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Sealed trust? Relevance of seals & co. in regards of sustainability

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Playstones that show the word organic


Beautifully packaged and sealed is half the sale. That must also apply to sustainability. Doesn't it?

This credo was certainly true at one time. But a veritable tsunami of seals initially triggered disorientation, and then real problems of credibility and trust. Because when everything is sealed with quality, climate protection, animal welfare and the like - then at some point the question arises: And what is really behind it now?

Read the following:

  • About the paradox of wanting to convey credibility, but achieving the opposite effect, and why a seal is no longer a sustainability proof today.

  • The decisive reactions of NGOs, politicians & Co. against cross-industry greenwashing

  • New ways in credible sustainability communication

Sustainability: Everything nice and colorful here

What do all these categories have in common?

  • Work and office

  • Building and living

  • Clothing and footwear

  • Operations

  • Services

  • Energy and Power

  • Food and beverage

  • Health

  • Home and electrical appliances

  • Internet and IT

  • Cosmetics and Sanitary

  • Nature and Garden

  • Seniors

  • Sport and leisure

  • Tourism and mobility

Each of these categories in itself combines countless labels that are supposed to provide information about a certain quality or even vouch for it. And in hardly any other everyday terrain like the supermarket it comes to us at the moment in such a way: "Everything sustainable!"

The crux: there are no legal regulations whatsoever and so basically anyone can create and use a test or quality seal. On the German market alone, there are now more than 1000 different marks and labels. The vast majority of them relate to the food market.

An overview over different labels

The boom in sealing sustainability with seals is not new. On the contrary, we have been experiencing an uninterrupted, now almost exponential growth of these credibility badges for a good 15 years. What's behind it?

„Complete transparency and a long-term improvement in animal welfare are important to us. We have already achieved important milestones in this area in the past and therefore already label a large proportion of our fresh products with the husbandry form levels“ Robert Pudelko, Sustainabilty Manager Purchase Kaufland Germany

Companies want to provide a "sustainability proof" with a seal. With the right seal, a consumer no longer questions a company's sustainability efforts.

But is this really the case? In regular studies we read such or similar results: "Acceptance of additional costs for sustainable products has halved within one year." This means that the well-known marketing mechanisms of the seal industry no longer work.

Look into a supermarket with a quote about sustainability

Seals should inspire trust where transparency is lacking

Although at no time has there been more communication through all conceivable channels of advertising, marketing and PR, there has also apparently never been such a great yearning for transparency. But with all the transparency sealed, strictly speaking there is hardly anything left to see.

The challenge remains, or rather is growing: The importance of sustainability for consumers is at a high level. The biggest hurdle for purchasing decisions in favor of sustainability is the lack of transparency - but not with the well-known seal mechanisms.

From the wall to the wallpaper

Seals are actually supposed to do something quite banal for companies: To create credibility. But why is there so much disbelief? Well, one explanation is that consumers have learned by now:

„The more problematic a product and its manufacture, the greater the company's efforts to label it with sustainability seals.“ Kathrin Hartmann, Journalist (u.a. Frankfurter Rundschau) and author of the book "Die Grüne Lüge

Another explanation, which is certainly related to this, would be that the consumer has lived in a colorful, superficial brand and marketing bubble up to now. After all, they weren't supposed to look behind the scenes! Where products became increasingly interchangeable, brand identities sprouted from the ground and gave the product the appearance of individuality. It was intentional that the consumer should only get to know the surface, but please not the background - such as manufacturing and product methods - of the product.

What do we do when seals as a "source of transparency and trust" give up the ghost? Well, helpfully, there are more and more forums where the conscious average consumer can find out what is not behind the product, but what is behind the seal:

Information about Labels from german government
Screenshot of

But let's be honest with ourselves: People who are interested in a product don't want to go through a "risk exclusion process" first to see whether this or that product is really good. No, we make ourselves much more comfortable today, and we do so with our constant companion - the smartphone.

Smartphone as the consumer's omniscient medium

The smartphone has embarked on an unprecedented career of providing information around the clock. Everyone carries his or her smartphone with them at all times of the day and night as a matter of course.

Especially when it comes to a quick check, it has become a loyal and, above all, trustworthy dialog partner - whether in terms of sustainable, or less sustainable, shopping pleasure:

  • Has the company already fallen into disrepute?

  • Where or with whom can I get the T-shirt cheaper?

  • What do other customers say about this product?

  • Where can I sell the product for the highest bid?

A phone with information about cucumbers

Greenwashing on political laughing pad

»Behind the climate-neutral label is a huge business, from which everyone profits - except climate protection. Rauna Bindewald, Foodwatch Spiegel, 24.11.2022

In the future, the seals forest is to be heavily deforested. This is because both the EU and the German government want to bring transparent order to green-washed terms such as "environmentally friendly," "eco-friendly," "ecological," "climate-friendly," "CO2-neutral," "energy-efficient" or "biodegradable" as part of the Green Deal. And since policymakers are now aware of how relevant consumers are in the context of a consistent implementation of a green climate policy, they are to be empowered to make more informed, environmentally friendly decisions when buying products. And the whole thing runs under the title:

„Initiative to empower consumers for the green transition“

The glut of seals is making it increasingly difficult for ordinary consumers to make environmentally sound decisions. And so politics is intervening in marketing:

„Black List“ to fight Greenwashing

1.Lack of information about features that specifically limit service life, for example, software that disables or reduces the functionality of the product after a certain period of time. 
2. general, vague statements about environmental characteristics, where the positive environmental performance of the product is not demonstrable. Examples include general environmental claims such as "eco-friendly," "eco," or "green," which falsely create the impression of excellent environmental performance. 
3. labeling with a voluntary sustainability seal that is neither based on a third-party verification procedure nor originates from public authorities is also considered an unfair practice. 
4. failure to disclose that the product has limited functionality when using consumables, spare parts or accessories other than those supplied by the original manufacturer.

Source: "„Initiative zur Stärkung der Verbraucher für den grünen Wandel“

o are regulations and laws the way to a new credibility? Well, even a brief look at the communication history of seals, labels and the like reveals only one clear curve: a downward slope in credibility.

Instead, a type of communication will succeed that is theoretically impressively easy to implement: direct, interpersonal communication that allows spontaneous answers to questions like: Where did this come from? Who made it? Under what conditions do people work there? Can you show me? What ingredients are really in there? And many more questions. Briefly:

Does the question „What is produced?“

will soon be replaced by „From whom it was produced and how?“

Quellennachweise und zum Weiterlesen (Stand Februar 2023)

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Europäisches Parlament Ökodesign-Richtlinie: Steigerung der Energieeffizienz und Recyclingfähigkeit

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How NFC can help your business become more sustainable. Download des Whitepapers.

Apple includes NFC in MagSafe accessories for new iPhones


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