Right now there are over 400 green certification systems vying for the attention of earth-conscious consumers, so if you have trouble remembering what each little pictogram stands for, you are not alone. These eco labels are meant to distinguish green products and brands, but you practically have carry a pocket dictionary in order to decipher it all -- and the task of identifying bright green products is only getting more daunting as large retailers, like Walmart, create their own systems of labeling. But fear not - Inhabitat has compiled an extensive guide of the most recognizable green labels around -- think of this as your CliffsNotes guide to eco-certification 101!
FSC CERTIFIED (Forest Stewardship Council) – This certification accredits forest managers, manufacturing companies, and controlled wood products that exhibit responsible consumption of forest products. FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization and the certification is completely voluntary.
SCS CERTIFIED calCOMPLIANT – Specifically focused on composite wood products, this label verifies that standards set by the California Air Resources Board are being met. Compliance requires that the producers or plywood, particleboard, MDF, and other composite products meet the limits for formaldehyde emissions.
RAINFOREST ALLIANCE CERTIFIED – This certification body has a variety of verification services for wood products under their SmartWood program. This program includes the FSC Certification standard, but has other specific compliance categories that concern supply chains, carbon validation, reclaimed and recycled wood, and logging.
PROCESSED CHLORINE FREE & TOTALLY CHLORINE FREE – These accreditations from the not-for-profit Chlorine Free Products Association (CFPA) are meant to distinguish paper products that do not use chlorine or chlorine compounds in the processing. Chlorine-free processing can aid in keeping rivers and water supplies clean. The Processed Chlorine Free label is reserved for recycled content paper with at least 30% post consumer content.
ENERGY STAR – The Energy Star Program is run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is one of the most recognizable eco-labels. This voluntary program rates products such as appliances, electronics, and lighting fixtures, on their energy efficiency. Energy Star also has a certification that is given to new homes that have superior heating and cooling efficiency and feature Energy Star-certified appliances and fixtures.
DARK SKY – The International Dark Sky Association issues this seal of approval to outdoor lighting fixtures that minimize glare, reduce light trespass, and therefore do not pollute the night sky. Light pollution wastes energy, disrupts wildlife, and also obstructs views for astronomers and scientists.
LIGHTING FACTS – Lighting Facts is a initiative from the U.S. Department of Energy to label solid-state lighting (SSL) — mainly LEDs — to display performance metrics in a manner similar to how food nutrition labels work. The program seeks to guard against exaggerated green claims and help consumers to understand how lights compare on reliability, output, color consistency, and energy usage.
ENERGYGUIDE – The EnergyGuide label is required for all appliances and it estimates the amount of energy that the product will use. It provides information about whether the usage is below the average for that type of product and also estimates a yearly operating cost.
WATERSENSE – This label is issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for products that are 20% more water-efficient that average products in the same category. The products must also perform as well or better than their less efficient counterparts in categories such as toilets, faucets, urinals, and showerheads.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) – LEED is a U.S. Green Building Council program that promotes sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, sustainable materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. The program is based on a system that awards silver, gold, and platinum certification levels based on the amount of points that a project is able to garner by employing green building strategies.
BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) – BREEAM is another system for measuring the sustainable architecture, but this program is differentiated from LEED in many ways. The most recognizable difference is that it is based on legislation in the United Kingdom, but is it being used worldwide.
CRI GREEN LABEL & GREEN LABEL PLUS – These labels issued by the Carpet and Rug Institute indicate that carpet, carpet backings, cushions and adhesives emit low amounts of VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). The Green Label Plus is given to those carpeting products that exceed the green building requirements dictated by California schools which focus on post-consumer content, VOC emissions, the absence of PBDE flame retardant, life cycle assessment, and recycling.
SMART CERTIFIED – Sustainable, Sustainable Silver, Sustainable Gold & Sustainable Platinum ratings are given to building products, fabric, apparel, textile & flooring coverings that meet rigorous standards for life cycle assessment and green practices throughout the supply chain.
FLOOR SCORE – Floor Score was developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) in conjunction with Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) to test and certify hard surface flooring and flooring adhesive products for compliance with rigorous indoor air quality and low-VOC emissions requirements.
LEVEL – The Level certification is based on standards created by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA). The standards address a company’s social actions, energy usage, material selection, and human and ecosystem-wide health impacts.
SCS CERTIFIED INDOOR ADVANTAGE – The VOC criteria for Indoor Advantage certification is based on emission criteria established by the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer’s Association‘s (BIFMA) standard for low-emitting office furniture systems and seating. Indoor Advantage Gold certification includes other product categories such as paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants, carpet, insulation, wall coverings, and other interior products.
CERTIFIED HUMANE RAISED AND HANDLED: Products raised with this label meet the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) program standards, which include nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones, animals raised with shelter, resting areas, sufficient space and the ability to engage in natural behaviors. Cages, crates, tie stalls are strictly forbidden. Slaughter is audited based on the American Meat Institute (AMI) guidelines. HFAC’s third-party inspectors verify each site annually.
FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED – Fair Trade certification is overseen by FLO International (Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International) and overseen by TransFair USA in the United States. It validates ethical practices for producers and handlers a growing range of products, including bananas, honey, oranges, cocoa, coffee, shortbread, cotton, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables, juices, nuts and oil seeds, quinoa, rice, spices, sugar, tea and wine
CERTIFIED VERIFLORA SUSTAINABLY GROWN – Veriflora certifies sustainably-grown cut flowers and potted plants. It assesses crop production, ecosystem management, resource conservation, energy efficiency, waste management, fair labor, community benefits, product quality, safety, and purity.
ANIMAL WELFARE APPROVED – The Animal Welfare Approved label guarantees consumers that animals were raised outdoors. Approved by the USDA, this food label is given to family farmers practicing high-welfare husbandry outdoors on pastures or ranges. The World Society for the Protection Animals has rated these standards “most stringent” for two years running.
USDA ORGANIC – In accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the National Organic Program (NOP) housed within the USDA set criteria for the processing and handling of food. Some of these standards include the absence of pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, and growth hormones. The NOP provides a worksheet to help define all of the variables in their organic labeling.
LEAPING BUNNY CRUELTY FREE – This symbol developed by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC) guarantees consumers that no animal tests were used in the development/production of the product. The CCIC makes sure to validate each license with on-site audits of a company’s manufacturing process. The Leaping Bunny logo can be found on cosmetics, pet products, household cleansers, and personal care products.
DOLPHIN SAFE – This certification is given by the U.S. Department of Commerce for tuna caught using purse seine fishing methods within the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean. It ensures that fishing did not involve the deliberate netting or circling of any dolphins. For this specific oceanic region the process is verified by an observer from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
SCS CERTIFIED RECYCLED CONTENT – This certification validates that a product contains pre-consumer or post-consumer materials. As defined by SCS, pre-consumer material has been diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process. Materials generated in a process and capable of being reclaimed within the same process (such as rework, regrind or scrap) are excluded. Post-consumer material is generated by households or by commercial, industrial and institutional facilities in their role as end-users of a product that can no longer be used for its intended purpose.
RECYCLING SYMBOLS – There are many different recycling symbols used on products ranging from glass to corrugated cardboard, but the symbols on plastic products are the hardest to understand. The symbols do not necessarily mean the product is recyclable — they just identify what type of plastic the product is made from. Check with your local authorities to see what is available for recycling in your area.
Number 1 PET or PETE (polyethelene terephthalate) – Probably the most commonly-seen plastic label, this is found on soda and water bottles. The material can be easily recycled into polar fleece and carpet fibers.
Number 2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene) – Used for milk jugs, shampoo bottles, household product bottles, and cereal box liners. It is generally recycled into products like plastic lumber, floor files, and detergent bottles.
Number 3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – clear food packaging and other translucent things like cleanser bottles. This material is not readily recycled, and its manufacturing is really bad for the environment because it releases harmful toxins — so stay away from it if you can!
Number 4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene) – This is the second most common plastics label, and it is found on plastic shopping bags and frozen food bags. Where accepted, it can be recycled into products like trash can liners.
Number 5 PP (polypropylene) – This plastic is not widely accepted for recycling, and is used for bottle caps, drinking straws, food containers, and medicine bottles. Because it is harder and more heat resistant that other plastics, when is it accepted for recycling it can be made into brushes, brooms, ice scrapers, and even signal lights.
Number 6 PS (polystyrene) – Found in CD cases, egg cartons, plastic plates, and utensils, polystyrene is pretty hard to recycle. Where it is accepted, the material can be made into insulation and packaging materials.
Number 7 Everything else – This ambiguous label is for all plastics that do not fit into any of the other categories.
UL ENVIRONMENT – Underwriters Laboratories, one of the country’s largest certification bodies, now offers a service to validate a variety of sustainable claims.
ECOLOGO – Launched by the Canadian Federal Government, the Ecologo certifes that products have met rigorous life cycle assessment. Ecologo is one of only two programs in North America that have been successfully audited by the Global Eco-labeling Network (GEN).
GREEN SEAL – Green Seal is the other North American certification body that has been successfully audited by GEN. This independent non-profit organization differentiates the way they develop their standard-setting process. The organization collaborates with industry, government, academia, and the public to create their formally approved, science-based standards.
GREEN-E – Green-e verifies renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation products. Their website allows consumers to search for products organized by power sources such as wind, solar, biomass, hydro, and geothermal energy.
CRADLE TO CRADLE – Based upon the renowned book by William McDonough and Michael Braungart of MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry), the Cradle to Cradle Certification verifies that a product uses environmentally safe and healthy materials and is designed for material re-utilization, recycling or composting. It must also consider energy efficient manufacturing and the use of renewable energy. Furthermore, the manufacturing process must make efficient use of water and protect water quality.