Crop Biotech Update

Sustainable Product Index: Toward a Multi-Attribute Method for Assessing Consumer Product Sustainability

November 25, 2011
(full access to paper may require payment or subscription)

Researchers from Duke University, Arizona State University, Stanford University (United States) propose a new method for labelling socio-environmental impacts of consumer products which can be considered as an improvement to the currently used "ecolabelling" method. Biofuels could also have this type of labeling. The proposed method (which uses a "multi-attribute"approach) is called, "sustainability product indexing".

The production of consumer products are reported to have associated socio-environmental impacts, some of which are (1 ) emission of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to production, (2) pesticide pollution, water depletion and deforestation (from production of some agricultural consumer products), and (3) concern about "opportunism" by manufacturing companies against workers in developing countries.

"Ecolabelling" of products certifies that a particular product meets a certain standard (with respect to environmental and social impact) and this has been used for many years to assess sustainability of production of many consumer products. The researchers noted from previous reports, however, that ecolabelling policies generally focus on a single impact area, i.e., a single attribute (for example, greenhouse gases), and may "create unexpected shifts in the behavior of the resource users that render the policy ineffectual at best and damaging at worst".

Using a multi-attribute approach, a sustainable product index could "capture " the socio-environmental impacts from a complex supply chain of production of a particular product, by having one or only a few labels that cover all impacts of production on the environment." The researchers provide an overview of this approach by contrasting the traditional single-attribute label versus the proposed multi-attribute sustainable indexing approach. Details are found in their published paper in the "Ecology and Society" journal (URL above).