Image via GoEcoLife
Reduce where you can and offset the rest is a popular notion among green thinkers trying to go carbon neutral. The practice is spreading to manufacturers as well, who, like the makers of the GoECOlife™ SOHO 8-Sheet ULTRA-QUIET™ Paper Shredder (say that three times fast) want to have a green label to make their product stand out from the rest. Not to be left out of the carbon labeling party is CarbonFund and its CarbonFree Certification label. But, can a product whose footprint has been offset legitimately be called "carbon free"? Is this a helpful label for choosing green products from store shelves, or misleading to consumers? Paper Shredder Has Green Features...But "Carbon Free"??
The paper shredder, sold at Costco.com, "underwent a rigorous product life-cycle assessment performed by WSP Group to determine the carbon footprint. In addition to using energy-saving technology, GoECOlife™ reduced the remaining carbon footprint through support of Carbonfund.org's third-party validated renewable energy, energy efficiency and reforestation projects."
Sounds great and green. And it is...to a certain extent. The green-er features include an energy-saving technology that prevents vampire energy, material choices that meet Restriction of Hazardous Substances standards - which is a "duh" move for electronics manufacturers anyway - and is packaged with recycled, partially recycled and/or biodegradable materials. And it's carbon free, right? Well, that's debatable and this is where the green label can be misleading for consumers.
Even their lubricant sheets managed to get carbon-free-labeled - but it's a huge stretch of the imagination to think that this product could actually be carbon-free. Carbon neutral, sure - and the product has been through the third party analysis to measure its footprint and then offset that footprint through CarbonFund. All of that is excellent, but the "carbon free" part is problematic. Being currently bombarded in the marketplace by labels touting how ecofriendly a product is or how light its carbon impact may be, will savvy consumers take the time to decipher that by "CarbonFree" the manufacturer really means carbon neutral? Or will they automatically write it off as greenwashing?
Image via GeoEcoLife
How The CarbonFree Certification Works
The CarbonFund has a simple set up for getting products into the certification process. The producer calculates the carbon footprint of their product (the methodologies chosen by the manufacturers are used are stated, and are indeed stringent standards, but the consumers aren't privy to this) and contacts CarbonFund with their totals. They can get help from experts at CarbonFund on how to calculate the total footprint. They pick an offset project (reforestation, energy efficiency, or renewable energy) and then slap the CarbonFree label onto the product to start promoting it.
CarbonFund states: "The CarbonFree® Certified Label is a meaningful, transparent way for you to provide carbon neutral products to your customers. By determining a product's carbon footprint, reducing that footprint where possible and offsetting the remaining carbon emissions you can differentiate your brand, increase sales, profits & customer loyalty while strengthening your Corporate Social Responsibility/environmental goals."
Does CarbonFree Labeling Really Equate to Green Products?
How exactly the program gets companies to reduce the footprint and not just pile on the offsets isn't clear. And purchasing offsets doesn't mean a product is "carbon free" - not in the slightest. It means it's offset, which alone is a controversial issue when it comes to greening the product stream. The label really should read carbon neutral or carbon offset, not carbon free. And the explanation for what the actual carbon footprint of the product, easy access to details about how that was determined, and how much was offset should be included if the label is to be as "transparent" as it says it is.
We love what CarbonFund does (the projects it helps fund are excellent), and that organizations like CarbonFund want to help manufacturers green up their products, making green-er products stand out on store shelves. But it's vital that the labels don't confuse consumers in the slightest, or look like something to brush aside without understanding them. In a marketplace with too many green labels already, linguistics are important. This one is questionable.
Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
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