With 79% of consumers changing their purchase preferences based on sustainability, helping shoppers easily choose products that are better for the planet (or not shop at all) has never been more important.
Citizens want to support brands and retailers that are investing in protecting people and the planet, but with the rise of transparency and sustainability marketing comes greenwash and it can be hard to know where to turn to make the choice that matches your values.
The way brands and retailers talk about their social and environmental impact varies massively, ranging from dreamy farm content (the candid instagram post or photoshopped billboard) to claims and certifications (such as Net Zero or Fairtrade) to supplier maps and product passports. When “40% of green claims could be misleading” (CMA), shoppers require a simple solution for navigating labels and certifications to understand what their ‘best option’ might be.
Enter eco scores.
What are Eco Scores?
Eco Scores are rating mechanisms that assess a brand or a product’s sustainability performance, either as an aggregate score or broken down by categories. Scoring scales vary from 1-100 to Poor to Great, using colour coding systems or providing purchasing advice, such as “avoid”.
Mostly developed in collaboration with experts, many focus on environmental impact only while some also include social impact or animal welfare.
Eco scores are believed to have the following benefits:
“Show how environmentally friendly a product is at a glance”
Address “the excessive diversity in sustainability labels” 3
Scoring and rating in sustainability is not new; from Ethical Consumer to Good on You, independents have been trying to help people shop consciously for some time, using open information from brands and retailers, as well as some third party data. In recent years, several industry consortiums have also formed to tackle environmental (or specifically, carbon) scoring for consumer goods.
In terms of methodology, it’s worth noting that:
Most still use publicly available data to score
Certifications often come in at the end as a way to “adjust” the score
Most focus on environmental sustainability only
Which brands and retailers are using Eco scores and how are they generated?
Eco scores can take various approaches, from external frameworks to membership systems:
Free Where brands or products are rated for free against an external independent Framework or scoring system. Examples: Good on You and Yuka
Paid for Where brands or products pay to be rated against an external Framework or scoring system which may or may not be shaped by a brand groups contributing information. Examples: Foundation Earth and HowGood
Where scoring is exclusive to members who in turn shape the scoring mechanism, and in some cases brands or products are compared to others within the same brand or consortium of brands Examples: Migros M Check and EcoBeautyScore Consortium, with members including Henkel, L’Oréal, LVMH, Natura &Co and Unilever.
Many eco scores on an external rating system rely on information being made public by brands. This means brands must be transparent on the positive impact of products and their commitments and policies as a company to be rated at all. These external ratings tend to be the most comprehensive in terms of brand numbers and consumer traction to date. Not being transparent might mean not reaping the rewards with the audiences of existing scores and ratings.
The challenges with eco scores
Although the majority of internal (or membership-based) eco scores are going deeper, these tend to only measure environmental impact; specifically the CO2 component. This means that regardless of a company or product’s social impact, shoppers are receiving a blanket score that only really evaluates one piece of the puzzle.
An additional large issue with internal eco scoring is critical mass, consensus on how the score should be generated and integrity; methodology is ultimately decided on the dime of the largest brands. Government intervention is needed to mandate and ensure integrity, but the timeline for this is unknown.
As shoppers we must be aware of the drawbacks eco scores present:
The information they are based on is mostly still average data
A “best” choice seldom exists
They might not present enough information for shoppers to shop according to their values
Businesses might not be available to easily use them to communicate their choice
The conscious shopper and beyond the eco score
We are excited for a future where a ‘nutritional label’ for impact is emblazoned on every package. While we strongly believe governmental regulation will be required to ensure the integrity of membership-based eco scoring, it’s great to see so many initiatives laying the groundwork for this.
As sustainability and social impact become a mainstay of brand and product marketing, scores alone won’t be enough. Buying a product is a decision based on many components from emotional, brand-based decisions, to functional attributes. Therefore even in a score-based world, brands still need to communicate claims and stories to resonate with the personal values of the modern shopper. Just as nutritional scores didn’t put an end to claims like ‘high in fibre’ or ‘25% of your daily iron intake’; eco scores will complement - rather than replace - sustainability claims.
With a variety of methodologies available, it's hard to compare one score to another; an A-rating under the Beauty Consortium might be completely different from an A-rating from Foundation Earth. These scores operate as a more general overview of impact, while Provenance’s criteria applies across multiple industries and provides more specific information behind a product’s sustainability.
Provenance is excited to support a more transparent future with integrity, including that with fair and just scoring. We see our role as to:
Collect data to support more accurate scores
Support shopper education around the issues and certifications in each industry
Support business in communicating their sustainability progress in a credible way
Support conscious shoppers who want information about the sustainability credentials of products in a trustworthy format
And eventually we will be excited to integrate eco scores to the platform, where you can embed your score as a Proof Point.
3 Michiel, D.B., Christophe, M., Veerle, P., Samuel, F., Liesbet, V., A combined Nutri-Score and ‘Eco-Score’ approach for more nutritious and more environmentally friendly food choices? Evidence from a consumer experiment in Belgium, Food Quality and Preference (2021), doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2021.104276