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Environmental Labels

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Have you ever browsed items in the store and wondered what all of the labels on the packaging mean? Beyond nutrition facts and instructions, you may find logos claiming that the product is the best choice above the rest. But how do we decide what is clever advertising and which products are really the better option? One way to know for sure is to look for trusted environmental labels!

Environmental labels, commonly called “eco-labels,” are symbols placed on the packaging that quickly identify which products meet the criteria to be environmentally friendly.

Growing in popularity in the 1970s, eco-labels became a way to attract consumers by showing which items were a smart choice for the planet. However, this practice has become complex. Greenwashing, or giving a false impression about how environmentally friendly a product is, has skyrocketed in the past decade. This makes it tough to decide which products are gimmicks and which items protect our natural world.

Terms such as “all-natural,” “chemical-free,” and “certified non-toxic” may seem to be excellent choices, but these claims can be displayed without any regulation. The International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, has defined three categories of product labels. Type 1 is the most trusted type of label as it goes through a third-party verification process and requires regular reviews. Type 2 isn’t quite as official and refers to self-declared environmental claims. Type 3 eco-labels can be third-party verified, but industry groups or stakeholders typically control them.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common eco-labels found on food, personal care items, appliances, and more:


Organic products are created with zero or very few pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.

Green Seal

Led by a nonprofit, science-based organization, Green Seal products undergo strict testing processes that aim to minimize the toxicity and harm of products.

Energy Star

This label, overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indicates homes, appliances, computers, and more that meet energy-efficiency guidelines.

Fair Trade Certified

Reveals that the workers were paid fair wages and given healthcare, housing, and education opportunities.

Non-GMO Project Verified

Products are produced with the best practices for avoiding genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), which can cause harm to humans.

In addition to understanding common eco-labels, you can use mobile apps such as Sustained Choice to scan grocery items to see their environmental impact. Check out the Ecolabel Index for information about more than 450 labels.

To help protect our planet and avoid harmful products, keep eco-labels in mind the next time you shop!

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