Energy Star, Organic, and More: Understanding Eco-Friendly Certifications

Is your organic lettuce really organic?
Is your organic lettuce really organic?

Buying eco-certified products is one key way to lower your environmental impact – but the world of certification labels isn’t always so easy to navigate. What’s really the difference between organic and certified organic? What do LEED, Greenguard, and Energy Star certifications tell you? Do you really need to buy FSC-certified wood? We're here to help your efforts to help the environment: We’ve detailed five of the most common certifications to guide you on your path to a greener life.


The Greenguard Environmental Institute focuses on “improving indoor air quality and reducing chemical exposure”, so if you’re buying something that’s Greenguard certified, you can breathe easy (literally). Look for everyday items like mattresses, furniture, and curtains – plus more specialty products like countertops, construction materials, and electronics – that minimize the quantity of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulates, and other nasty chemicals being released into your home, office, or schools.


Just because a product has the word “organic” in its name doesn’t mean that you know exactly what you’re getting. For that guarantee, you want to look for products that are certified organic by the USDA (or another certification agency). That label means that it’s not just the finished product – but also the process – that’s free of synthetic ingredients, hormones, antibiotics, and banned chemicals.

Energy Star

From refrigerators and dishwashers to dryers and office buildings, the Energy Star certification is a quick way of recognizing which products (and places) are designed to save energy. Want to know exactly how efficient that new washing machine is? The Energy Star website offers and downloadable guide to every certified product so you can see exactly how much energy you’re saving.


The U.S. Green Building Council uses the LEED certification to designate “practical and measureable green building design, construction, operations, and maintenance solutions.” It provides a standard for architects and construction companies to follow when designing sustainable buildings – tracking everything from the site’s impact on local ecosystems and the building’s efficient use of water to energy-saving options and indoor air quality.


You’ll find FSC-certification on products sourced from one kind of material: wood. It’s a certification offered by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which lets you know that the wood used – in anything from paper to construction materials and furniture to children’s toys – comes from forests that are sustainably and responsibly managed, keeping them healthy for generations to come.

More Great Links


  • Greenguard. (Mar. 17, 2013)
  • “Greenguard Environmental Institute Product Guide. Greenguard. (Mar. 17, 2013)
  • “What is organic certification?” How Stuff Works. (Mar. 17, 2013)
  • “How a Product Earns the Energy Star Label.” Energy Star. (Mar. 17, 2013)
  • “LEED.” U.S. Green Building Council. (Mar. 17, 2013)
  • “LEED Green Building Rating Systems.” U.S. Green Building Council. (Mar. 17, 2013)
  • Forest Stewardship Council. (Mar. 17, 2013)
  • “What We Do.” Forest Stewardship Council. (Mar. 17, 2013)