All the Pretty Logos – What do they ACTUALLY mean?

There are so many marketing terms on food and beauty products, suggesting those products are better for the environment and/or better for society.  Some of the terms and labels are regulated to verify that the company follows the ethical practices.  But some terms are not regulated at all, and we may not meet our expectations for these terms.  The terms “Fair Trade” and “Ethical Trade” are certified from different groups that have different requirements.  “All Natural,” “Green, ” and “Environmentally Friendly” mean not be what you expect.  The concern is where advertising is misleading and unethical practices continue without reform.  Some companies claim to be socially responsible, but they continue to source materials from unethical producers.  If the company is not willing to submit for certification of defined practices, how can we trust their claims of socially responsible.


The Eco Trade Logo is certified by a North American group and their standards can be reviewed here, and in general certifies that production addresses multiple environmental attributes throughout the entire life cycle of the product or service.  The terms “Green,” “Natural,” and “Environmentally Friendly” are not regulated and do not provide a similar assurance of ethical practices.

Human Rights

Here is a simple definition of commonly used terms:

  • Fair Trade – greater equity in international trade by offering better trading conditions and securing rights for marginalized producers and workers.
  • Ethical Trading – fair labor and socially responsible practices reaching throughout supply chain.
  • Social Responsibility – being accountable for actions and decisions on others and the natural environment.
  • Sustainable Consumption – making and/or using a product with concern about environmental impact.

The FLO International Fairtrade certification system covers a growing range of products, including bananas, honey, oranges, cocoa, coffee, shortbread, cotton, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables, juices, nuts and oil seeds, quinoa, rice, spices, sugar, tea and wine.  The Fair Trade Certified Mark is regulated by Fair Trade USA. It appears on products as an independent guarantee that disadvantaged producers in the developing world are getting a better deal.

The Ethical Trade Initiative (UK based) has a list of member companies but does not have a logo for certified companies.  One of my favorite brands of tea includes a logo and the term “Ethical Trade” but is not included on the member list.  This term is not regulated or certified in the US, so it will take more research for me to verify the claims by this tea company.

Socially Responsible does not currently have a certification.  ISO 26000 or simply ISO SR was just released by the International Standardization Organization and only offers guidance, not requirements.

Social Accountability is regulated by Social Accountability International 8000 SA8000 which defines the set of principles to meet certification.

Animal Cruelty

  • Leaping Bunny has a voluntary pledge from product manufacturers.  The company is suppose to open up their product line for independent audit.  You can search their list of products.
  • Or check out GEARI – Group for the Education of Animal-Related Issues for a list of Companies that do not Test on Animals


Whole Wheat does not mean that it’s whole grain, you have to check the package listing of ingredients.  Multi-grain can also be misleading.  All (wheat) flour comes from wheat, it’ just has been stripped of the most nutritious part of the wheat kernel.  Some prepared foods use a little bit of whole grain in the ingredients, but still have more bleached flour in the recipe.  You have to look for 100% whole grain to get the most healthy version.  This is why people sometimes add wheat germ to a recipe.  Sometimes they use unbleached flour to make it look healthier, but the flour is otherwise the same as white flour.



Deceiving or Unverified Logos:


Unfortunately there is a delay in the governmental requirement for sunscreen to have clear language so that consumers can understand what they are purchasing.  Maybe by next summer?

How to Verify this information:

Other Blog Posts on this subject:

Check out Good Guide for an evaluation of health, environment, and social impacts for a particular product.


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