A Conscious Consumer’s Guide to Decoding Labels

by | Apr 20, 2021 | Environment, Food, Lifestyle

Labels: they’re everywhere. You find them on food, apparel, cleaning products, bedding and more. We may know they’re important, but what do they actually mean? To help you feel more confident about purchasing products that are healthy for you, beneficial for your community, and sustainable for the planet we’ve created a quick guide to five certifications you will commonly find on product labels. It’s important to know exactly who and what you’re financially supporting with your purchases, and how to seek out companies that align with your values.


B Corp

B Corporations are companies committed to using their profits for good. To be a certified B Corporation, a company must achieve a minimum score on the B Corp impact assessment, which takes into account a company’s impact on its workers, its customers, the community, and the environment. Companies are held to legal accountability, performance verification, and public transparency standards throughout the assessment process with questions such as “What percent of energy was saved in the last year for your corporate facilities?” and “Do you have a worker health and safety committee that helps monitor and advise on occupational health and safety programs?”

B Corp certification is beneficial because it holds companies accountable for their environmental impact, encouraging them to strive for a lesser  one. Public transparency is another great component of the certification, as it prevents companies from hiding illegal or unethical actions they perform in the creation of their products, guaranteeing that you are purchasing a product that is responsibly produced. When you’re supporting a B Corp, you’re supporting companies that value their employees and the planet as much as their profits. 

B Corp brands we like: Klean Kanteen, Guayaki, PatagoniaEquator Coffee


Fair Trade

Fair Trade certified companies provide safe working conditions, sustainable livelihoods, living wages, and community development funds for their workers in all parts of the process. Two Fair Trade certifications that we work with are Fair Trade USA and Fair World Project, both of which promote sustainable livelihoods and development as well as ample support for workers. Fair Trade labels ensure that products are being purchased from small-scale farmers at a specific minimum price, and they support economic policy that promotes the rights of farmers worldwide. 

Fair Trade certification recognizes that no workers were exploited in the creation of a company’s product, and that the company maintains healthy and mutual partnerships with its workers, particularly those in different countries. Through Fair Trade standards, companies also commit to sustainable practices in all steps of the creation of their product, ensuring that environmental impact is low. Purchasing Fair Trade items is a great way to demonstrate your support for an equitable global trade system. 

Fair Trade brands we like: Dr. Bronner’s, Coyuchi, Numi Organic Tea, Terra Thread


USDA Organic Certified

Foods certified as USDA Organic are grown and processed along certain guidelines, including pest control, soil quality, and animal raising practices. All products are made without pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Organic farmers utilize practices that maintain and improve fertility, soil structure and biodiversity, and reduce erosion, reducing the risk of exposure to toxins for humans, animals, and the environment.

USDA certified products are helpful to the environment because barring pesticide use allows local insect populations to stay at healthy levels and keeps consumers like you from ingesting harmful chemicals. Avoiding pesticides also prevents contaminated runoff from occurring, protecting the plants, ecosystems, people that are downstream from farms, and the farmers and workers growing  the produce.  Organic plants and animals are raised through healthy, nontoxic methods, meaning that consuming them will be nontoxic for you. 

USDA Organic Certified brands we like: Patagonia Provisions, Amy’s Kitchen, NatracareRW Garcia


Climate Neutral Certified

This is a standard earned by companies that offset and reduce all of their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in carbon reduction and removal projects. In order to be certified, the company must also have implementation plans in place to reduce future emissions. 

The Climate Neutral Certification program holds companies accountable for the amount of carbon they’re emitting, and by obtaining this certification they demonstrate that they are putting in the effort to decrease their carbon footprint. Because corporations and companies contribute so much to the world’s carbon emissions, it’s great to have Climate Neutral Certified companies that are working alongside individuals to lessen their impact.

Climate Neutral Certified brands we like: Chico Bag, All Good, Klean KanteenNisolo.


Made Safe Certified

To qualify for Made Safe certification, a product must be free of many harmful ingredients, including carcinogens, neurotoxins, heavy metals, and endocrine disruptors. The certification website contains both a “banned substances” and “hazard substances” list, composed of substances that products cannot have in them in order to be Made Safe certified and substances that the label recommends avoiding. Made Safe products are exactly what they sound like: made safe for the consumer to keep them happy and healthy with the use of those products. 

Many products these days are full of chemicals that are harmful to both the users and the environment. Made Safe products are great alternatives to these because they won’t harm you in the short or long term, and they won’t negatively impact the environment in their production or disposal. Check out Made Safe’s chemical profiles to learn more about the chemicals used in many everyday products and keep you and your loved ones healthy. 

Made Safe Certified brands we like: Naturepedic, True Botanicals, PuraMeliora.


With this label decoding toolkit, you are now ready to take on healthy and eco-friendly shopping! Labels may be overwhelming at first, but with the impact that they have, you can continue your personal environmental activism while holding companies accountable for their environmental impact as well. As we approach a potential turning point for climate change, it is time to start shopping consciously and investing in products that protect the Earth and the people and all living things who call it home.



  • Karina Zimmerman

    Karina Zimmerman is a sophomore at Wellesley College double majoring in Latin American Studies and Environmental Studies with a focus on ecology. Her love for the natural world grew throughout her childhood in the Pacific Northwest, where she enjoys hiking and skiing in the mountains and boogie boarding at the beach. Karina’s favorite area of sustainability is sustainable fashion, and she loves teaching others about the positive impacts of thrift shopping and upcycling clothing on the environment. In her free time, she loves to read, bake, and knit!