Limits and Opportunities of Consumer Information through Product Labelling – with a special focus on the US Energy Star

December 7, 2009 - 12:00pm

Products could provide great insight – for instance into the environmental and health effects of certain product characteristics during production, use or disposal. Product labels are the vehicle for communicating these (hidden) product characteristics to consumers. Although product labels can already look back on a long tradition, their consumer-related effectiveness has not been fully researched up to now. Against this backdrop the goal of this study was to generate findings about the current label landscape in different product areas, b) to get an idea of the effectiveness of labels for consumers and c) to derive recommendations for public authority and political decision-makers, and discuss the need for further research. a) The use of product labels was examined in the three countries Germany, Sweden and the USA in the six meta-areas Cross-Product Group Labels, Food, Alcohol & Tobacco, Building & Habitation, Household & Care, Clothing & Textiles, and Work & Leisure. In total, 181 product labels were identified across all three countries and meta-areas although by far the most labels were found in the Food, Alcohol & Tobacco area. The objectives of the product labels are mainly oriented towards consumer protection and environmental protection. Hence, social objectives are addressed less frequently (e.g. workers’ rights in developing countries). b) For the purposes of analysing label effectiveness, 78 empirical evaluation studies on the consumer impact of product labels were identified and assessed. These studies examined 45 (25%) of the 181 labels described in a) whereby the research efforts focussed on the areas Food, Tobacco & Alcohol and Cross-Product Groups. 41% (28 out of 69 labels) and 32% (9 von 28 labels) of all the label evaluation studies documented here were found for these two areas. In the other meta-areas the proportion of evaluated studies is far lower: Work & Leisure: 21%, Household & Care: 12%, Clothing & Textiles: 11%, Building & Habitation: 3%. The studies used 13 variables to examine the effectiveness of product labels. The most frequently analysed effectiveness variables were awareness of product labels and their impact on purchasing behaviour. Based on the degree of awareness and the behaviour-related variables purchasing and usage behaviour, 22 labels were deemed to be successful with regard to achieving their objectives (e.g. health, environment) including eco-labels, test labels, instructions on use and warnings. The US Energy Star label has been among the analysed labels. Several evaluation studies have been identified assessing the Energy Stars effectiveness on consumers focussing on the following six variables: awareness, understanding, purchasing behaviour, willingness to pay, loyalty and product associations. The talk will in particular focus on the Energy Star results due to its potentially high interest among LBNL staff. For more information about this seminar, please contact: Paul Mathew(510) 486-5116

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