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Label Decoder

Don’t bank on products that claim to be biodegradable without coughing up third-party certification, such as the Scientific Certification Systems. But even that doesn’t tell you a product is 100% biodegradable, it just means it will biodegrade by 70% within 28 days. Look for products with better specs, like “Biodegrades 99% within 28 days according to OECD  test #301D.”

CFC-Free: Nice that your hairspray tells you it’s CFC free but, honey, everything’s been free of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons since, like, the mid-’90s (in North America, anyway). This label in no way means the chemicals used in a CFC-free product are good for the planet or the people in your home. CFC replacements, such as HCFCs, have also been found to be detrimental to the ozone layer. (See also HCFC-free.)

If your diapers or the packaging on your personal care product are certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute/US Composting Council, you can trust this to mean that a product has been tested to biodegrade at the same rate as yard trimmings and food scraps. But it doesn’t mean it can be put in your backyard composter. bpiworld.org

Cradle to Cradle:
The cutting-edge peeps behind this label certify products as Cradle to Cradle Basic, Silver,Gold or Platinum based on the use of green chemicals and the perpetual recyclability of the materials used to make them. Nearly 200 products have been certified, including shampoo, textiles and more. The end products aren’t necessarily perfect (no item has received Platinum certification, for instance, and not all have upcycling infrastructure in place), but the certifiers are trying to keep the trajectory moving ahead to a brighter, greener future. mbdc.com

EcoLogo/Environmental Choice:
This respected Canadian label was founded in ’98 by Environment Canada. The logo can now be spotted on over 7,000 products NorthAmerica–wide, from personal care to paint, with comprehensive set standards for each. These guys actually require independent verification of product claims, which too few do. EcoLogo products should be greener than roughly 80% of the products in any given category. ecologo.org 

Eco-friendly: Says who? No one’s policing this term.

Eco-safe: Totally meaningless. No regulation of this term.

Elemental chlorine free: Products with this label (such as tampons and diapers) have been bleached without old-school elemental chlorine gas, a process that notoriously releases carcinogenic, bioaccumulative dioxins. ECF processes use chlorine dioxideinstead. (See also Totally Chlorine Free.)  

Fair Trade Certified:
You’ll find this label on a couple of natural body care products, such as shea butter, as well as ingredients such as sugar, coffee, or vanilla that can turn up inbody care products. It can also appear on cotton and new standards are coming in for apparel that certify a garment from field to factory. This seal tells you workers are paid a decent wage and the premiums you fork out for that fair-trade lotion or whatnot also fund health care and education. Dangerous pesticides are banned and organic practices are encouraged, but unless it comes with the certified-organic seal as well,there are no guarantees.  

Forest Stewardship Council (wood/paper):
You may see this on the paper packaging of body care labels or in reference to wood-based fabrics such as Tencel. It’s still considered the best wood label we have, but critics say the FSC’s global monitoring of forests has major gaps and that tropical old-growth trees aren’t well protected from the axe. To avoid chopping old-growth rainforests, it’s best to stick to domestic FSC lumber. FSC Pure means it’s 100% certified; the FSC Mixed Sources label, on the other hand, means it contains up to 30% non- certified sources, which gets a little dodgy. fsccanada.org 

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP): A set of manufacturing guidelines from Health Canada for licensedfacilities that manufacture your supplements, drugs, medical devices and more. They have to meet regs around sanitation, raw materials, quality control, packaging material, finished product testing, stability, sterility and more. The Health Products and Food Brand Inspectorate program inspects facilities to see if they’re in compliance with GMP. Some bodies certify facilities for GMP, and you may see a GMP seal on supplements and more.

GOTS  (Global Organic Textile Standard):
On top of making sure the fabric is grown, processed and dyed in an environmentally preferred way, this standard calls for decentworker rights (i.e., right to collective bargaining, 48-hour workweek with max 12 hours voluntary overtime) with unannounced third-party inspections. Clothes have to be 95% organic, unless they say “made with organic,” when they have to contain at least 70% organic fibres.global-standard.org  


Green Seal:
You used to see this seal only on cleaning products and at home reno stores, but they now havecertification for personal care products. This non-profit org has comprehensive certification schemes that, in the case of personal care, address health, environmental labelling and worker rights concerns. A body care product with this seal will be free of carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, reproductive toxins, animal testing and more. Air-polluting VOCs and asthma triggers and leadcontaminants are restricted, and biodegradability and aquatic toxicity standards must be met. Plus, it verifies accuracy in labelling terms such as “natural” and “organic.” These guys actually visit the factory floor and do annual monitoring, and they insist on independent verification of product claims. greenseal.org

HCFC-Free: Now we’re getting somewhere—this label is way more relevant than CFC-free. Though hydrochlorofluorocarbons were originally brought in as a greener replacement for CFCs, HCFCs also turned out to be an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas. Whoops. In 2007, at a United Nations Environment Programme meeting, 200 countries agreed to phase out HCFC  production by 2013.

Hypoallergenic: The FDA in the United States says it “does not know of any scientific studies that prove whether ‘hypoallergenic’ products produce fewer allergic reactions than products that don’t have the claim.” Sorry to disappoint.

Includes Biodegradable Surfactants: Okay, so the surfactants (wetting agents that help lift dir
t and oil away) might be biodegradable, but don’t be fooled into thinking this applies to the product as a whole. This claim has no real third-party monitoring.

Trusted Swedish certifier that covers organic cotton, wool, silk, linen, leather and hides. krav.se  


Leaping Bunny:
One of the only certified “no animal testing” logos around. Unless you see this exact bunny withstars in the logo, it probably wasn’t certified (most companies just stick any old rabbit image on their product and call it a day). This one’s ona lot of cleaning products, as well as personal care goods, and tells you the company has officially pledged to the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics that neither it nor its suppliers conduct or commission animal testing, though they might have in the past. leapingbunny.org

Made with organic ingredients: According to the USDA, a product bearing these words on the front of its packaging must be at least 70% certified organic.

Non-toxic: Think someone’s overseeing the use of this term on your personal care or baby product? Think again. Health Canada told me this is an “industry-devised marketing term.” No universal meaning.

NSF (National Sanitation Foundation):
This non-profit is considered the world leader in setting standards for product safety, including vitamins and other supplements (NSF does product testing and Good Manufacturing Practices inspections required by Health Canada). You can find the seal on millions of products. nsf.org

NSF Contains Organic Ingredients: A personal care labelling standard that tells you a product contains at least 70% certified-organic content.

Oeko-Tex 100: Clothes certified to this global standard are tested to make sure there’s no discernible presence of formaldehyde, flame retardants, pesticides, phthalates, dye allergens, extractable heavy metals that come out when you sweat, or other harmful chemicals on the finished fabric itself. It doesn’t mean the cotton for a shirt wasn’t, say, grown with pesticides, but the textile won’t have any meaningful residues. The International Oeko-Tex Association is a grouping of 14 textile and test institutes in Japan and Europe that’s responsible for the independent Oeko-Tex tests. oeko-tex.com  


Oeko-Tex 1000: This beefed-up version of Oeko-Tex is way more holistic in making sure the factory that makes your clothes is green. Besides not using harmful dyes on the textiles, the factory has to minimize its energy use, noise and dust pollution as well as waste water and exhaust air. There are safety standards for workers and a policy to prevent child labour. Monitored by independent  auditors.oeko-tex1000.com

Organic: This doesn’t mean anything on a product unless it’s accompanied by a recognized certified-organic label/logo. Canada doesn’t have any requirements for minimum  organic contents for personal care. Why? The feds choose to only certify food and avoid personal care altogether. Shame.

Processed Chlorine Free (PCF):
Spot this logo on recycled paper and you’ll know the recycled content wasn’tbleached with chlorine-containing compounds. This label is third-party certified (chlorinefreeproducts.org). Since original materials being recycled may have once been bleached, it doesn’t qualify as totally chlorine free.

SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative):
You might see this on paper packaging. This industry-run program of the American Forest and Paper Association doesn’t get muchR-E-S-P-E-C-T from enviros. Not only do they allow clear-cuts of up to 120 acres, but they green-light genetic engineering and the axing of old-growth forests. sfiprogram.org

Skal: This is the Netherlands’ organic certifier; you might see it onEuropean-made brands. skal.nl

Soil Association: This is a good British organic certifier that you might spot on organic cosmetics and apparel made in the U.K. soilassociation.org

Totally Chlorine Free (TCF): When this logo appears on virgin (non-recycled) paper/wood pulp products (i.e., diapers and tampons), it guarantees that the pulp that went into them wasn’t bleached withchlorine or chlorine-containing compounds. chlorinefreeproducts.or

USDA  Biobased: New label identifies products made of renewable resources that are entirely or in part biological—namely, renewable plant, animal, marine and forestry ingredients. Part of its aim, according to the USDA, is “facilitating increased U.S. energy independence  by reducing the use of petroleum in manufactured products.” Truth is, a product only needs to be 25% renewable to qualify and it doesn’t have to fess up to what percentage of its content is renewable, so it’s pretty sucky. The label’s already been accused of promoting greenwashed products. The label stems from an older federal program called BioPreferred, which encouraged federal agencies in the United Statesto buy bio-based products, thereby supporting the agricultural sector.

USDA  Organic:
If you see a natural health product or body care product with this seal on the front, it’s at least95% certified organic. Since there is no separate standard for personal care products, shampoo or lotion that carries this label actually meets the USDA food standards for organic. Certified-organic ingredients come from farms where no chemical inputs have been used for at least three years and where the focus is on using naturalpest control, crop rotation and boosting the soil’s fertility without synthetics. Note that “organic” doesn’t mean the workers were fairlypaid; only “fair trade” means that.