Searching for Sustainability Seals

The IFIC Foundation’s 2018 Food and Health Survey indicates that many consumers want to purchase environmentally sustainable food and beverage products. But how can we find these “enviro-friendly” goods in our local markets and grocery stores? One way is to be on the lookout for sustainability labels.

While the absence of these labels does not mean a product was not sustainably produced, they can clue us in a bit on the sustainability steps (i.e. those that support the welfare of people and the planet) the manufacturer has taken while bringing their product to market.

To learn more about sustainability labels, read on.

Fairtrade Mark: The Fairtrade Mark is a certification label found on over 30,000 products worldwide to signify upholding internationally agreed-upon Fairtrade Standards. These standards, which apply to farmers, workers and traders, are intended “to address the imbalance of power in trading relationships, unstable markets and the injustices of conventional trade.”

The Fairtrade System, which works to uphold the integrity of the Fairtrade Mark, is made up of these key aspects:

  • All parties involved in the food supply chain, including farmers and workers, have an equal voice in Fairtrade governance matters
  • There is a consistent minimum price for all products to be sold, which is called the “Fairtrade Minimum Price.” This helps farmers cover the costs of production and earn a reasonable profit to support their operations.
  • Producer organizations and farmers directly receive a “Fairtrade Premium.” The producers and farmers can invest these funds to improve their community, business or local environment.

Rainforest Alliance Logo: The Rainforest Alliance began with a focus on rainforest conservation, but now their efforts focus on maintaining various ecosystems around the world and supporting the farmers who produce our food. The Alliance works in North America, South America, Africa and Asia. The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal can be given to a “farm, forest, or tourism enterprise [that] has been audited to meet standards that require environmental, social, and economic sustainability.” There are also a number of consumer goods products that carry the certification seal, from chocolate, coffee, and ice cream to facial tissues, soap and furniture.

In order for products to become certified, farms and manufacturers must meet the criteria of the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard. To do so, farms are audited regularly to verify compliance with the Standard’s comprehensive requirements, which incorporate principles such as biodiversity conservation, along with improving human well-being and improving natural-resource conservation.

The Rainforest Alliance is also one of the founding members of the Forest Stewardship Council, the “largest sustainable forestry standard-setter in the world.” Products that carry the FSC mark and the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal are sourced from forests that practice a number of environmental and humanitarian activities such as protecting endangered species and forest areas of high conservation value, setting aside a portion of land as a forest reserve, and providing workers with livable wages.

Ethically Sourced Logos: There are different variations of ethically sourced logos that are used by companies to indicate environmental and social stewardship in the making and delivery of products.  With so many variations of this logo, we did a bit of digging to see if there was an actual certification program established for the use of this claim. By golly, we found one!

There is an Ethical Sourcing Standard that has been established by the Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI). Similar to the Fairtrade Mark and Rainforest Alliance Certification seal, the SQFI standard seal can be used by producers who have been audited and meet designated “ethical-sourcing criteria.”

SQFI’s standard is used by companies that are committed to demonstrating ethical and transparent practices in food production. SQFI states that their standard “signifies a commitment by food suppliers to social and environmental requirements in the food industry, such as wage compliance, restrictions on child labor, occupational health and safety, pollution prevention, air emissions management and wage management.”

If you happen to be a “sustainability sleuth,” then during your next stroll to the market you may quickly spot some of these labels. Luckily, there are a large variety of products and companies that are actively showing their commitment to the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants.