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How to Decode Eco-Friendly Shopping Symbols

We all have the power to make an impact on the environment through our purchases. As consumers demand more eco-friendly products, corporations are taking note. But what do all of those symbols indicate, and how can you tell which ones are meaningful? Use this guide to help you decode eco-friendly shopping symbols and understand what they mean.

Red Flags to Look For

Unfortunately, some companies try to deceive consumers who want to buy eco-friendly products. Packaging that includes vague claims like “50% more recycled material” or “made with renewable energy” often indicate a trend called greenwashing.

Product labels should be specific about the manufacturing process and disposal of the product. If you’re unsure about a symbol’s reliability, check online to find out more about the criteria a product must meet to display that symbol.

It’s also a good idea to double-check that a company isn’t fraudulently displaying a well-known symbol without actually meeting the standards for certification. You can visit the certification organization’s website to find a list of certified companies.

Reliable Certifications

The list of sustainability and ethical certifications is continually growing, but there are a few that you’re likely familiar with already. 

Gold Standard

Gold Standard provides rigorous certification for emissions reduction projects. Their main goal is to make progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN and to keep climate warming below the threshold set by the Paris Climate Agreement.

In doing so, they focus on helping communities succeed in sustainable initiatives.


When you’re looking for ethically sourced products, the Fairtrade symbol is a good indicator you can feel good about when purchasing that item.

Fairtrade International has developed several projects and standards designed to help the environment and benefit laborers. 

  • Fairtrade Climate Standard: Developed in partnership with the Gold Standard certification, this standard offers the purchase of carbon credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions. It also recognizes projects that prioritize safe working conditions and fair compensation as per Fairtrade standards.
  • Textile Standard: Outlines safety and fair treatment standards for both workers and the environment. Compliance with the standards is assessed under Fairtrade’s innovative audit system. This helps ensure every part of the production chain meets requirements.
  • Trader Standard: This standard is used to assess the conditions under which Fairtrade products are distributed and sold. Traders must provide fair compensation to producers, including a Fairtrade Premium and transparency in market information.

Rainforest Alliance

There are two symbols associated with the Rainforest Alliance, and each means something unique. The Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal is used on products that meet the requirements of at least one of their certifications. These include:

  • Sustainable Agriculture Certification
  • Forest Management Certification
  • Chain-Of-Custody Certification
  • Sustainable Tourism Certifications for hotels/lodging and tour operators

The Rainforest Alliance logo denotes partnerships and sourcing agreements. It never indicate certification.

USDA Organic

The USDA has strict regulations controlling claims of “organic” on product labels. In order to display the USDA Organic symbol, a product must have no more than 5% non-organic ingredients.

Products that claim they are made with organic ingredients must list them on the information panel as well as provide the name of the certifying organization.

Bunny Logos

Bunny logos indicate products that do not use animal testing. The Leaping Bunny Program is a coalition of eight animal protection groups that founded the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). The CCIC requires a written declaration of compliance with their standards as well as an agreement to an independent audit.

The PETA Cruelty-Free Bunny denotes the same message as the Leaping Bunny, although it does not have independent verification.

The sheer number of green product labels can seem overwhelming, but they’re well worth researching! Understanding the most commonly used symbols can help you make eco-conscious decisions while shopping.

For more green living tips and eco-friendly news, check out our website and contact us today. Here at Western National Apartments, we’re passionate about helping you help the environment.

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