While the definition of what constitutes environmentally friendly evolves as the science and our understanding evolve, the basic notion behind this effort influenced several subsequent labels which seek to convey information, make environmental performance transparent, and empower consumers.
Several factors explain this growing interest in certification as a tool, including the ineffectiveness of many governmental and intergovernmental processes, the rapid pace of economic globalization, and a general interest in pursuing innovative “smart regulation” to address adverse environmental and social impacts (Auld et al., 2008). Businesses have generally accepted this approach because they tend to be risk averse, although there is limited evidence that activist pressure actually affects market shares. Corporate strategies are changing and increasingly engaging nonbusiness stakeholders, and there is a perceived lack of credibility for industry self-regulation (Vogel, 2008).
Certification of sustainably produced products first emerged, and has witnessed arguably the largest growth, in primary industries such as agriculture, fishing, and forestry. Auld et al. (2008) attribute this to the fact that certification is likely to be effective in sectors dominated by large, vertically integrated firms which are vulnerable to public pressure, and more able to afford additional costs of certification. It may also be a response to highly visible production practices in these sectors—unsustainable practices can lead to resource depletion as well as spillover effects which negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem. Additionally, these natural resources are primary inputs to manufactured items, from food products to furniture, and so secondary industries and those higher up in the value chain often rely on certificates or labels from their upstream suppliers if they intend to promote their own products as ‘organic’ or ‘sustainably sourced.’
As the market for green products has grown, and as regulators continue to seek innovative approaches to pollution prevention, voluntary certification standards have appeared in numerous secondary and service industries. The International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 14000 series for environmental management is easily the best known, and for many industries it has become a de facto requirement for conducting business internationally. It has in some respects become its own brand and brings with it recognition benefits which help justify its costs (Vogel, 2008). However, it is not a brand geared towards household consumers. Industries such as apparel are currently working on developing environmental and social certification schemes which might appeal directly to consumers, but to date they have not enjoyed the brand recognition of those in primary industries.
There has been parallel growth in fair trade certification, which focuses on mitigating the negative impacts which a globalized economy imposes on small-share farmers and other producers in the developing world. More recently, some of these efforts, such as RugMark, have also focused on elim-