With more and more people looking to shop more sustainably and ethically, many are finding a barrier when trying to decode what all the product labels actually mean. Products display labels such as green, eco-friendly or fairly made, so its no wonder shoppers are confused.

Using the Eco Label Index you can find a total of 87 different labels in use in the UK that identify the sustainability of a product.

Eco-labels can mean different things between manufacturers. Eco-labels can be useful for helping you choose a more ethical product when shopping in-store or online, and help you choose products that are doing more to reduce their negative impacts on people and the planet.

Labels such as organic, sustainable, cruelty-free and fair trade-certified are common, but unfortunately, there are no universally regulatory standards or definitions for individual eco claims. This means that there is a huge variation in what each label stands for.

A sustainable farming label from one manufacturer may state they’re using sustainable farming techniques, whereas from another it could mean recycled packaging is used or that the product is biodegradable.

Some manufacturers are even known to ‘greenwash’ their products and misrepresent how sustainable or ethical they actually are, undermining the trustworthiness of eco-labelling claims.

Fast fashion giant H&M has recently come under fire for greenwashing and is the subject of a new lawsuit in the US for allegedly marketing products as environmentally friendly when they are not.

Part of the legal complaint highlights their use of “misleading” environmental scorecards, which have been prominently displayed on green hang tags, in-store signage, and online marketing.

Many don’t believe that the cheap-and-fast fashion business model can ever be sustainable no matter how much of its cotton is organic and recycled. Higg’s CEO, Jason Kibbey, hits back at this notion. “If you just try to make it exclusive, so that cute little boutique brands with cool young founders are the only ones that are sustainable, you’re not moving the needle,” he says.

Higg’s CEO, Jason Kibbey

The bottom line is to trust genuine ecolabels but tries to make sure you have some basic understanding of what the more common labels mean.

The Eco Label Index is a great place to start and gives you a small amount of information on each of the eco-labels currently being used in your country. If you have time, try to make really informed decisions about what you buy by researching on informative websites such as Ethical Consumer, Ethical Shopping Guide, Mother Jones etc.