Please rotate your device to portrait mode to sign up.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Please rotate your device to portrait mode to login
Welcome Back!
  Show Password
Forgot My Password
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
September 21, 2022

Understanding Eco-Labels

Post By:
Jessica Lenhart
In-House Contributor
Director of Sustainability
U.S. Polo Assn.
Guest Contributor:

I think it’s safe to say that most of us want to do right by our planet and the people on it. If we could wave a magic wand to remedy the world’s greatest problems, we would. Unfortunately, solving these issues is not that easy-- but there is a long list of organizations working hard to give consumers the option to choose more sustainable products in their daily lives. 

Most people will recognize the logo for USDA Organic, or maybe Energy Star. But what do these logos mean, and why are they so important? 

Brands around the world that want to reduce their impact are looking for ways to ensure their customers know that action is being taken. To make that action credible, they need outside third-party organizations to make unbiased claims on their products. 

If I wanted to prove to someone that I just painted my house bright blue, telling them would not be enough. I could maybe show some pictures, but who knows if I doctored those photos? They could come to my house, but what if they live far away? I would want someone unbiased to come to my house and document the color change to prove that this, in fact, is the case. 

This simplified example can be applied to all sorts of situations. Essentially, these outside organizations are holding brands accountable for the actions they are claiming to take toward reducing their environmental footprint and human impact. 

When you are looking to make better purchasing decisions, there are a handful of logos to look out for. These logos can give you peace of mind that you are getting what you paid for. 

Here are some of the most common logos and what they mean, across a variety of product categories.

Join our community for member-exclusive content

Learn more about our community

USDA Organic: You will see this in grocery stores across the country. This is a strict organic standard managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For a product to be labeled as USDA Organic, it “must be produced using agricultural production practices that foster resource cycling, promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, minimize the use of synthetic materials, and conserve biodiversity.” That’s a lot of good for you and the planet! Organic products don’t stop at food-- textiles made of natural fibers (like cotton) can also be certified organic. Look out for this logo from Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

Fair Trade: You might see a few different Fair Trade logos on grocery products. There is Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International, among others. Fair Trade is a global movement to protect the farmers that grow our food (they also certify some non-edible products). Not only does Fair Trade certification mean that farmers have safe working conditions and that there are environmental protections in place, but it also provides farmers and their communities with a Fair Trade premium. This means that when you buy a Fair Trade certified product, you know that a percentage of that purchase went directly back to farmers in the form of a community development fund. Farmers use this money however they need to better their lives and the lives of those in their community. 

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): You will see this logo on paper products everywhere-- just look on the bottom of that paper bag, or on the packaging of your printer paper! The Forest Stewardship Council is a nonprofit that is working to protect our forests through sustainable forest management. We can all agree that trees and forests are vitally important for a stable planet; FSC is there to help! Pro tip: if you go to the Staples or Office Depot websites and search for FSC, it will give you all their FSC certified products. Staples has almost 2,000 to choose from! 

LEED Certification: LEED certification is an initiative run by the U.S. Green Building Council. You will often see these logos as you walk into an office building, an airport, a doctor’s office… even homes can be LEED certified! LEED certified buildings save energy, lower carbon emissions, improve efficiency, and are overall healthier for their occupants. LEED also certifies cities and communities with a focus on social, economic, and environmental performance. Did you know that Palm Beach County is LEED Gold Certified? (The second-highest level possible!) Check out the details here and feel even better about where you’re living. 

Energy Star: You will see this logo most often when you buy a new appliance. Energy Star certifies products that save energy and protect the environment. Energy Star has had a huge impact since its start in 1992, and it has the amazing stats to prove it. They have helped American families and businesses save 5 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity, avoid more than $500 billion in energy costs and achieve 4 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas reductions. For some context, the average U.S. home uses about 893 kilowatt-hours of energy per month. They have a great product finder tool on their website for the next time you need to replace an appliance! 

Leaping Bunny: We’ve all heard the horror stories of product testing on animals to ensure that the cosmetics we use are safe. Science has come a long way, and we no longer need to use animals to test product safety – that’s where the Leaping Bunny certification comes in. It is a program operated by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics in the U.S. and Canada, and they certify products that did not test on animals at any stage of the product’s development. To date, there are 2,380 Leaping Bunny certified brands, and you can find those products on the Leaping Bunny website. Make sure no bunnies were harmed in the production of your makeup! 

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC): Living in South Florida means seafood is everywhere, but the unfortunate truth is that fisheries around the world are being overfished and irresponsibly managed. Many communities depend on the ocean for their livelihoods, so not only will overfishing impact the stability of our oceans, but also those that depend on it. MSC is an international nonprofit that is on a mission to end overfishing, ensure seafood is caught sustainably, and protect and preserve livelihoods. Their website is a wealth of information (and yummy recipes!), so the next time you want to have seafood, you can do so responsibly. 

These are just a few of the more common and longstanding logos seen in the United States. The next time you want to purchase something that helps protect our planet and the people on it, you’ll know exactly what to look for. 

Knowledge is power, and if you see logos not on this list, researching that logo will quickly tell you a lot about what it means and whether it seems credible. We have the world at our fingertips; let’s use it to make informed decisions that help protect our planet for future generations.