Ecolabels guide for an environmentally friendly purchase

As you browse the aisles of your local grocery store, you will see the catchy terms “organic”, “all natural” and “fair trade” all around you. Food packaging is covered by vague terms suggesting that a product is ethically and sustainably sourced, but what do they really mean?

Ecolabels are voluntary labeling systems certifying that a product meets specific environmental performance standards, and they provide valuable information on how your food has been produced. Despite this, eco-labels rarely offer information on their criteria, making it difficult to distinguish between verified sustainability and “greenwashing”. Greenwashing is the use of misleading information to make a product appear more sustainable in the eyes of consumers. By knowing credible eco-labels, we can avoid succumbing to greenwashing in the midst of our efforts to be conscious consumers.

If you’re looking to make more informed choices on your next trip to the grocery store, here’s a look at some of the most common eco-labels.

GMO-free project

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization with a rigorous verification process, which ensures that a product contains a minimum of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Each ingredient must have a GMO content below a given threshold, which varies depending on the crop from which it comes. As GMOs contribute to the loss of biodiversity and the increased use of herbicides, you can opt for a product with this eco-label.

USDA organic

The USDA Organic label is a certification protected by federal regulations. Organic products bearing this label are grown without the use of banned pesticides, and organic meat is produced from animals fed organic food and free of antibiotics and hormones. Organic producers should rely as much as possible on natural substances and biologically-based farming practices – preserving soil quality and crop health.

Rainforest Alliance Certified

Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit organization with a comprehensive certification process focused on ecosystem health and economic stability in rural communities. Certification programs promote sustainable land management practices and fair working conditions.

Fairtrade certified

Fair Trade Certified is a non-profit organization that advocates for ethical supply chains by promoting environmental stewardship and sustainable income for farmers. Products bearing this label must meet rigorous standards requiring safe working conditions, sustainable land management and the empowerment of farming communities.

Maritime Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, is an international non-profit organization that works with fisheries to protect the world’s seafood supply and the health of the ocean. Fisheries must adhere to the three principles of sustainable fishing of the MSC: minimize impact on the ecosystem, fish only from healthy populations and manage fishing activities to avoid overexploitation.

Food Alliance Certified

The Food Alliance is a non-profit organization focused on promoting sustainable agriculture. To achieve certification, companies must implement practices that conserve natural resources, reduce the use of pesticides, treat animals with compassion, and maintain fair working conditions. The in-depth certification process takes into account environmental, social and economic factors to ensure the sustainability of the food and agricultural industries.


California Certified Organic Farmers, or CCOF, is an organic certification body accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture. Similar to the Non-GMO project, this eco-label ensures that a product is GMO-free and has been produced using organic practices – which maintain soil fertility and ecosystem balance.

Your weekly grocery store is an opportunity to ‘vote’ with your money by supporting businesses that invest in sustainability and conservation. By integrating sustainable consumption habits into our daily lives, consumers have the collective power to set the standards for the food and agricultural industries.

Contact Chloé Tiltonat [email protected].

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