Product Labeling

Prices do not reflect true social and ecological costs and benefits. This makes it difficult to assess a product's ecological and social characteristics when making a purchasing decision.

Closeup of certification stamp on wood provided by Endura Hardwoods, which specializes in certified and salvaged wood products.

Product labeling systems send a clear message to the consumer about the broader lifecycle impacts of a product. By addressing the social and ecological costs and benefits of a product, product labeling provides critical information for values-based purchasing decisions. In turn, this awareness can help promote Fair Trade in products which are produced in ethical and ecologically sound ways.

Product labeling schemes provide a way for companies of all sizes to create market share by documenting their Reliable Prosperity practices. In some cases, labels allow significantly higher prices to be charged (e.g. organic produce). In other cases, labels capture a niche market (e.g. certified wood).

In order to be credible, labels and certification schemes must be independently evaluated by third parties which are widely respected for their neutrality and reliability. For instance, The Forest Stewardship Council maintains a network of regional organizations like Northwest Natural Resources Group, which in turn certify forests as Forestry.

Virtually any service or commodity can be labeled and certified. Agriculture is labeled organic, hormone-free, salmon-safe, non-genetically modified; wood is certified as sustainably harvested; tuna is certified as dolphin-safe; and Fisheries stocks are in the process of being certified as sustainably managed. Furniture can inherit a chain-of-custody certification from mills, which can inherit a chain-of-custody certification from the certified wood that it uses.

Electricity is now certified as Renewable Energy or salmon-friendly by dozens of utilities and companies. Craft products are given a fair trade certification. The U.S. Green Building Council has developed the LEED rating system for Green Building based on their environmental performance. The International Standards Organization has developed the ISO 14000 standard for certifying corporate environmental management systems. Products are given a Green Seal certification based on their overall lifecycle performance.

Ultimately, every sector of Bioregional Economies will have well-defined labeling and certification systems. Such systems allow individuals wishing to express their values and organizations following Green Procurement policies to make purchases reflecting their priorities. While they are somewhat cumbersome to establish, and often require initiative from the non-profit sector, such systems will continue to grow in importance and sophistication and earn increased acceptance in the marketplace. Over time, they will provide an important foundation for True Cost Pricing.

Participate in product labeling and certification systems that effectively document the sustainable practices associated with a product or service. When necessary, start new systems to provide an even clearer picture of social and ecological benefits. Use product labeling and certification systems to guide consumption and green procurement.