Using Ecolabels to Avoid Greenwashing

According to a 2021 study, 78% of people are more likely to purchase a product that is clearly labeled as environmentally friendly. But how do you tell if the marketing reflects the environmental impact of a product? 

Environmental labeling can take different forms and learning to identify credible claims can help you avoid greenwashing. Ecolabels, or Type I environmental labels, are certifications awarded by an impartial third-party to products that meet the required environmental criteria. The United Nations Environment Programme recognizes Type I ecolabels as the most reliable, since they evaluate a product across its entire life cycle for criteria such as toxicity, waste reduction, energy and water use, and air quality. 

Self-declared environmental claims, or Type II environmental labels, are claims made privately by a company. Often called “certification schemes”, these labels only address one aspect of a product and are not third-party certified but are still expected to be verifiable and accurate. For instance, a product claiming to be eco-friendly may fulfill one aspect – such as recyclability – but could have a larger environmental footprint in other aspects. 

Common examples include “Sustainably Sourced”, “Recycled Content”, “Biodegradable”, “Natural”, and “Green”. While looking for these claims on products is still good practice, looking for an ecolabel that certifies the product has met the environmental criteria is crucial for avoiding greenwashing. 


Ecolabels to Look For:


  • Certifies high-quality, energy-efficient products, homes, and other buildings 
  • National energy efficiency label 

U.S. EPA Safer Choice 

  • Certifies chemical products that are safer for people and the planet 
  • Often seen on cleaning products 

EPA WaterSense 

  • Products are around 20% more water-efficient than other similar products 
  • Meets EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance 


  • Global rating system for greener electronics 
  • Products are rated Gold, Silver or Bronze depending on the number of criteria met 

EPA SmartWay 

  • Certifies cars, trucks, and SUVs with the lowest greenhouse gas and smog-forming emissions 


  • Sustainability claims for products and manufacturing processes have been verified 

NSF Sustainability Certified Product 

  • Meets national or international sustainable product standards 

Green Tick 

  • Meets Green Tick Sustainability Standards 
  • Certifies products, services, and corporations based on a life-cycle assessments 


Visit Ecolabel Index for a comprehensive list of all 202 ecolabels in the United States, with images and explanations of what each one guarantees. 


Information from National Environmental Education Foundation, Ecolabel Index, EPA, The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and One Planet Network.