02.22.11

Winds of Change: A Label Aiming to Stick

Now that WindMade™ has débuted, establishing the criteria for how companies and products can credibly earn the initiative’s first global consumer label is the next order of business.

While there’s no one silver bullet to solve climate change, clean energy technology like wind, along with that industry’s brand new WindMade labeling initiative, hold great promise. Yet, for a while at least, the wind energy initiative’s eco-label, just announced at Davos last month, has its work cut out for it. In the crucial weeks ahead, the task at hand will be to set the all-important standard for the trustmark—one that aims to be simple, user-friendly, and credible. No small feat, if the label is to be taken seriously in the marketplace.

While currently in the planning stages of its development process, the standard for the WindMade label will define the vetting requirements for participation—or how companies and their goods get to qualify for WindMade certification. What percentage of wind energy will be required in the manufacture of a product? How much is enough, how much is too little? How can the standard’s criteria change and the bar be raised periodically in the interest of further combating climate change? Will the need for requirements to be accessible to the business community butt heads with the label’s need to be credible? All subjects will have their airing in the coming months.

To be developed under the direction of the WindMade technical committee, the oversight group consists of reps from the esteemed conservation group, WWF, Vestas Wind Systems, LEGO, and a number of energy and standard experts yet to be announced. “To ensure a credible standard, we aim to set up a technical committee with balanced representation from corporations, NGOs, and relevant experts. Our current focus is to get the last members of the committee on board and prepare all the documents and procedures necessary for a transparent development process,” says Rasmus Schophuus from the Technical Committee secretariat. It will gather feedback from the general public including potential participants in the WindMade labeling program and from consumer label standard and renewable energy experts. When it does go public, it will be ready for feedback from external parties. That’s when interested corporations and relevant NGOs will be encouraged to contact the technical committee with their insights and input.

At the moment, the goal is that the first companies to be awarded the label will be announced on Global Wind Day, June 15. But what’s important is that the ground rules that are set are authoritative and durable. So while expectations are optimistic, any dates, at least for the time being, should be fungible and are not set in stone.

Four main deliverables so far have been identified on the initiative’s website. They include an introduction to the program and its objectives along with a description of the application process and the use of the WindMade label; the requirements for the members in terms of electricity sourcing, foot-printing and monitoring; a verification process or the process of confirming that members meet the commitment requirements in the labeling standard. Another factor, the accreditation criteria for third-party verifiers, rounds out the particulars.

During the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a WindMade panel discussed some of the challenges of developing the new label’s standard. Among those organizations on hand, the WWF singled out two labels it helped to successfully create and that are making a difference in their respective sectors—The Forest Stewardship Council label for sustainably produced wood and paper products and the Marine Stewardship Council label encouraging sustainable fishing practices.

Speaking of the pending wind energy label, WWF Director General Jim Leape noted he was hopeful that WindMade had the same potential, but that “the process of developing this label and figuring out how it can really work is demanding. There’s a lot to be done,” he said. “You need a technically robust but also a very open process, so that stakeholders across the spectrum are engaged in shaping what the standard is and making sure they have confidence in the results. But,” he reiterated, “there’s huge promise to really make a difference on climate change.”

While the U.N. Global Compact’s Georg Kell, another distinguished partner of the initiative, acknowledged that wind is the most established of renewables, he predicted “WindMade can be a path-breaker for solar or maybe something called NatureMade in the future.” Still, he added, “Wind is the best bet at this point.”

The Daily Beast wind energy series concludes next week and will feature an interview with WindMade’s interim CEO and Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, Steve Sawyer.