NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a potential boost for environmentally-minded marketing, Good Housekeeping is finally introducing its Green Good Housekeeping Seal with approvals for the first six beauty and cleaning products.
The green seal, a product of 18 months' development and dialogue with marketers and experts, isn't the first effort to certify products' environmental claims. But it may carry more weight with consumers who are already familiar with the 100-year-old Good Housekeeping seal.
A growing number of people want to bring their environmental values into their purchasing decisions, said Daniel Esty, director of the Center for Business and Environment at Yale University and author of "Green to Gold," a book about the relationship between successful business and good environmental practices.
"The research on green marketing that we are doing at Yale suggests that while a large number of people would like to buy green products, they often don't know which ones are the right ones to pick," Mr. Esty said. "The Good Housekeeping seal could be a major step forward in providing the critical information that the consuming public needs."
There are already critics; a recent article on Slate's business site, The Big Money, argued that both the new seal and the original are tainted by the requirement that products advertise in Good Housekeeping in order to be evaluated.
This has always been the chicken-and-egg knock against the program. The seal was originally developed as a way to assure readers the magazine stood behind all the products advertised with a money back warranty, so Good Housekeeping only evaluates a product if a company intends to advertise in its pages. That's not the same as buying the seal, although given the product standards most major manufacturers adhere to nowadays, it's rare that a product will be rejected outright. More often, Good Housekeeping will ask for a tweak of the ad copy to assure no benefits or claims are being exaggerated.
The tests for the green seal, however, proved more complicated than for the original seal. It's one thing to say a product works as advertisers; it's another to say a product adheres to environmental standards -- which different people define differently.
But Mr. Esty, one of the advisers to Newsweek on its new green ranking of top companies, said the new seal seemed solid. "I think these folks have done a credible job of trying to factor in the right elements," he said.
Good Housekeeping's green criteria include the reduction of water use in the manufacturing process, energy efficiency in manufacturing as well as the product's actual use, ingredient and product safety, packaging reduction and the brand's corporate social responsibility efforts.
"There was a lot of decision-making about not only what we ask but how strongly we weigh different criteria," said Miriam Arond, director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, which worked with Brown & Wilmanns Environmental, a consulting company, as it went.
"It's been a very, very long process," Ms. Arond said. "We got a lot of input from a lot of people. We made sure with our beta companies that we were working with small companies as well as large firms, because we wanted to get an idea how easy or difficult it would be to access this information. And it's not just that we take their word for it; we ask for validation."
Sometimes marketers hadn't evaluated all the angles themselves yet, Ms. Arond added. "What we discovered was companies were learning things about themselves," she said.
The seal is rolling out in two product categories for now, beauty and cleaning. The first recipients are Johnson & Johnson's Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment; Green Works' Natural Bathroom Cleaner, a Clorox product; Organic Wear 100% Natural Origin Tinted Moisturizer from Physicians Formula; and three cleaning products from the S.C. Johnson & Son brand Nature's Source.
Hearst Magazines' Good Housekeeping, of course, also hopes the seal will help attract consumers and advertisers. "It's developed as a service," said Patricia Haegele, senior VP and publisher.