A guide to navigate the world of eco-labels

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Even convinced of the need to combat climate change, and armed with the will to do so, acting in the right direction is sometimes a real headache. Which of these numerous seemingly identical products is the least destructive for the environment?

A supermarket full of colorful products displayed on shelves. How to choose the best products and find sustainable brands?
Navigating products and eco-labels

That's where the eco-labels come in, a voluntary labelling system for products that guarantees a basic level of environmental friendliness. Since their introduction, hundreds of them have been created, making it sometimes hard to see clearly. Eco-labels are more or less credible and transparent, with a wide variety of specifications and working methods for certifiers.

But what is still clear is that these eco-labels are a trustworthy symbol that manufacturers put on the things they sell to demonstrate that they are genuinely better for the environment than comparable products. So a product with an eco-label is probably better than another product without one.

Ecolabels can be classified into different categories, including:

  • According to the object they relate to: food (organic food), wood-paper and furniture (Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC)...), paints (NF environnement), household product...

  • Depending on the service they relate to: ecotourism, architecture (HQE), ecological green spaces (Eve), recycling of packaging...

  • According to their geographical scope: global (FSC, PEFC), supranational (pan-European, pan-African, pan-Asian...), European (EMAS), national (NF environnement)...

  • According to their certification system

  • According to their mode of creation

  • Depending on their environmental endorsement

  • According to their concerns or ethical requirements: sustainable development, fair trade, rights and development of indigenous communities are at the heart of FSC

Depending on the region of the world where you are, the products you buy and the causes that seem to you to be a priority, the eco-labels that best suit you vary. But in any case, to guide you, here is a non-exhaustive list of safe eco-labels that you can systematically look for.

  • Fair Trade: certifies that the product has been produced under fair labor conditions.

  • Organic food: prohibits the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, GMOs, and more.

  • Rainforest Certified: designed to conserve wildlife, safeguard soils and waterways, protect workers and their communities, and support long-term sustainability.

  • Marine Stewardship Council (MSC): ensure the source of sustainable fish stocks that was harvested in a way that minimally impacts the environment.

  • European Ecolabel: instituted in all European Union countries and Switzerland.

  • Blue Flag: for the cleanliness and water quality of the world's beaches.

  • Green Key: for tourist accommodation who commits to minimising its impact on the environment.

  • NF environment: for products that have a reduced environmental impact. It is a French certification within the meaning of the French Consumer Code.

  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) & Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification schemes (PEFC): for the protection of the forests.

However, these labels indicate that a product is environmentally "less impactful" than another, which doesn't mean "impact-less". So the moto behind should remain to consume less in order to protect better.

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- Are renewable energies really that clean?

- Another look at plastics: the German deposit system

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- Tips and tricks to reduce your digital carbon footprint

Learn more:

- List of all existing eco-labels

- Tips on how to use eco-labels

- Know Your Environmental & Social Product Labels