USDA Strives to Help Consumers, Manufacturers Understand Benefits of BioPreferred Program

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., Oct. 30, 2012—Seventy percent of Americans say they shop for “green” products on a regular basis. That number is up 10 percent in the last three years, so companies who make sustainable products are taking note that they should address this growing audience. And as the evolution of green products is occurring, new certifications and labels are being introduced. One such certification is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Biobased Product label, an initiative of the BioPreferred Program. Launched in 2011, the program and label already have a 23 consumer recognition score, according to a recent study.

The USDA Certified Biobased Product label verifies that a product’s ingredients come from renewable agricultural materials (including plant and animal, forestry) materials. Since its launch in February 2011, more than 800 products ranging from industrial supplies to personal care products have received certification. The goal of the BioPreferred program is to increase the purchase and use of biobased products through two initiatives: biobased product procurement preference by Federal agencies and their contractors and voluntary product certification and labeling for consumer marketing.

“We want the label to serve as an easy-to-read mark that will help consumers understand that the products they are purchasing are made from agricultural materials, which is better for the environment than products made from petroleum,” said Kate Lewis, deputy manager of the USDA BioPreferred Program. “It also gives consumers peace of mind that the USDA is working hard to protect both consumers and the environment by promoting the use of biobased materials in products.”

Consumer Perceptions
With nearly 60 products certified, one of the biggest supporters of the biobased product certification and labeling initiative is Seventh Generation, a leading brand of non-toxic household and personal care products. Recently, Seventh Generation conducted a survey to measure Americans perceptions of chemicals in personal care products, and the results gave telling insights on the BioPreferred Program and its label.  Not only did the results show a lack of awareness about petro-chemicals in everyday product ingredients, it also showed the lack of awareness of the Biobased label and its meaning.

The survey questioned respondents on an array of issues, including awareness of “biobased” products (defined as “products made with renewable agricultural content such as plant, animal, marine or forestry materials”), and their attitudes toward the use of petroleum-based products and petro-chemicals in many common consumer products.

In addition to highlighting the lack of understanding of the Biobased label, the study also brought to light that Americans are concerned about potentially harmful chemicals in their household cleaning (66%) and personal care products (65%), as well as laundry (63%) and baby care products (60%).Percentages are combined “concerned” and “very concerned” responses.

When asked specifically about petro-chemicals in personal care, home cleaning, laundry and baby care products, top concerns of “long-term health risks” (75%) and “absorption through the skin” (71%) were followed by “potential skin irritation” (69%), “inhaling toxins” and “negative impact on the environment” (both 60%).

The Solution
The expectation is that the increased use of biobased products will help with the reduction of petroleum consumption by increasing the use of renewable resources, thus reducing the amount of new carbon released into the atmosphere – and helping to better manage the carbon cycle. USDA does caution that, while many of the biobased products on the market may have a more benign effect on the environment, are biodegradable and have lower disposal and cleanup costs than the petroleum based products they replace, a certified biobased label is not a guarantee or expression of environmental preferability or impact.

“Our certification program serves as an unbiased indicator of biobased content,” Lewis said. “And we’re working hard to partner with manufacturers like Seventh Generation and others to help buyers and consumers understand the benefits of using biobased products.”

Some examples of those partnerships include:

USDA BioPreferred strives increase the purchase and use of biobased products by helping manufacturers market biobased products and by making information about these products available to consumers. Under the voluntary labeling initiative, biobased products that meet the BioPreferred program requirements carry a distinctive label for easier identification by the consumer.

“We think biobased certification has the huge potential to break through what’s become a clutter of green seals and certifications that just end up confusing consumers,” said John Replogle, CEO , Seventh Generation.  “The label cuts to heart of the matter with a single glance that tells shoppers this is a product made from renewable materials that can be produced sustainably. It simplifies the often bewildering marketplace for so-called eco-friendly consumer products in the same way the USDA Organic seal has brought clarity to our food purchases.”

Source: USDA BioPreferred Program

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