently gathering ideas from leaders in the field, one of whom shared a draft of the bill with EBN. As currently written, the bill would “establish a voluntary eco-label award program intended to promote products with a reduced environmental impact during the entire life-cycle of the products, and to provide to consumers accurate, nondeceptive, and scientifically based information on the environmental impact of products.” If it became law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be asked to establish a 13-member “Eco-Labeling Board” to accredit product certification centers, which would in turn set multiple-attribute criteria for products of all kinds to carry a uniform eco-label.

“The future of labeling is going to be seeing some significant consolidation,” predicted Scot Case, executive director of the EcoLogo program, a 20-year-old, multiple-attribute certification program. Case said that legislators are looking at the the federal organic food standard adopted in 2002 as an encouraging model. “It wiped out the large number of competing standards” that had proliferated, he said, and due to uniform expectations “led to an incredibly rapid growth in the organic foods sector.” However, federal regulation, like many things, has its detractors: the organic food standard has been criticized for, among other things, being watered down and expensive for small producers.

As with many items on the congressional agenda, it’s too early to forecast the prospects for the federal eco-label, but some observers are hopeful that it would become a piece of any major bill supporting “green collar jobs.”

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January 29, 2009