A Closer Look at Wildlife-Friendly Ecolabels

These days, it seems like nearly everything in the supermarket is good for the environment in one way or another.  Over the past decade, more and more companies have jumped onto the “green bandwagon” to collect a premium on products that claim to contribute to environmental protection.

Wildlife-friendly ecolabels are a popular choice for companies because wild animals are a charismatic, tangible, and marketable part of the environment.

Given the hundreds of wildlife-friendly products crowding the shelves, there is increasing demand for methods that can assess the environmental significance of these claims.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin divides wildlife-friendly ecolabels into three categories – supportive, persuasive, and protective – to help discriminate between claims.
“Supportive” ecolabels donate some percentage of revenues to conservation organizations.  One example is Endangered Species Chocolate, which claims that “10% of net profits [are] donated to help support species, habitat and humanity.”  Verifying the claims for this category is compromised by the transfer of funds to a third-party recipient who is usually not accountable to consumers.

“Persuasive” ecolabels claim to improve production methods in a way that eliminates threats to wildlife, but do not assess actual conservation of wildlife.  Although the persuasive category is more transparent and environmentally effective than the supportive one, this type of ecolabel bases its certification requirements on assumptions about threats to wildlife without testing how reduction of perceived threats affects the survival of wildlife.  Tuna labeled as “Dolphin Safe” is an example of a persuasive ecolabel.  Under this label, tuna companies must adopt practices that reduce bycatch of dolphins, but the companies are not required to measure how these fishing methods influence dolphin populations.

“Protective” ecolabels certify wildlife conservation by assessing whether reduction of threats enhances wildlife populations. Tiger Friendly-certified medicinal herbs are an example of a protective ecolabel. This category is the most meaningful to wildlife because it matches the recommendations of the latest conservation science. By following the scientific method, protective ecolabels can verify that they actually help humans and wildlife coexist.  However, proving that producers increase survival of wildlife is costly, time-consuming, and logistically challenging.  As a result, protective ecolabels are the rarest of the three categories.

The study categorizes 25 common wildlife-friendly ecolabels.  To categorize an ecolabel not included in the study, visit the certifier’s website and review its standards and methodologies.  You can also learn more about the label on Consumer Reports Greener Choices.

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(Image courtesy of kateboydell at flickr under a Creative Commons license)

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