Live for Less contributor Nicole Lutze navigates the brand names and organisations in the world of conscious consumerism and ethical trading.

Every time we spend our money, we cast a vote. Our dollars decide which companies we want to support, and which values and practices we accept right down the supply chain.

To help consumers make informed decisions a plethora of certification councils exist, offering alliances and logos to companies based on adherence to set standards.

But in this age of greenwashing, how do we know the value of their logo? Let’s take a look at some of the most common, and a few of the less familiar certification councils in Australia and demystify the world of conscious consumerism.

image: (c) Eric St-Pierre

Fairtrade

Founded in 1992 by Oxfam and several other charities, the Fairtrade International Foundation is a not-for-profit British certifier offering a snazzy black, blue and green logo to companies utilising Fairtrade certified suppliers.

Owned 50% by producers representing farmer and workers organisations, the foundation standards are internationally applicable and centre around the protection of workers rights, children and the environment.

Fairtrade affiliation offers a fixed minimum price for producers, to help stabilise the impact of wavering marketplaces. If the marketplace is paying at a higher rate, a higher price should in turn be paid.

Typically associated with chocolate, coffee and tea, its certification can also be found in the realms of fashion, sports goods and even gold.

Rainforest Alliance

Aiming to conserve biodiversity through sustainable land and business practices, the New York based certifier Rainforest Alliance has strengthened over its 31 year existence and now has roots in more than 70 countries.

The green frog logo was chosen because of the frog’s natural capacity to indicate the health of an environment, and the Rainforest Alliance offers certification in agriculture, forestry and tourism. Unlike Fairtrade, no minimum market price is offered to affiliates.

B Corp

The B Corp certification is to sustainable business what Fairtrade is to coffee.

It’s a global community of more than 2400 businesses who meet rigorous assessment qualifiers such as governance, transparency, environmental and social impacts. They attract businesses who understand they have a responsibility to the community and the planet and want to make sure they achieve those responsibilities.

Some Brisbane-based B Corp businesses include Food Connect and Biome.

Free Range

Typically associated with eggs, and conjuring images of pasture-roaming farm animals, the 2017 national free range standard sets no mandate for hens to spend time outdoors, and allows 10,000 laying ladies to be squashed into a hectare.

The CSIRO suggests a better alternative at 1,500 hens per outdoor hectare.

Because the national standards are lacking on so many levels, it’s best to do your homework in advance or look for brands promoting their adherence to the 1,500 quota. In regards to free range meat, the marketplace is even murkier. There is no legal definition of free range meat in Australia, and even RSPCA certification doesn’t offer outdoor time to animals. If you want to buy meat with a guarantee of humane farming, Organic Certification is your best route. CHOICE magazine also has a free app for phones: CluckAR – The Free Range Egg Detector App.

Organic

Just like free range, there is no Australian legislation around the use of ‘organic’.

To avoid greenwashing your best bet is to stick to organic certifiers approved by the Australian Department of Agriculture such as Australian Certified Organic (ACO). The ACO logo is basically the king-pin of conscious consumerism and guarantees your product will actually be free range, pasture fed, cruelty free, socially responsible and grown free from synthetic pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification. The only problem being the cost and duration of certification for farmers, and the higher price tag for consumers.

Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an international non-profit organisation addressing the unsustainable nature of commercial fishing.

Any seafood that bears the blue ‘certified sustainable seafood’ label of the MSC must meet three overarching criteria based on maintaining sustainable fish stocks, environmental impact, and effective management in relation to meeting local, national and international laws.

Forest Stewardship Council

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a 25-year-old German founded non-profit membership service for companies who supply timber or paper derived products.

Think furniture, timber sold at hardwares, copy paper and even tissues. The FSC is founded and run by a dynamic group of environmentalists, social interest groups, indigenous people’s organisations, retailers and forest management companies. It has 10 principles which businesses must adhere to, based on care of animals, plants, workers, communities and indigenous groups.

Like most certification schemes, it’s not perfect, and has been criticised by companies big and small, including Greenpeace and one the FSC’s own founding members, Simon Counsel, now the director of the Rainforest Foundation. From all accounts it seems the FSC has taken this criticism on board and made improvements over the past decade, continuing to help retailers source sustainable products or improve sustainability of their existing suppliers.