Certifications Guide and What Each Certification Represents
More and more frequently, manufacturers in all industries are taking steps to provide eco-friendly, green and safe products. Whether it’s the food you eat or the bed you sleep in, it’s critical to the health of the planet – and to your own health – that you perform your due diligence to ensure the products you use every day aren’t harmful to the earth or to your family.
Fortunately, companies are stepping up to the plate, offering products that are certified by third parties to be safe, environmentally responsible, socially conscious and even products that give back to the global community. It’s easy to find these products; simply look for the certification badges or labels. However, it’s not always so easy to understand what these credentials mean. To help you out, we’ve developed a guide to help you identify the certifications that do good and give back. Here’s our guide to certifications and what they represent.
Eco Friendly Certifications
The first group of certifications we’re going to explore can be classified as eco-friendly certifications. Do note, however, that while these credentials are focused primarily on the health of the planet, many also overlap into social accountability and personal health.
In this section, you’ll find organic certifications, fair trade organizations, groups that specialize in organics, non-GMOs and safe manufacturing. We’re going to examine a few of the most commonly seen certification labels on your home goods, clothing and other everyday products. Here are the top eco-friendly certifications you should look for when you’re researching your purchases.
Global Organic Textile Standard - GOTS
Label | GOTS Certified
Represents | Textiles which are ecologically, socially and toxicologically sound
What Products You Might Find This On | Clothing, Bedding, Mattresses
The first certification we’re going to look at is the GOTS label. GOTS stands for the Global Organic Textile Standard, though that name might be deceiving. If a product is certified by GOTS, that doesn’t mean it’s 100% organic. A textile needs only to have a 70% organic content to be certified by GOTS. The Global Organic Textile Standard is a collaboration between four member organizations: the Organic Trade Association in the USA, the IVN in Germany, the Soil Association in the UK and the Japanese Overseas Cooperative Association. Heads of Board of each group currently serve on the advisory council for GOTS.
What are the GOTS council looking for? In short, if your textiles are GOTS approved, they are:
Inspected on-site for fair trade practices
Mindful of waste management
Produced under socially responsible conditions
Mindful of wastewater and water footprint
Free from toxins
Constructed of at least 70% organic material
Transparent in bookkeeping to avoid social inequality and unfair labor practices
Label | CertiPUR-US Certified
Represents | Foam products, such as mattresses and furniture
What Products You Might Find This On | Mattresses, Furniture, Pillows
Next on our list of the most common eco-friendly certifications is CertiPUR-US. CertiPUR-US is different from other certifying agencies in that they focus solely on foam products. Since 2008, the group has been testing and approving foams that are used in furniture, bedding and more to ensure they’re free from harmful chemicals and safe for your family. The agency was launched because of how commonplace it had become for foam manufacturers to include harsh chemicals in their products. Chemicals that have been linked to cancer, genetic defects and even birth defects were becoming more and more frequently used, as they’re inexpensive for the manufacturer. CertiPUR-US certified foams are free from heavy metals and other toxic substances.
If your foam is CertiPUR-US certified, it is:
Free from ozone depleters
Made without dangerous flame retardants
Shown to have low VOC emissions
Shown to adhere to durability standards
USDA Certified Organic
Label | USDA Certified Organic
Represents | Natural products that are grown according to chemical free standards
What Products You Might Find This On | Food Products, Textiles, Livestock
If you’ve been to the grocery store, you’ve seen the USDA Certified Organic label. However, many people don’t realize that this label can also be affixed to clothing, bedding and much more. When you buy a product that’s certified organic by the USDA, it means the plant was grown in an environment free of chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides. The USDA Certified Organic label can be applied to livestock, too. Therefore, it’s possible your eggs, milk or even beef is USDA Certified Organic. In order to pass the USDA’s rigorous testing, an animal must be fed organic food, free from GMOs. Even the land the livestock is raised on must be completely devoid of chemicals that are on the prohibited list, including runoff.
The USDA takes its certification seriously. The organization will regularly spot check certified farms and businesses, ensuring that the organic label isn’t being misused. From the soil plants are grown in to the way products are handled as they’re being prepared to ship, the USDA Certified Organic label guarantees that your clothing, food and other products:
Promote ecological balance
Have not been exposed to chemicals that have not been approved
Have not been genetically modified
Have not eaten foods that are genetically modified, in the case of livestock
Are handled in a way that adheres to the organic standards
Are properly labeled as 100% organic, organic or made with organic ingredients
Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP)
Label | WRAP Certified
Represents | Clothing and footwear that’s ethical and fair trade
What Products You Might Find This On | Apparel, Footwear, Sewn Products
Next on the list is the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production certification, also known as WRAP. WRAP does put a bit of emphasis on environmental standards, but the organization is primarily focused on the ethical treatment of textile workers around the world. Headquartered in Virginia, WRAP has satellite offices around the world. These offices provide safety training to warehouse and factory workers, and the organization works to ensure that every worker is employed in a safe place, paid a fair wage and is ethically treated. Facilities that have chosen to become WRAP certified are regularly subject to inspections by trained auditors, and these inspections are unannounced. During an inspection, and auditor will ensure that:
Factories, warehouses and other facilities are safe for employees
No children are employed under the age of 14
Each worker is being paid a fair wage
No forced labor is present
Employees work no greater than the maximum number of hours per week permitted by law
Each employee will receive at least one day off each week
Label | bluesign Approved
Represents | Textiles and clothing that are made in eco-friendly conditions
What Products You Might Find This On | Athletic Wear, Shoes, Outdoor Gear
If your footwear or camping gear is bluesign Approved, it means that, from the beginning of the supply chain to the end, it was produced in a way that’s kind to the planet. When a company partners with bluesign, it makes a commitment to be mindful of carbon footprints and water and air emissions. The group also audits factories to ensure the safety of workers. Bluesign operates under five principles: resource productivity, consumer safety, water emission, air emission and occupational health and safety. Bluesign’s mission is to promote sustainability within the textile industry. When your apparel, outdoor gear or even your shoes are bluesign Approved, it means they:
Are minimally impactful to the environment
Are sustainably sourced and produced
Are made under fair trade conditions
Have minimal air and water emissions
Will have no negative impact on your health
Responsible Down Standard
Label | Responsible Down Standard (RDS) Certified
Represents | Down products that are created in a way that’s not harmful to animals
What Products You Might Find This On | Blankets, Coats, Pillows
Have you ever wondered just where the feathers in your down comforter come from? When your blankets, comforters, coats and pillows carry the RDS Certified label, you don’t have to worry. The Responsible Down Standard takes care to ensure that down is not sourced in a way that harms animals unnecessarily. The mission of RDS is to protect ducks and geese from cruelty. The group is also committed to protecting the environment by encouraging the use of down in products. Down is biodegradable, sustainable and highly insulating, providing natural warmth to consumers – without raising the thermostat.
RDS Certified down may come from small collectors or from industrial farms. Over 550 million birds around the world are under farm certification by Responsible Down Standard, meaning the geese and ducks are never force fed and feathers are not harvested while alive. If your down comforter or other product is RDS Certified, it means:
The feathers used in the product are cruelty-free
The down was certified through each step in the supply chain
Ducks and geese whose feathers were used were granted a quick, humane slaughter
Most ducks and geese were free to roam, and none were force fed
Sustainable Furnishings Council
Label | SFC Member
Represents | Furniture that’s kind to the earth and safe for your family
What Products You Might Find This On | Wood Furniture, Home Furnishings
The furniture industry is devastating to the environment. When you consider the wood that’s harvested, the fabrics that are used and even the finish and treatment of your favorite recliner, you’ll understand what we mean. Thankfully, more and more furniture manufacturers are choosing to become members of the Sustainable Furnishings Council. The Sustainable Furnishings Council, or SFC, is dedicated to raising awareness of the environmental impact of the furnishings industry. Through education initiatives, the SFC assists manufacturers in reducing their environmental footprint as each company grows. Based in High Point, North Carolina, the SFC partners with retailers, manufacturers, designers and suppliers to provide assurance that each piece of furniture is crafted with the earth’s health in mind.
When your furnishings are created by an SFC member, you can be sure that:
The piece was crafted with minimal energy consumption
Your furniture was sustainable sourced
Efforts were taken in production to reduce waste
Your furniture has a long life cycle
Eco-friendly finishes and treatments were used when available
Leaping Bunny Program
Label | Leaping Bunny Approved, Leaping Bunny Logo
Represents | Cruelty free and vegan products, especially cosmetics
What Products You Might Find This On | Makeup, Hair Care Products, Body Care Products
The Leaping Bunny Program ensures consumers that their skin care, hair care and cosmetics products are cruelty free and never tested on animals. The Leaping Bunny Standard was initially constructed to apply to cosmetics, but of late it’s been expanded to include household products. Many companies that have committed to the Leaping Bunny Standard offer vegan products, but leaders of each member organization have agreed that they will conduct no new testing on animals. By no “new” testing, the Leaping Bunny Program acknowledges that many ingredients have, in fact, been tested on animals in the past. However, members of the Leaping Bunny Program will not test any new ingredient or finished product on animals.
When you buy household and cosmetic products that are Leaping Bunny Approved, you’ll know that:
Your product formulation was not tested on animals
While ingredients may have been tested on animals in the past, there were no new tests performed as the product was created
The manufacturer of your product has been audited and deemed a cruelty-free company
Label | GREENGUARD Certified
Represents | Products that are sustainable and have low VOC emissions
What Products You Might Find This On | Paint, Baby Furniture, Building Materials
The aim of GREENGUARD is simple: to ensure that products like building materials, furniture and paints have very low chemical emissions. That means that when you buy a GREENGUARD Certified product, it will have very little impact on your home’s indoor air quality. GREENGUARD offers two certification types: GREENGUARD Certified and GREENGUARD Gold Certified. Both certifications are similar in that products have been tested and scientifically proven to have low emissions. However, the GREENGUARD Gold Certification is more rigorous; products that are GREENGUARD Gold Certified are safe for even the smallest of consumers.
When you buy a GREENGUARD Certified product, you’re purchasing an item that:
Has been tested and proven to have low emissions
Is safe for your indoor air quality
Will not emit formaldehyde in toxic amounts
Will reduce your family’s exposure to chemicals
Label | Fair Trade Certified
Represents | Products that are produced in socially responsible conditions
What Products You Might Find This On | Produce, Clothing, Personal Care Products
The next certification on our list is the designation offered by Fair Trade USA. When you buy a Fair Trade Certified product, you can be certain that the worker who made it was employed in a safe facility, was paid a fair wage and was not forced to work. Equal opportunity hiring practices were in place within the organization and small businesses and underprivileged communities were represented. Your purchase of a Fair Trade Certified product, whether it be a windchime for your front porch or a chocolate bar to share with your partner, supports income sustainability, community empowerment and the well being of others around the globe. In addition, most Fair Trade organizations take steps to protect the environment.
When you buy Fair Trade, you’ll know that:
Your product was crafted by an individual who was paid a sustainable wage
Your product was made under safe conditions
Your product was crafted by someone who was not forced to work
There was no child labor involved in the creation of your product
The product you’ve purchased is socially and environmentally responsible
Label | OEKO-TEX Certified, STANDARD 100 Certificate
Represents | Textiles and accessories that have been tested and proven safe for consumers
What Products You Might Find This On | Clothing, Bedding, Accessories (Zippers, Buttons)
OEKO-TEX is a worldwide, third party certifying agency that tests products for consumer safety. While some organizations solely focus on textiles, yarns and other fabric materials, the OEKO-TEX certification takes safety a step further. OEKO-TEX standardizes safety for raw materials, semi-finished and finished products. That means that even the buttons on your favorite organic cotton blouse have to be deemed safe to meet the OEKO-TEX Standard. Textiles and finished products which are certified by OEKO-TEX have met criteria the organization calls the STANDARD 100. Heavy metals, emissions, dyes and chemicals are considered. The group even tests baby products by mimicking infant habits with a synthetic saliva. Color fastness and the probability of skin absorption are tested for.
Your OEKO-TEX Certified garment or textile product is:
Safe for babies if it meets OEKO-TEX product class I standards
Free from toxins and heavy metals
Low emission for a better indoor air quality
Responsible to the planet
Give Back Certifications
In some cases, your favorite manufacturer of retailer may decide it’s not just enough to craft products in a safe, eco-friendly way. Sometimes, a business may choose to do more by giving back to organizations that support the planet, social causes and awareness of other global issues.
If you’re looking to make a purchase that will give back to the global community, here are the certifications you should be looking for.
1% for the Planet
Label | 1% for the Planet
Represents | Manufacturers and retailers who donate a percentage of profits to charity
What Products You Might Find This On | Mattresses, Clothing, Food, Sporting Equipment, Flowers
1% for the Planet was launched in 200 by the CEO of Patagonia and the founder of Blue Ribbon Flies. Chouinard and Mathews together settled on a simple premise. Companies benefit and profit from the resources they take from the planet. Wouldn’t it make sense that those same companies protect those resources? Since its inception, 1% for the Planet has gained almost 2,000 members. These partnering businesses commit to donating 1% of all gross sales to a charity of their choice, which has been vetted and deemed socially and ecologically responsible by 1% for the planet. Some of our favorite businesses are 1% members, including Honest Tea, Avocado Green Mattress and, of course, Patagonia!
When the product you buy is made by a 1% for the Planet member, you can rest assured that:
A portion of your purchase price will benefit charities
Each charity donated to has been vetted to be a legitimate non-profit
The eco-footprint of your product will be offset through a donation to an earth-friendly organization
The manufacturer of your product is conscious of social and ecological concerns
U.S. Forest Service
Label | U.S. Forest Service
Represents | Businesses that support the U.S. government’s efforts to preserve the nation’s forests
What Products You Might Find This On | Furniture, Landscaping Products, Paper Products
The U.S. Forest certification is twofold. First a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service indicates that a business has committed to preserving forest resources. Furniture makers, manufacturers of paper products and textiles companies have joined with the U.S. Forest Service, a part of the Department of Agriculture to implement and improve sustainable practices. The second facet of the program is the U.S. Forest Service itself. The organization works with public and private groups to develop innovations in building, wood energy and even disaster prevention efforts using wood. Each program initiated has low harvest rates, offers reforestation solutions and operates sustainably.
When you find products with the U.S. Forest Service certification, you’ll know:
Minimal trees were harvested in its production
Manufacturers have taken efforts to implement reforestation solutions
Tribal communities are supported and included
Your product was created with a respect for wildlife and their habitats
Label | OCEARCH Supporter
Represents | Manufacturers and retailers who support OCEARCH’s efforts to improve the health of our oceans
What Products You Might Find This On | Swimwear, Beer, Athletic Apparel
OCEARCH is more than just a non-profit. The non-profit was formed to help scientists track data about the ocean and its wildlife, relying on individuals and organizations for collaboration. OCEARCH sponsors educational programs in communities and schools around the world; a class favorite is the Shark Tracker which allows students to track their favorite shark, right from the classroom. A part of the success of OCEARCH depends on businesses donations. You can choose to donate directly, but there are quite a few companies you may already shop which give to OCEARCH regularly, including Costa, Southern Tide and Cisco Brewers, creator of Shark Tracker Lager.
When you shop businesses that support OCEARCH, you are:
Supporting one of the most successful ocean research products
Contributing to a global education about the health of our oceans
Helping fun further research products by a global community of 174 scientists
Equal Means Equal
Label | Equal Means Equal Supporter
Represents | Individuals and businesses that support a Constitutional amendment for equal rights for women
What Products You Might Find This On | Media Publications, Company Press Releases for a Variety of Industries
The founders of Equal Means Equal believe that women are suffering a crisis, both globally and right at home in the United States. Kamala Lopez, along with ERA activists, the Blue State Digital Team and grassroots supporters are fighting to change that. The mission of Equal Means Equal is to add a gender equality clause to the Constitution. The group is comprised of women and men of all nationalities, and includes business organizations as well as individuals. Supporters you may be familiar with include World YWCA, League of Women Voters and Sierra Club.
When your business supports Equal Means Equal, you can be assured that:
The business is committed to the empowerment and equality of women at home and abroad
Your support furthers the fight for passing the Equal Rights Amendment on a national level
Certifications for Health
For our final section, we felt it necessary to explore one more certification that seems to be in a category of its own: health. If you’re eating clean, whole foods then those foods are considered to be natural. However, more and more large scale farmers are beginning to ship GMOs to your local grocery store. Here’s a certification we feel you should look for to protect your health and the health of your family.
Label | Non-GMO Project Verified
Represents | Products that use no genetically modified organisms throughout the entire supply chain
What Products You Might Find This On | Cottons, Meat Products, Produce, Dairy Products
If you’re not familiar, a GMO is a genetically modified organism. Farmers, in the interest of increasing crop yield, decreasing costs and developing resistance to disease, as well as a host of other reasons, have been using GMOs increasingly, and studies show that it’s not good for our health! GMOs have been linked to immune system damage, organ damage and infertility. They’ve been shown to accelerate the aging process and traces of GMO material has been found in the DNA of healthy bacteria as well as unborn fetuses. In short, it’s not good news for your health. GMOs are bad news for the planet, too. GMOs aren’t naturally found in an ecosystem, they damage the habitats of wildlife. They’re herbicide resistant, therefore causing farmers to use more herbicides. Furthermore, GMOs can cross pollinate and spread their seeds, causing an ongoing effect of pollution.
To avoid GMO products for you and your family, look for the Non-GMO Project Verified label. You’ll find it on textiles, product, meat products and more. When you buy non-GMO, you’ll know that:
Your purchase is GMO free throughout the entire supply chain, including livestock feed
Each product has met a standard that’s consistent and uniform
Choose What’s Important To Your Family and Look For The Certification Label
Of course, you want to buy products that you love. We feel, though, as if it’s also important to pay attention to the certifications and labels your purchases have earned. Whether you’re in search of a safe foam that your infant can sleep soundly on, or a pair of sunglasses that benefits ocean research, you’ll find it on this list. There are dozens of certifications available to retailers and manufacturers. Choose what’s important to you and your family, then just look for the label!
Shana Thompson is a full time professional writer and editor. Shana has worked extensively in the fields of content marketing, on-page and off-page SEO (guest posts, backlink acquisition), and creative writing. As an experienced pro content writer, Shana has worked on several magazines, publishing companies and marketing agencies. Many recent projects have included everything from nutrition and health services, where a lot of research and citations were needed, to writing about health, sustainable, eco-friendly products.
Follow Shana at Shana Thompson | @STx3Content / shanathompson.com