Guide to Sustainable Packaging Certifications and Labels
Certifications are used to hold brands accountable for their environmental impact. Learn about common certifications and labels for sustainable packaging.
Sustainability can be difficult for brands to measure. Each company has their own set of goals, and priorities vary widely across different industries. Even companies that work hard to lessen their environmental impact may have troubling conveying these strides to their customers.
Sustainability certifications offer a standardised way of measuring the sustainability performance of a brand’s packaging. These certifications are not only useful for tracking your company’s progress towards environmental goals—they can also be used to help potential customers recognize you as an eco-friendly brand.
Sustainable Packaging Certifications and Labels
Featuring sustainability certifications on your website or printing an eco-friendly label directly onto your packaging can go a long way in terms of communicating corporate social responsibility to customers.
Listed below are some of the most frequently used sustainable packaging certifications and labels. For more options that may be available to your brand, visit the EcoLabel Index. This database features a list of over 40 labels that signify environmentally friendly packaging. In addition to the certifications listed here, it may be worthwhile to investigate if there are any local or industry-specific sustainability coalitions that your brand could join.
Becoming a B Corporation is about a lot more than just packaging—it involves a holistic assessment of your company’s sustainability performance. According to the B Lab website, “Certified B Corporations are leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy.”
Certified B Corporations go through a rigorous assessment process that examines the company’s environmental and social performance. In order to maintain B Corp status, you’ll need to go through a recertification process every three years.
Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI)
The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) offers a Compostable logo for products that meet certain standards for compostability. According to their website, BPI is the only third-party organisation in North America that verifies ASTM standards for compostable products.
To have your packaging certified by the BPI, you need to undergo testing and a technical review. There are also several eligibility requirements you must meet before applying—for example, your packaging needs to be able to be composted without being disassembled.
Underwriter’s Laboratories’ ECOLOGO Certification is provided to products and services that have been shown to reduce environmental impact. The verification process is based on a life-cycle assessment of the materials that make up the product.
The ECOLOGO certification is offered for a variety of different types of products, including paper and paperboard.
European Bioplastics is an association dedicated to creating a more sustainable future by raising awareness for renewable materials. The European Bioplastics Seedling label is a symbol for compostability. Packaging bearing this label communicates to consumers that the product is made from sustainable bioplastics and can be composted under the right conditions.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) offers some of the most well-known sustainable packaging certifications. If packaging displays the FSC certification label, it means that the paper used to create the packaging was obtained through responsible forestry.
There are several types of FSC certifications that packaging suppliers can obtain:
- FSC 100%: Material used in the product was exclusively sourced from FSC-certified forests.
- FSC Recycled: The product consists of 100% recycled content, thereby reducing the demand for the sourcing of virgin materials.
- FSC Mix: The product is made from a mixture of materials from FSC-certified forests and recycled materials.
Companies who want to print the FSC label on their packaging must adhere to strict standards outlined by the FSC.
Global GreenTag is a widely recognized environmentally friendly label for many different types of products, including packaging materials. Global GreenTag International—the organisation behind the label—wants to build trust into the marketplace by making it easier for consumers to identify eco-friendly products. The organisation emphasises its dedication to trustworthiness by following an independent certification process and requiring full disclosure of every material that goes into a product.
European brands can print the Green Dot symbol on their packaging if they have made a financial contribution to a qualified national packaging recovery company. The packaging recovery organisation must follow a certain set of principles laid out by EU directives, and there are strict guidelines regarding how the symbol can be used. Ultimately, the Green Dot symbol is meant to show that brands support the collection, sorting and recovery of household packaging.
Do your customers know how to recycle your packaging? You can clearly communicate recycling instructions to end consumers with How2Recycle, a standardised North American labelling system. The labels include information such as how to prepare materials for recycling and which parts of the product are recyclable. Before you can print these labels on your packaging, you’ll need to become a member of the How2Recycle program.
On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL)
In the U.K., the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) is used to help customers determine how to reuse and recycle products. The labels strive to be simple and consistent. If a product is not able to be recycled, this is stated clearly on the label.
Similar to How2Recycle in the U.S., brands need to become a member of the organisation before printing the label onto their packaging. There are memberships available for retailers, brands and packaging manufacturers.
Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC)
The Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) protects forests across the world by certifying sustainable forest management programs. Brands and retailers can obtain PEFC labels for their packaging by sourcing paper products from PEFC-certified forests. If your suppliers are already certified by the PEFC, you can request that they add a label to their packaging products.
Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) offers a variety of certifications, all of which are focused on promoting sustainable management of forests. Their on-product labels are intended to help customers choose products that come from responsibly managed forests. These types of labels tell buyers that the fibre in a product comes from either recycled content or from a SFI-certified forest.
WMU’s Recycling Pilot Plant
West Michigan University (WMU) has launched a certification for recyclable materials. The university operates a large-scale recycling facility that processes a variety of post-consumer waste, but the facility doubles as a testing lab. They can test packaging that is sent to them and determine whether it is possible to make paper from your recycled fibre.
Are Eco-Friendly Certifications and Labels Worthwhile?
Obtaining sustainable packaging certifications can be time-consuming—and sometimes costly, if the organisation requires you to pay a fee—but there are numerous benefits for brands:
- Sustainability performance: By taking steps to meet certification requirements, you can reduce carbon emissions, eliminate packaging waste and support sustainable forestry. Earning the certification can help you make a positive impact on the environment and work towards your brand’s sustainability goals.
- Consumer preference: Consumers are more likely to support brands that display a commitment to sustainability. By highlighting your sustainable packaging certifications either on your website or on the packaging itself, you can drive home your brand values and connect with eco-minded consumers.
- User experience: Packaging with clear recycling labels is more user-friendly, since consumers know exactly which parts can and cannot be recycled. This can reduce confusion for your customers.
Questions to ask before pursuing a packaging certification
Before you apply for a sustainable packaging certification or label, ask yourself if the potential benefits will outweigh the time and costs involved.
Here are a few questions to ask as you research certifications and labels:
- What is the process of obtaining the certification?
- How long will it take to obtain the certification, and will you need to get recertified after a certain period of time?
- Does the administering organisation charge an application fee or membership fee?
- What are the organisation’s rules regarding displaying the certification logo on your products?
- Once you get permission to use the label, how will printing the label onto your packaging affect production costs?
Work With a Sustainable Packaging Partner
Finding a sustainable packaging partner that is aligned with your environmental goals can be a great first step for improving the sustainability of your packaging. If you want to leverage sustainable certifications and labels to your customers, then consider looking for a packaging partner that has earned their own recognition.
Billerud has earned certification from Underwriter’s Laboratories’ ECOLOGO program. To see how Billerud Managed Packaging could help you develop an environmentally friendly packaging program, reach out to our packaging experts today.
For more information on sustainable packaging and its environmental and business benefits, download our eBook, How Packaging Contributes to a More Sustainable Future.