EcoStandards, Product Labelling and Green Consumerism (Consumption and Public Life)

Boström, Dr Magnus
Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, Basingstoke
2008
9780230537378 (hb)

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Cover of book Bostrom and Klintman set out to make sense of the complicated politics and social dynamics surrounding the green labelling of consumer products. Their approach in doing so is not to look at green labelling from the consumer side of the transaction, but to examine in close detail the 'back stage' of setting eco-standards and the 'conditions, opportunities and dilemmas' of this highly politicised process (p.3). They are largely successful in clarifying the complexities that are behind the final label that appears. This is mostly due to their well focussed chapters which contain comprehensive examinations of, for example, 'Sceptical and Encouraging Arguments' for green labelling and 'Dealing with Mutual Mistrust'. Additionally, they maintain an impartial stance and tone when presenting their data, a difficult task considering the polarisation that exists between some stakeholders affected by green labels. Bostrom and Klintman address the possible shortcomings of their discussion and do a good job defending their work, particularly their choice of 'Materiality and Technology' as a context factor for policies pertaining to organising and framing of labels (p106).

Where their discussion could have been improved is an earlier acknowledgement, ideally in the chapter on 'The Consumer's Role', of the possibility that consumption of green products is not necessarily an act of political consumerism. Bostrom and Klintman do touch on this towards the end of their discussion (p179), but throughout the rest of the book the assumption is that buying green labelled products equates to political consumerism. Apparently the reason for this connection is that purchasing a product, green or otherwise, is essentially voting with your money and therefore a form of democratic participation. It seems too much of a generalisation for all consumers to be active politically when shopping and dismissive of those only concerned with the environment and not with politics.

In spite of this, they raise very important, poignant points regarding problems with green labelling. For instance, they indicate that it is taken for granted that buying green labelled products is the way to become an eco-friendly consumer rather than a focus on the reduction of consumption (p35), which would have more of a positive impact on the environment. In the chapter on 'Policy Contexts and Labelling', Bostrom and Klintman write a thought- provoking discussion on organisational landscapes and the adoption of labels in relation to the strength of a country's civil society (p103). The strongest chapter is the concluding chapter on 'Challenges and Horizons' where they thoroughly summarise the possible impacts to 'social structures, processes and actions' (p175) generated from green policies, such as green labelling. Their point is not to make environmental predictions based upon the use of green labels, but more that green labels rather than highlighting the 'best choice', initiate dialogue about environmental processes (p197) key to the ongoing policy development to improve and protect the environment.

This book adopts a case study approach which provides rich data to support the authors' proposals regarding policy context, framing strategies, and challenges of green labelling. The case studies, primarily from the United States and Sweden, are taken from a wide array of green labels, from organic food to genetically modified organisms to green mutual funds. By choosing these two countries, Bostrom and Klintman capture the opposing views in regard to green labelling, but the information remains relevant to an international audience because of the common characteristics and trends that they present. I recommend this book for researchers with a sound background in green issues and strong policy-orientated vocabulary who would like to further their knowledge of environmental governance.

Tanya Wyatt
Northumbria University