Navigating the world as an eco-conscious consumer is easier said than done: greenwashing has become so sophisticated that it’s often difficult to spot.
If you’re serious about supporting brands that are considerate to our planet, the plants and the animals, it’s important to understand the meaning and limitations of credentials and certifications.
Sometimes, it’s not straightforward. Here are a few pointers you might find helpful when making your next purchasing decision.
Look for accreditations or certifications that have been independently verified by a well-known and reputable organisation. Many brands create their own home-made logos to emulate a well known one, so don’t be fooled. But that’s only part of it. Unless you really take the time to read the fine print, you may be surprised by the standards that are being applied in areas that are important to you.
Some Clever Loopholes
Certified organic claims
Many people may not know that the organic standard for cosmetics changed recently, with a more ‘cosmetic friendly’ COSMOS standard now applicable in Australia and elsewhere. One big change is that COSMOS organic certification allows for chemically processed (synthetic) ingredients to be included as part of the total organic input. This means that synthetic ingredients like emulsifiers, detergents, thickeners and preservatives can be deemed ‘organic’ if some of their original input was organic. Surprisingly, a COSMOS certified organic product may contain as little as 20% organic ingredients, of which all could be synthetic. COSMOS organic certificaton also permits use of petrochemical derivatives. You can find the Cosmos organic standard here.
In contrast, NASAA, which certifies Mokosh products, does not permit synthetic ingredients to be counted towards the organic percentage, and requires a minimum of 95% certified organic ingredients. Petrochemicals and a range of other potentially harmful ingredients are not permitted. NASAA applies the same organic standard to cosmetics that it applies to food. Find the NASAA standard here.
Certified Sustainable Palm Oil versus Certified Palm Oil Free
In order to try to limit the clearing of native forest for palm oil production, which is a significant cause of both greenhouse emissions and animal and plant extinctions, standards for certified sustainable palm oil were introduced as early as 2004. However, a recent study showed that most of the certified sustainable palm oil in Borneo and Sumatra was grown on land that was biodiverse tropical forest less than 30 years ago (1). The world’s largest sustainable palm oil certifier, RSPO, has been found by independent organisations to be unable to uphold their own standards (2), with no difference between certified and non-certified plantations with respect to fire, peatland loss and human and labor rights violations (3).
A palm oil free certification, eg from Orangutan Alliance, requires a manufacturer to collect declarations from all suppliers on the palm oil status of each input into every ingredient, a time consuming and painstaking process. When a synthetic ingredient is included in a product, palm oil is frequently a hidden ingredient. Unfortunately, it is easy for manufacturers to unwittingly include palm oil in cosmetics. The only way to be sure it is not included is to obtain statements from every supplier in the manufacturing chain. Buying from a manufacturer who has gone through the laborious certification process guarantees that there are no hidden surprises in your skin care.
Because of the difficulty in verifying palm oil sustainability, we believe that palm oil free certification is the most reliable guarantee that native rainforest is not being destroyed for the sake of our skin.
Cruelty free claims
Animal testing is now banned in the EU, which means that any brand sold in the EU may not use ingredients that have been tested on animals. Having just been through the process of both registering our products for sale in the EU and obtaining Leaping Bunny approval, we can tell you first hand that there is a world of difference between these two processes.
EU registration of a product requires only a statement by the manufacturer that no ingredients were tested on animals. This is not checked or verified. In contrast, obtaining Leaping Bunny approval requires tracing all ingredients back through supply chain, and ensuring that animal testing was not performed on any component of any ingredient - a far more arduous and thorough process.
Our tip: if you’re passionate about just one area, whether that’s animal testing, avoiding unsustainable ingredients, or buying organically grown products, we suggest investing the time to understand how that certification or approval works. That way, you can buy with confidence.
Most certifications require not only a submission fee but also hefty yearly fees, independent audits, extra paperwork and additional record-keeping. Therefore, proof of current certification means a brand is putting their time and money where their mouth is, and they mean what they say.
Tip: Ask the company whether their certifications are up-to-date or search the certifying organisation’s list of actively certified brands.
We try to demonstrate our commitment to doing our best for the planet, its plants and animals, by maintaining accreditations that verify our claims. To us, they are the backbone of our business - and we wouldn't want to do business any other way.
You can read about them here. If you have any questions, get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org