To kick start my journey toward a greener life, I thought it would be useful to begin with some definitions and facts summarising what is actually considered green, ethical and sustainable. So, here starts my “understanding” series: an exploration into the things which supposedly define “being green”.
A very good place to begin is looking at how things are labelled. As I am still learning, it helps that someone has already done the homework and labelled products ready for me to buy! As someone who’s fairly lazy when it comes to shopping, I’m relieved to know that the majority of these labels can be spotted everywhere; and don’t entail hours of trawling through dark alleys looking for strange incense filled world supermarkets (though I do love shopping in Totnes!).
So, after some quick and lazy research, here are the Top 10 ethical labels I will be looking out for when buying things from now on:
Arguably one of the most familiar of the ethical labels, the FAIRTRADE Mark is a registered certification label highlighting products which have been sourced from producers in developing countries. Buying fair trade products – like bananas, coffee, cotton, cocoa and spices – means I can support a system which ensures environmental, labour and developmental standards are fair and consistent.
I may be biased but I’m sure FAIRTRADE chocolate tastes better too…
Now this one is a little trickier to define, as it depends completely on the product and where it’s been certified. In fact, I think this subject deserves a whole blog to itself at some point; especially as there is some controversy as to what percentage things are actually organic in order to be labelled so. But for now, I’ll define Organic as primarily a farming system; using no chemical fertilisers or pesticides, and in which animals have generally had some form of outdoor access. There are currently 9 organisations that provide organic certification, but the Soil Association stamp is the most familiar to me.
The Rainforest Alliance work to conserve biodiversity by providing forestry, agriculture and carbon/climate organisations and companies with independent verification. You might spot this label on teas and coffees; and these products will have been produced responsibly to sustain forests, tree farms and forest resources. They also have some pretty quirky films like this:
A follow on from the above, the Forest Stewardship Council (or FSC) label confirms a product has been made using sustainable forestry; and can be marked as 100% FSC certified forests, mixed or recycled FSC. You’ll most commonly find this on paper, cardboard and wood products.
The Assured Food Standards Red Tractor logo means all aspects of the supply chain from farms to fork is traceable; from animal welfare to environmental protection. It also means the food has been farmed, processed and packed all in the UK.
Now, these are obviously of concern to mostly Vegetarians and vegans, but as this is all about MY green journey; they are high on my list to watch out for! As you can work out if most products are vegetarian or vegan by their ingredient list; the Vegetarian Society and Vegan Society labels are particularly useful for avoiding anything which has been tested on animals (as not everything states explicitly if it has or hasn’t).
The energy star label “helps to identify and purchase energy-efficient products that offer savings on energy bills without sacrificing performance, features, and comfort.” I have seen this label often on things and never really knew what it meant. Note to self: I need to investigate this further and it’s still a little perplexing (mainly because I find sustainable energy a little dry and boring!)
I think even us lazy layabouts have an idea what recycled means, but I must admit I don’t always actively look out for it as a label. Buying products that can be – or have already been – recycled helps to cut down the buy it, use it and waste it cycle that we are all guilty of. In fact, I think this is probably one of the most important of the ethical labels in this list; as if it can’t be recycled, can it really be that green?
Ethical consumer is a bit of an all-rounder and labels products on a number of green issues – including animal rights, environment, politics, people and sustainability. They use an easy to understand rating system which allows you to have a rounded picture of what you are spending your money, and tailor your purchases around the issues that mean the most to you in particular. Difference here, however, is there isn’t so much of a label you can look out for; you have to go on their site and search for specific products.
Not always the easy option for a lazy girl going green…
10. Missing labels?
Some people question if we have gaps in our current ethical labelling system; with suggestions that we are missing a “Good for Development” label. The fact that there are so many ethical labels, and I am only marginally more educated about them, begs the question; can’t we just have the one? Perhaps it is naive of me to think that we can have just one big green label which ticks all the sustainability boxes; but wouldn’t it make it much easier for the producer and the consumer? I mean, you can’t get much lazier than that!