Originally published in The Environmental Magazine
You have probably seen countless products featuring labels and claims about their environmental friendliness or safety. While some of these labels are legitimate, many are nothing more than tools for deception who’s claims are entirely unsubstantiated. Even among the legitimate labels, there is significant variation in meaning.
The fact of the matter is that some labels are a lot more difficult for a product to qualify for than others. These are the labels that you should look for if you want to use your power of the purse to provide the greatest net benefit of humanity and the planet.
True ecolabels are awarded by independent third parties, not the companies who’s products feature the labels. As mentioned previously, many companies will place misleading claims and nonsense labels on their products to create the illusion of environmental friendliness. This practice is often referred to as greenwashing. Third parties on the other hand, require that products meet certain specific criteria before granting the right to display an ecolabel.
Ecolabeling organizations must find a balance between making their criteria too stringent, and therefore turning away most companies, and too lenient, which can make the labels essentially meaningless. If a proper balance is found, ecolabels can serve as a potent means for altering consumer behavior in a way that is beneficial for the environment.
Without further ado, here’s my list of some of the best ecolabels to look for:
- Energy Star is a program jointly run by the Department of Energy and the EPA. The Energy Star label can be given to products, devices, and buildings, that meet the organization’s standards for energy efficiency. If you’d like to use Energy Star labels to inform your purchasing choices, a list of certified products can be found on their website.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
- A LEED certification is issued to buildings based on their design, construction, and operations. The greener a building is in these categories, the more LEED points it will receive. There are four levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Buildings that hold one of these certifications tend to have higher lease rates and resale values than comparable buildings that do not.
- For a product to be certified Fair Trade, the conditions of the workers who created it must meet certain standards. Additionally, the workers must receive a decent wage. Fair Trade certified operations are taking place in 45 countries, and over 900,000 farmers and workers are benefitting from the organization. Buying Fair Trade products at the grocery store is one of the best actions you can take to make the world a better place. For more information on how the Fair Trade program works, visit their website.
- For a food or building material to receive the Rainforest Alliance Certification, it must use specific eco-friendly land use and business practices. The Rainforest Alliance label can often be found on coffee, fruits, tea, paper, furniture, and building materials.
- Probably the most famous ecolabel of them all, the certified organic label signifies at least 95% of the ingredients in a certain food product are organic. If a plant based food bears this logo, it has not been treated with petroleum based fertilizers or conventional pesticides, and has not been genetically modified. For an animal product to be certified organic, the animal in question must have been given access to the outdoors, fed organic feed, and not been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. If a product bears the statement “Made with Organic Ingredients,” at least 70% of its ingredients are organic.
A few other notable certifications / certification organizations include:
- Green Seal
- The Forest Stewardship Council
- Non-GMO Project Verified
If you’d like to learn more about ecolabels, I’d recommend checking out the website of the Global Ecolabeling Network, and or checking out this Talk at Google, given by Mark Petruzzi: “The Meaning of Green: Ecolabels and Why We Celebrate Them.”