Certification, certification, certification…

There was a news story last night about the “Made in Brooklyn” fad that has gently carried itself into New York culture over the past three years. There is no doubt that this bustling borough has recently become an icon for the public eye– even Vogue was daring enough to compare Brooklyn with the most romanticized city in the world, Paris.

Unmistakably branching out of locavore mentality, Made-in-Brooklyn-lovers are seeking products such as chocolate and beer that are solely produced in the western-most county of Long Island. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce now agrees, however, that the manufacturer’s word will no longer suffice.

"Made in Brooklyn" Gold Seal-- Image Captured from News12 Report from June 25, 2014
“Made in Brooklyn” Gold Seal– Image Captured from News12 Report from June 25, 2014

All goods that want to boast their origins in Brooklyn will now have to obtain one of three “Brooklyn Made” seals. The seal will be gold, silver, or bronze depending upon a variety of determinants in the production process (i.e. amount of product production that takes place in Brooklyn, amount of product assembly in Brooklyn, etc.) all of which are still under consideration by the NYU Wagner Capstone Team. Seeing that the certification standards are not yet clearly established, the Chamber of Commerce does not provide much information on its website.

I happen to be a big advocate for Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance Certification because certification defines the threshold between what a vendor “should” and “should not” do. One of the faults of certification, however, is that it sets a bare-minimum standard that we agree to be “enough” (anyone who has worked at minimum wage, for example, can attest to the difficulties of such low standards). Another fault in certification is that at times the requirements are so tightly construed that going through the process is too expensive or counter-productive.

Most likely, the Made in Brooklyn seal will not take part in the former issue. Although we do not have the qualification requirements yet, News12 reports that “There is a $50 one-time fee for non-member businesses and a $25 fee for member businesses”– if the company’s product meets certification standards, owning the seal is not an economic concern. Furthermore, the current talk about Made in Brooklyn certification requirements seem to truly adhere to the “local” moral of the product.

My concern is with the latter issue. Granted that the one-time fee is an extremely reasonable price, I cannot help but wonder why we must define and label every product Made in Brooklyn. How long have these “sealed” products been thriving on the market before consumers recognized that it was a “local” product? What happens when a local, Brooklyn-to-the-core business does not meet one certification criterion? Does it lose its following, or make changes to grab that seal?

I am by no means against the Made in Brooklyn label. Rather, I am concerned about its demands on small, local businesses. If USDA certification requirements are too cumbersome for many small-scale farmers to deal with, how will implementing a “local” certification system affect small businesses?

My sole hope is that the NYU Wagner Capstone Team and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce will seriously take various perspectives into consideration while creating the seal criteria– that a business’ history will play a factor, that elasticity and reason will admit honest Made-in-Brooklyn companies, and that the requirements will be set at an appropriate, feasible level so that more enterprises are encouraged to work on the local level.

But I’ve spoken enough– I would like to hear what you have to think. Please click above to post a comment and express your opinion on certification. Is it necessary, or superfluous? What type of requirements will strike the right balance? Should we be unforgiving in our definition of a “local” label?

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