The Washington Post has an infographic on the incredible number of green labels flooding the marketplace in recent years. Fair Trade, Certified Naturally Grown, Energy Star, FSC, LEED, OTCO, EPEAT.... How do you keep it all straight?
You don't. Based on a survey by the World Resources Institute, Duke University and the green analyst Big Room Inc., 600 labels worldwide dispatch some sort of eco -benchmark; 80 of those are in the United States. As the chart shows, topping the list are food (90); retail (74); buildings (64); and miscellaneous industry (79), including things like pest control. This has spawned all sorts of turf wars between environmentalists about whose label reigns supreme.
More importantly, we no longer have any easy way to tell between honest intent and greenwashing. Most certification systems aren't regulated at all, so unless you have a lot of time on your hands, it's impossible to determine which are best. Coffee that's USDA Organic or Fair Trade? Wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or the Sustainable Forestry Initiative? Even if something has a green cert, how do you know it actually meets the standard? And with so many different labels on the books, how could you possibly keep track? Systems that were supposed to make it easier for us to consume responsibly have actually made it harder. And while rating groups like the Good Guide cut through all the B.S., there's still no obvious solution for the store shelf, where decisions are actually being made.