Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Sustainability and ME: Know your labels to be a more conscious consumer

Posted on February 06, 2017 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Emily Eschner, Contributor

Green. This term is thrown around daily to describe people, places, and things claiming to be sustainable. The truth is, not all “green” is created equal. We live in a capitalist society; money talks. Many brands are capitalizing on the growing sustainability market to greenwash you into buying something that’s not really green at all. Companies do this by presenting information in a way that makes their products appear environmentally responsible. Great examples of greenwashing include so-called “eco” bottled water, packaged foods like Oscar Mayer “natural” meats and “clean” coal.

So what can you look for to be a more eco-conscious consumer? Read on….

Fair Trade Certified products are made with respect to people and planet, in addition to profits. If you have heard of the “triple bottom line,” you’re already aware of the “people, planets, profit” mantra that incorporates social, environmental, and economic standards into a company’s business model.

For a product to be certified as Fair Trade, it must meet rigorous standards that contribute to a sustainable livelihood for producers. Empowerment, Individual and Community Well-being, Income Sustainability, and Environmental Stewardship are the broader categories into which outcomes like financial resilience, non-discrimination, access to health care, soil health, and water resource management fit.

Commonly seen Fair Trade items include sugar, bananas, coffee, tea and cocoa, but increasingly there are more items in the market including nuts, grains, wine and body products, like shea butter. Fair Trade products do typically cost a bit more, but are still priced competitively. For example, Fair Trade bananas might run for around $.90 a pound, while conventional bananas could be as cheap as $.25 a pound. The difference for you might be a dollar or two, but the collective impact can drastically improve the daily lives of banana-producing community members.

USDA Organic food is produced by farms that pledge not to use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Many organic farms employ a more holistic way of looking at a landscape that takes into account not just how much of a crop one can produce from it, but also how it can be protected and nurtured in a way that will allow it to be productive for years in the future. This may involve rotating crops or planting cover crops so that soils don’t become depleted by growing the same thing year after year. It likely involves using a pest management system to control crop damage rather than spraying plants indiscriminately with pesticides.

In order for a product to be certified as USDA organic, it has to be produced without “excluded methods” such as genetic engineering, radiation, or sewage sludge, as well as synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, as mentioned above. Farms must be visited annually by a USDA agent to ensure that all USDA organic regulations are followed before they can become certified as organic.

The Non-GMO Verified label is applied to products by the only independent, third-party verification available for non-GMO products in North America.

Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are organisms whose genetic material has been engineered or manipulated to include gene combinations that do not occur in nature. GMOs are said to be superior to those occurring in nature because they can combine all the best features, or traits, of different organisms. However, the vast majority of GMOs available today actually offer the advantages they claim to, such as enhanced nutrition or increased crop yields. There are several concerning things to note about GMOs. One is that although a majority of consumers want to know which foods contain GMOs, companies in the US are not required to disclose this information, as they are required to in many countries in Europe. Second, about 90% of all corn, canola and soy grown in the US are GMO varieties.

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit, nongovernmental organization established almost 25 years ago to promote international responsible forest management.

Like the aforementioned certifications, third-party “certification bodies” evaluate forests annually to ensure that the management practices are compliant with FSC standards. FSC prohibits illegal logging and aims to preserve biodiversity and animal habitats as well as sensible harvest and regeneration levels.

The FSC logo is meant to inform consumers that the products they are purchasing come from forests that have contributed to the economy in a way that is still environmentally and socially beneficial.

B Corp certification is issued to for-profit companies by an international non-profit called B Lab. Companies complete an online assessment that scores social and environmental performance, and must receive a minimum score to earn and maintain their certification. In addition, businesses must incorporate commitments to stakeholders into their bylaws, and pay an annual fee. There are currently just under 2,000 certified B corporations in a variety of industries. You are probably familiar with Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, dansko, King Arthur Flour, Seventh Generation, klean canteen, and Cabot. The B Corp certification is a standard applied to entire companies rather than specific products.



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