Labeling System Informs Consumers of Environmental Impact

Thursday, January 15 2009

Jan. 15, 2009 Images are available at Written by Joni Kirk MOSCOW, Idaho – Consumers have become more cognizant of their daily energy use through Energy Star and other appliance labeling systems. But how do they measure the environmental impact of the manufacture process of the clothes they wear or products they use? University of Idaho students in the colleges of Art and Architecture and Natural Resources have created an ecoFACTS product label that will inform consumers of the water and energy used in the production of ordinary items. “I was shocked to learn that it takes a tanker-truck full of water to create a single pair of jeans," said Ellen Nelson, a senior in studio art. "We thought if consumers better understood how our fresh water resources are used, they might purchase items produced in a more sustainable way.” Students meshed art with graphic and information design skills to prepare an easy-to-read label to help the general public choose products that are resource- efficient and have the smallest carbon footprint. In addition to empowering consumers to make environmentally conscious decisions, the full adoption of such a labeling system would have the long-range effect of influencing manufacturers to develop environmentally sustainable practices. "The students were passionate about this project," said Delphine Keim-Campbell, associate professor of Art and Design, who partnered with Jill Dacey, professor of art and design, to lead the student project. "Once their research began revealing the environmental impact of consumer habits, there was an urgency to their efforts." One of the most innovative features of this project is an online "inputs" calculator, which businesses could use to calculate their environmental impact based on ranges of data implied by their practices. "The best analogy is to the individual carbon footprint calculators, but businesses would track water use in addition to carbon footprint," said Keim-Campbell. According to Keim-Campbell, the proposal is ambitious. Ideally, the labeling system would be implemented by a governmental agency. "Since the economy is eclipsing everything right now, another vision for implementation could be that a group of investors starts up an 'ecoFACTS' accrediting firm," she said. "Different sectors could voluntarily undergo certification, and the process could be discussed online." The label was designed as part of the international “Aspen Design Challenge: Designing Water’s Future," and addresses the issue of water scarcity by raising consumer awareness. In March, regional finalists will travel to the Aspen Environment Forum in Colorado to discuss proposals with designers, scientists, journalists and business leaders. National finalists will travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, in August for a collaborative workshop to develop implementation plans with venture capitalists and foundations. The winning group will receive a $10,000 grant to use toward implementation of the project. Students involved in the project include: Katelin Anderson, senior in art from Anchorage, Alaska; Jacob Howell, a senior in studio art from Naples; Aubrey Miller, a senior in art from Moscow; Ellen Nelson, a senior in studio art from North Platte, Neb; Paulina Starkey, graduate student in conservation social sciences from Hays, Kan.; and David Waters, a senior in studio art from Spokane, Wash. The University of Idaho's College of Art and Architecture educates it students to be leaders in sustainable practices, both personally and professionally. For more information, visit, e-mail or call (208) 885-4409. # # # About the University of Idaho Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit . Media Contact: Joni Kirk, University Communications, (208) 885-7725,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit