Green product certification: 21 symbols you should recognize
There are dozens of symbols on packaging that are probably more meaningful to manufacturers than they are to consumers. Here's your guide to the eco-labels found on everything from paper to light bulbs.
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 01:55 PM
If you partake in the time-honored American pastime known as consumerism, which no doubt you do, you’ve probably noticed that in recent years the labeling of consumer products has gotten a little more complex than just a seal of approval from Good Housekeeping magazine. You’ve also probably been rendered just slightly overwhelmed when trying to decipher all of these new labels when shopping for groceries (don’t even get us started on coffee, which can get really complicated).
Currently, there are hundreds of green product certification labels in the U.S. alone that have been branded on everything from canned tuna to office furniture to bubble bath to, umm, surfboard wax. And as you’ve probably noticed, many of these eco labels are stamped with a veritable menagerie of critters: bunnies, fish, birds, frogs, and the list goes on.
Although uniformly green with the mission to protect our Earth and its resources as well as safeguard the health, safety and well-being of the humans and animals that call it home, these labels each represent a different niche goal whether it be practicing energy conservation, reducing waste, supporting sustainable forestry or lessening our reliance on agricultural chemicals.
So where to begin? Which critter do you choose?
Well, that all depends. To lend a helping hand, we’ve rounded up 21 common eco labels to keep an eye out for when shopping for an air conditioner, carpeting, mascara, a ream of printer paper or a frozen entrée. For each label, we’ve included a link to the certifying organization and a bit more detail on what exactly the label represents.
What it's found on: Meat and dairy products, eggs
"Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) is a food label for meat and dairy products that come from farm animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. The program was founded in 2006 as a market-based solution to the growing consumer demand for meat, eggs and dairy products from animals treated with high welfare and managed with the environment in mind. As a program accredited to ISO guideline 65, you can trust in the AWA label while making food choices when you can’t visit the farm yourself."
Bird Friendly (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center)
What it's found on: Coffee
Shade-grown organic coffee plantations stamped with the Bird Friendly seal of approval play a key role in the conservation of our global environment and of migratory birds that find sanctuary in their forest-like environments.
The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) encourages the production of shade-grown coffee, and the conservation of migratory birds, through its Bird Friendly seal of approval.
Certified Humane Raised and Handled (Humane Farm Animal Care)
What it's found on: Meat, poultry, dairy, eggs and more
"Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is the leading non-profit certification organization dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter. The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices. When you see the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® label on a product you can be assured that the food products have come from facilities that meet precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment."
What it’s found on: Building materials, carpeting, textiles, packaging, cleaning products, furniture, clothing and more
“The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard is a multi-attribute, continuous improvement methodology that provides a path to manufacturing healthy and sustainable products for our world. It is administered by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Because the Standard rewards achievement in five categories and at five levels of certification, C2C Certified represents the most comprehensive product quality mark available.”
What it's found on: Wine, fruits, veggies, cheese, and more
"Wines and foodstuffs that carry the Demeter logo are biodynamic, which means their growers use methods such as crop rotation, composting, and homeopathic sprays to cultivate the long-term health of the soil." — Real Simple, April 2008
What it’s found on: Laundry products, household cleaners, floor care products and more
“The Design for the Environment Safer Product Labeling Program advances EPA's mission to protect human health and the environment. The program uses EPA's chemical expertise and resources to carefully evaluate products and to label only those that have met the program's highly protective standards. By allowing use of the logo on products, EPA empowers consumers and commercial purchasers to select safer chemical products that do not sacrifice quality or performance — and are safer for people and the planet. Design for the Environment labels a variety of chemical-based products, like all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergents, and carpet and floor care products. Look for the Design for the Environment logo when you shop or procure products and join this national effort to protect human and environmental health.”
Energy Star (EPA)
What it’s found on: Home appliances and electronics, computers, lighting, HVAC systems, building products and more
“The ENERGY STAR program was established by EPA in 1992, under the authority of the Clean Air Act Section 103(g). Section103(g) of the Clean Air Act directs the Administrator to ‘conduct a basic engineering research and technology program to develop, evaluate, and demonstrate non–regulatory strategies and technologies for reducing air pollution.’ In 2005, Congress enacted the Energy Policy Act. Section 131 of the Act amends Section 324 (42 USC 6294) of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, and "established at the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency a voluntary program to identify and promote energy–efficient products and buildings in order to reduce energy consumption, improve energy security, and reduce pollution through voluntary labeling of or other forms of communication about products and buildings that meet the highest energy efficiency standards.”
What it’s found on: Consumer electronics
“EPEAT is the definitive global registry for greener electronics. It’s an easy-to-use resource for purchasers, manufacturers, resellers and others wanting to find and promote environmentally preferable products.”
What it’s found on: Coffee, tea, chocolate, honey, clothing, nuts and grains, personal care products, wine and more
"Fair Trade USA enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products."
What it's found on: Wood and forestry products
"FSC certification ensures that products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social and economic benefits."
What it's found on: Clothing, home textiles, fabrics, hygiene products
"The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is recognised as the world's leading processing standard for textiles made from organic fibres. It defines high-level environmental criteria along the entire organic textiles supply chain and requires compliance with social criteria as well.
Only textile products that contain a minimum of 70% organic fibres can become GOTS certified. All chemical inputs such as dyestuffs and auxiliaries used must meet certain environmental and toxicological criteria. The choice of accessories is limited in accordance with ecological aspects as well. A functional waste water treatment plant is mandatory for any wet-processing unit involved and all processors must comply with minimum social criteria. The key criteria of GOTS, its quality assurance system and the principles of the review and revision procedure are summarised in this section."
What it's found on: Cleaning products, personal care products, appliances and electronics, food, paints, and more
"The Green Good Housekeeping Seal was introduced in 2009 by Good Housekeeping magazine and the Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI). It was developed to help consumers sift through the confusing clutter of "green" claims on hundreds of products on store shelves today. The Green Good Housekeeping Seal helps them make environmentally responsible choices."
Greenguard (UL Environment)
What it’s found on: Paints, finishes, adhesives, window treatments, textiles, insulation, furniture, flooring and more
“The GREENGUARD Certification Program (formerly known as GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality Certification) gives assurance that products designed for use in indoor spaces meet strict chemical emissions limits, which contribute to the creation of healthier interiors. Achieving GREENGUARD Certification gives credence to manufacturers’ sustainability claims, backing them with empirical scientific data from an unbiased, third-party organization.”
What it’s found on: Paints, cleaning products, paper products, and more
"We develop life cycle-based sustainability standards for products, services and companies and offer third-party certification for those that meet the criteria in the standard. Green Seal has been actively identifying and promoting sustainability in the marketplace, and helping organizations be greener in a real and effective way since 1989."
Leaping Bunny Progam (The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics)
What it’s found on: Cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaning products, pet grooming products
"The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC) Leaping Bunny Program administers a cruelty-free standard and the internationally recognized Leaping Bunny Logo for companies producing cosmetic, personal care, and household products. The Leaping Bunny Program provides the best assurance that no new animal testing is used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or suppliers."
What it's found on: Seafood
"The MSC runs an exciting and ambitious program, working with partners to transform the world's seafood markets and promote sustainable fishing practices.
Our credible standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability seek to increase the availability of certified sustainable seafood and our distinctive blue ecolabel makes it easy for everyone to take part."
What it’s found on: Coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit juice, wood and paper products, personal care products and more
“The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods by promoting and evaluating the implementation of the most globally respected sustainability standards in a variety of fields. Through RA-Cert, the Rainforest Alliance's auditing division, we provide our forestry, agriculture and carbon/climate clients with independent and transparent verification, validation and certification services based on these standards, which are designed to generate ecological, social and economic benefits.”
What it's found on: Wine, beer, produce, dairy products and more
"More than a decade after first certifying farms in Oregon's Willamette Valley, Salmon-Safe has become one of the nation's leading regional eco labels with more than 60,000 acres of farm and urban lands certified in Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia. The Salmon-Safe retail campaign has been featured in 300 supermarkets and natural food stores, delivering important marketplace benefits to participating landowners."
What it's found on: Fresh and processed foods
"USDA's National Organic Program regulates the standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced.
"Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used."
What it’s found on: Cut flowers, potted plants
"The Veriflora Certified Sustainably Grown label is your guarantee that flowers and potted plants have been produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner and with high quality standards."
What it’s found on: Showerheads, toilets, urinals, bathroom faucets, landscaping irrigation controllers, and more
“WaterSense, a partnership program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeks to protect the future of our nation's water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services.
The program seeks to help consumers make smart water choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards without compromising performance. Products and services that have earned the WaterSense Label have been certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance.”
With consumers becoming more and more environmentally conscious, green product certification labels will likely continue to grow and evolve. Keep an eye out for these symbols and more the next time you go shopping.
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