The USDA BioPreferred Program: Consumer Empowerment… or Confusion?
Got a particular label you look for when buying certain kinds of products? FSC for wood and paper products? Green Seal for other household products? USDA Organic for food? A labeling system based on solid, well-researched and monitored standards makes for very effective “shorthand” for consumers concerned about the social and environmental impacts of their purchases.
Of course, industries and manufacturers can also use that shorthand effect as a tool for greenwashing: we’ve seen green labeling schemes mushroom over the past decade, and while some of these new criteria work well to convey specific environmental attributes, others cast a greenish haze over products that don’t deserve it. Consumer Reports has done an excellent job separating out some of the wheat from the chaff with its GreenerChoices.org eco-labels database, but it only covers a few categories of products… and I’d guess finding the resources to keep up would be just about impossible.
Now, however, there’s a new addition to the labeling/certification mix that’s got a lot of us saying “Huh?”… mainly because it doesn’t really fit neatly into our parameters of reliable/greenwashed standards. The USDA’s biobased label and Federal procurement program BioPreferred, released in January after nine years of work, and designates products with certain amounts of biobased materials.