A Good Approach to Deciphering Eco-Labels

We received tons of positive feedback from our blog post about finding credible eco-friendly products but many were still left wondering: How does GoodGuide differentiate between a meaningful eco-label and one that is simply greenwashing? We believe these labels should exist to differentiate leaders from laggards, and if you have an eco-label with low or non-transparent standards it dilutes the value of certifications as a whole. It doesn’t contribute to consumer confidence in knowing they are getting a greener product.

To clarify this for consumers, the strength of the label is considered before factoring into ratings by categorizing them into three tiers. The first tier has the most weight on our ratings and includes labels that have the most stringent performance based, transparent standards and are generally recognized by consumers. FairTrade and GreenSeal are examples of some tier one labels. Tier two labels have less impact on the ratings because they might not have publicly defined standards or are based on a policy commitment but not actual performance.

Both tier one and two certifications are incorporated into GoodGuide ratings in a few ways. In food products, organic certification will give the health rating a boost. In coffee, tea and chocolate products, certifications contribute directly to the product score as shown when you drill down into a product’s Environmental or Social rating. For example, a fair-trade coffee will score much higher than one with no certification. Additional information about our coffee rating methodology can be found here. In other categories, these certifications will affect the “Social Responsibility” score.

So what about the so-called “Greenwashing” labels we all want to avoid? Since the
strongest certifications act as a neutral party between consumer and manufacturer, these tier three labels are usually considered weaker than a third-party eco-labels and have little or no impact on GoodGuide ratings.  Typically, these labels have low or non-transparent standards that have little impact on how eco-friendly or socially responsible the products actually are. An example would be the Forest Stewardship Council versus the Sustainable Forest Initiative. FSC is gold standard for virgin wood/paper products and SFI was created as an industry-heavy counterpoint to FSC. Another example is SC Johnson’s Greenlist where it’s simply a manufacturer’s self-claim. Ultimately, it is the consumer’s choice to decide what will influence their purchases, which is why GoodGuide displays all eco-labels on every product page, along with what labels competitors might have.

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2 Responses to A Good Approach to Deciphering Eco-Labels

  1. Nancy says:

    The best thing one can do is research what the criteria is behind the certification. Also what is more important to you — to buy, for instance, bananas that are organically grown by Chiquita, or fair trade grown by a no-name.

  2. Pingback: 12 Tips For A Healthy 2012 | GoodGuide Blog

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