How much do you really know about the products you purchase and their life cycle?
With more information exchange than ever happening over the internet, concerned citizens, environmental and social organizations, and news sites/blogs have shed light on the shocking truths about many of the supply chains that result in the products we buy in the store. Because corporations know that consumers care about this information and are likely to not purchase their products knowing the ethical and environmental impact, they have been sure to keep this hidden, while reaping the monetary benefits of cutting costs. The most common cost cutting of corporations occurs at the expense of the environment – everything from deforestation to irresponsible disposal of chemicals – and the expense of humans – unfair labor practices, dangerous working conditions, and even child labor and slavery.
Unfortunately, when a consumer browses products in a store or online they don’t see the story of each product. If we could see the full life cycle of a product, we would be much more careful about the products we buy and the brands we support. Luckily there are some innovative projects working to help consumers get the information they need to make better, more educated decisions. Check out the Earth Touch app by Earth Accounting for more information.
Even without an app to reveal the life cycle of a product, you can still follow some product labeling to choose a better product. Eco labels are commonplace on many product labels now to signify some level of environmental or social sustainability. In fact there are over 200 different eco labels in the US. You can view a comprehensive ecolabel index here. Some of the most covered areas for eco labels include CO2 emmissions, animal rights, and fair trade. You are likely familiar with these two:
Dolphin Safe – Commonly seen on tuna cans. Most consumers know that this label certifies the safety of dolphins on some level. According to the Ecolabel Index these are the following standards tuna must meet to be “Dolphin Safe” : 1. No intentional chasing, netting or encirclement of dolphins during an entire tuna fishing trip; 2. No use of drift gill nets to catch tuna; 3. No accidental killing or serious injury to any dolphins during net sets; 4. No mixing of dolphin-safe and dolphin-deadly tuna in individual boat wells (for accidental kill of dolphins), or in processing or storage facilities; and 5. Each trip in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP) by vessels 400 gross tons and above must have an independent observer on board attesting to the compliance with points (1) through (4) above.
Energy Star – A recognized label on energy efficient home appliances. This label certifies products that meet energy efficiency guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Although the actual parameters for this certification are not common knowledge and are very complex, consumers generally recognize that a product with this eco label has met some level of energy efficiency and is likely better for the environment than competitors.
Although you may recognize these two more popular eco labels, there are several others you likely are not familiar with that you could be using to make better decisions while shopping. Some eco labels hold much more weight than others and many companies are greenwashing their products by putting misleading information on their packaging. Popular buzzwords like “organic” and “all natural” are being touted by more and more companies now but the definitions are vague. That’s why identifying a relevant eco label and understanding what it means is so important.
Once you familiarize yourself with a few eco labels you will be able to make educated decisions every time you shop, and even though you can’t always find a comparable product with an eco label, you will be making ethical and more sustainable decisions which will support companies that share your values. By simply identifying a few eco labels that support the issues you are most interested in you are already improving your quality of life and decreasing your environmental and social footprint.
Here are a few popular environmental and social issues and some eco labels to get you started:
Animal Rights – If you want to be sure the products you buy aren’t contributing to animal cruelty, this is eco label is for you. Find out more about this certification at the Leaping Bunny website.
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.
Non GMO – The genetically modified organism movement continues to gain more traction making this eco label more popular. You can get an overview of the Non-GMO standard at their website: nongmoproject.org.
The Non-GMO eco label certifies that a product has been through testing for GMO avoidance in the ingredients. The Non-GMO standard helps to ensure products you buy don’t contain GMOs and also helps prevent the future mixing of GMO and non-GMO crops.
Organic – Most are familiar with organic products by now, whether they purchase them or not. The key here is to make sure a product actually has an organic eco label, because some product labels can be misleading. The USDA Organic eco label is a standard in the US.
This eco label from the US Department of Agriculture is one of the most recognized standards for organic products. The USDA Organic eco label relates specifically to the use of growth hormones and certain pesticides in food production. For animals there are much more specific eco labels such as the American Grassfed and Animal Welfare Approved.
Fair Trade – Fair trade is an expansive topic that applies to both textiles and foods – the most popular being coffee, chocolate, tea, and jewelry. You can find more information about fair trade and what fair trade eco labels to look for in our fair trade food article.
Being a conscious and responsible consumer is more of a task than it should be, but eco labels have made much progress in making educated decisions easier by certifying parts of product life cycles. You can make a considerable difference in your life and the community by taking a few moments to research a few eco labels and look for eco label certified products in store. You can also check in with Earth Accounting for updates on the Earth Touch app – designed to make sustainable and ethical shopping easy.