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Making Sense of EcoLabels

eco labels, certified organicEcolabels have been around since the 1970's and continue to evolve.  They come in a variety of forms and have a variety of meanings.  You know them as USDA Certified Organic, Fair Trade, Energy Star, FSC, MSC, EU Ecolabel, and many others.  They are essentially market strategies for differentiating products that meet some standard set of expectations.  But do you know what those standards are or who set them?

Some ecolabels such as USDA Certified Organic are standardized by federal legislation.  Others are the construction of individual companies, trade organizations, or marketing firms.  Of course, even in the case of ecolabels standardized by law, those laws change continuously based on who is in office and who may or may not have been appointed to oversee the subcommittee charged with the regulation.

Over the past five years I have been involved in debates over whether small farms should carry the USDA Certified Organic ecolabel.  Some small farmers do not wish to be subject to federal policy, others don't wish to fill out paperwork, and still others insist that the trust associated with standardized practices comes only from one-on-one communication.  While I respect the desire of small farmers to "brand" their products as healthy or sustainable on their own terms, I must insist that there is a strong need for standardization.

Believe me, I wish we lived in a world where I could trust the farmer at the farmers market or the sales rep selling me clothing, but I have witnessed first hand that this is not always such a good idea.  I believe some ecolabels help keep the producers of our ec0-goods responsible to the interests of the consumer.

Over the next several days I will be outlining and commenting on a number of ecolabels that you may see, including many we look for at Silent Springs.  I hope that by the time I'm complete you will better understand why ecolabels are so popular, understand how you might use them as an eco-thoughtful shopper, and most importantly know when to view them as nothing more than a meaningless green wash marketing strategy.

Do you have an ecolabel you would like me to cover?  Just let me know.  I have a few prepared, but I would certainly be willing to cover others that may be on your mind!

Vincent M. Smith

More Blogs on Eco Labels: Fair Trade, GMO's, Organic, Energy Star, and more...

  • http://www.silentsprings.com Vincent Smith

    I answered the latter half of your question in my post Unpacking Organic, but simply put, all of these third-party certifying agencies certify against the USDA organic standards. From the consumer perspective, they are all the same, but take a look at the blog for a bit more details. I will pick up the GMO label wars here in the next day or two. Thanks!!

  • http://www.silentsprings.com Vincent Smith

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that the best bet is for folks to become educated, but I don't know that happens. I took your thoughts up a bit in my latest post on Unpacking Organic.

  • Ashley Suzanne

    Looking forward to this neat series!

  • http://royalegacy.blogspot.com Danielle @ Royalegacy

    Looking forward to reading about this subject.

  • http://www.brittlebyscorner.com/ Brittney Minor

    Very interesting! I agree that it is great that their are labels to help us pick fair trade and organic items, but at the same time I don't think that every company that abides by these rules has to go through the strenuous paperwork to be "certified". If people would become more educated on what they ate and where it came from, they would know what they were buying. Sometimes it just takes people doing a little research.
    I do agree that it is hard to trust some companies that claim that they are eco-friendly when they really aren't. I wish that it wasn't such a hard thing to be certified because there are many great companies out there that are doing everything "right" yet they are too small and don't want to pay to have a label.
    This is very interesting and I look forward to hearing more about this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tamara.galbraith.smith Tamara Galbraith Smith

    Labeling of "natural" products is a hot topic right now. We hope to help sort out all the info out there with this blog series! Thanks for reading our Blog!

  • http://www.the-mommyhood-chronicles.com me

    What a wonderful series! Thanks so much for telling us about it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mellissa.hanks Mellissa Hanks

    I'm so looking forward to learning more. My family is trying to get more eco friendly.

  • http://ourhopeisinthelord.blogspot.com/2012/06/healthy-and-delicious-guacamole-salad.html April

    Looks like a great series

  • Kelley Johnsen

    I am going to follow this series, thanks!

  • Ashley

    Ohhhhhh, I can't wait to hear more about the labels we see! Please cover the Non-GMO Project, and various smaller organizations that certify organic products. I think QIA is one of them I keep seeing? I could be wrong. We definitely need a stronger standard across the board. It's sad but I don't trust the farmers market at all. :(

  • http://www.facebook.com/tamara.galbraith.smith Tamara Galbraith Smith

    Looking forward to this series!

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