Is it Time for Eco-Labels on Software?
Green labels have been hitting the headlines recently. General Motors announced its new EcoLogic Label on all new Chevy models sold in North America. The EcoLogic label will be displayed on the window of new vehicles, and will present environmental attributes from manufacturing through end-of life. It includes aspects such as fuel economy, waste reduction and biodiversity protection. At the same time, Tesco, the major European retailer and force behind North America’s Fresh & Easy, has announced that it has dropped its pledge to place carbon labels on products stocked on its shelves.
Eco-labels are being used on consumer products from coffee to electronics. It begs the question, “Is software next?” Should consumer software products be marketing or certifying the environmental attributes of their products? If the time has come, what would a software eco-label look like?
The media has begun to pay attention to the environmental impacts of computer technology. We’ve seen coverage of how much energy Google searches require, and investigations into whether online publications require more or less energy to produce than printed ones. But we haven’t yet seen a software company-led effort to label the environmental attributes of their products.
What are the benefits to such a label? Consumers would have at-a-glance access to information such as:
- The energy required to download the software (or purchase the software package off the shelf);
- The energy intensity of a company’s product;
- Any habitat protection efforts the company is participating in;
- The energy required to run the software; and
- The energy saved as a result of the software’s function (such as reduced background memory usage).
All of these things allow consumers to make informed decisions that take into account the financial, environmental, and social benefits available in the purchase they are making. But from my perspective, the most important benefit would be the creation of a new outlet for entering into conversations with consumers. Such an effort would spark a more formal internal debate around the environmental impact of our products, and questions from our customer base would help to define future environmental metrics.
But the devil is in the details, and there are a number of hurdles to software eco-labels. First, companies need to determine a set of usage assumptions to generate robust “energy used” and “energy saved” metrics. The second hurdle is the lack of benchmarks in the sector – how would a consumer compare which software titles are more or less energy intensive? Before moving forward, there is probably a need for certification or validation of eco-label claims in order to build confidence in consumers and to meet emerging regulatory guidelines on environmental marketing.
Cecily Joseph is Symantec's Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility and Compliance.