Sustainable certifications make all the difference in knowing whether an item is genuinely eco-friendly. Unfortunately, claims like “natural” and “eco-friendly” aren’t regulated, and it can be tricky for the average consumer to avoid greenwashing!
This is why I had such high hopes for the Ecocert Certification when I first heard about them. They are one of the best-known sustainability certifications and could help provide credibility for products marketed as “organic,” like food, beauty products, and textiles.
Sounds good, right? But everything isn’t always as it seems… Is Ecocert-Certification the real deal? Let’s find out!
What is Ecocert certified?
Ecocert, which has been around since 1991, is an organic product standard based in France. Over the last thirty years, Ecocert has grown significantly, and they are now behind about a third of ALL organic product certifications across 80 countries.
Not to be confused with OEKO-TEX, BCI cotton, GOTS certified, and other sustainability certification programs, Ecocert isn't certifying organic products themselves. Instead, they are an international network of other organic certifications (some of which are very reputable and trustworthy like Fair Trade).
Think of it this way, Ecocert is the certifying agency working to uphold the organic standards set out by other certifications — it's the means to the certification, not the certification itself.
So, how do you know if a product is Ecocert certified? Not all Ecocert-backed products will have an Ecocert label. If you take GOTS organic cotton, for example, you are likely to see the GOTS logo, but it may not be evident if Ecocert was the agency behind the certification.
What does Ecocert certified mean?
Ecocert looks at five specific sectors: Agri-food, Cosmetics, Textiles, Forestry, Homecare products. This means that anything from laundry detergent, Non-toxic perfume, or organic food could receive an “Ecocert certification” if it checks the requirements in their organic standards.
Like most organic and sustainable forestry certifications, these requirements suggest that a product was made without using GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, and other synthetic chemicals.
While this all sounds great initially, does such a vast size and scope mean Ecocert can be trusted? Not so fast!
Ecocert is one of the five certifiers for the COSMOS organic and natural beauty label. The COSMOS Organic and COSMOS Natural labels highlight which ingredients to avoid in skincare and look at factors like packaging, storage, and labeling, as well as biodiversity, the use of renewable resources, and other environmental management criteria.
For an item to receive a “COSMOS Natural” label, a product should be made using at least 50% of natural plant-based ingredients, with 5% or more being organic. More specifically, the product formula shouldn’t contain the following ingredients:
- Silicone, PEG, and ingredients made from petrochemicals
- Synthetic dyes
- Synthetic perfumes and antioxidants
- Animal-derived ingredients that were not naturally produced
- Ingredients tied to animal cruelty
The COSMOS Organic label, on the other hand, is a bit different. The COSMOS organic label states that an item should be made using at least 95% natural, plant-based ingredients, with 10%-20% being organic, depending on the product.
In the case of the COSMOS label, you are more likely to see a reference to the Ecocert organic standard since the certifying body usually precedes the COSMOS label. But this is one of the rare examples when an Ecocert logo might show up. Most brands aren’t that transparent.
As you can see from the COSMOS Natural and Organic label examples, Ecocert’s organic standards are pretty vague. This vagueness and lack of transparency become more evident when determining what Ecocert does. What is their methodology? What is their process? This is where Ecocert’s credibility starts to fade…
Ecocert’s credibility was first questioned in November of last year when the European Union voted to stop accepting organic certifications for Indian organic products from EcoCert, Control Union, and OneCert - the three top companies responsible for organic certified cotton grown in India.
An alarming portion of “organic” cotton grown in India isn’t as organic or eco-friendly as it appears. Crispin Argento, the founder and managing director of The Sourcery, estimated that between one half and four-fifths of all “organic cotton” from India was not authentic.
If Ecocert is verifying cotton that isn’t genuinely organic, how credible can they be?
This isn’t the first time the authenticity of the Ecocert organic standard has been questioned. In 2017, the Washington Post investigated whether organic corn and soybeans imported into the USA were legitimate.
In one case, they found the pesticide residue on an Ecocert verified product from China was VERY low at only 1%… dare I say, remarkably low.
Once critics questioned Ecocert’s result, Ecocert changed their testing criteria, and the percentage of samples with pesticide residue immediately rose to 8%. The Post found this a little suspicious, and I would have to agree with them here.
The list of criticisms and cases of fraud within Ecocert doesn’t stop here. Ecocert's certificates are losing credibility by the day, from discovering fake certificates in British Columbia to allowing the pesticide ethylene oxide in guaranteed organic products.
What products can be certified by Ecocert?
Ecocert looks at textiles, beauty, food, forestry, and homecare products. I have to admit that while the idea of throw pillows, non-toxic rugs, and other ethical home decor made from more sustainable dyes sounds fabulous, we need to consider how these companies get an Ecocert certification in the first place…
Here is how to get Ecocert certification…
To put it in the simplest terms, farms and businesses pay Ecocert to “certify them.” They do this by going through five specific steps. The first is to request Ecocert, where they will draw up a contract.
Next, Ecocert will conduct an on-site audit where designated officers review the findings and decide if the organization passes their certificate check and should be accredited. If they do pass, they will receive an Ecocert certificate.
According to Ecocert, their certificate checks are “a rigorous process that consists of an independent and impartial certification body assessing the conformity of a product, service or system with environmental and social requirements specified in a standard….At the end of the certification process, Ecocert issues a decision and, when positive, delivers a written assurance called a certificate.”
But I have to ask, can a certification system be impartial when paid by those they certify?
But there is hope on the horizon! We are seeing more and more sustainability certifications that are credible and unprecedented in their methods and what they certify.
One of my favorite up-and-coming certifications looks at regenerative agriculture. The Regenerative Organic Certified certification starts at the farm and is all about managing land in a way that doesn't impede its natural resource functions.
Examples of regenerative agriculture might be planting perennial crops to reduce soil erosion or increasing farm biodiversity to control pests. Exciting stuff!
Ecocert Pros and Cons
What’s the Difference Between Ecocert and other certifications?
Ecocert Vs. USDA organic
Like Ecocert, USDA organic looks at sustainable food in the U.S. However, Ecocert is not based in the U.S. and has a global reach. One point worth mentioning here is that the USDA did catch Ecocert and a Turkish exporter for yet another cause of sake organic grain products, resulting in Ecocert paying a $5000 fine.
So, if you’re wondering, “Is USDA Organic Reliable?” I would say they are much more reliable than Ecocert! This isn’t to say they aren't without their controversies… but that is for another time.
Ecocert Vs. Vegan & Cruelty-Free
Vegan and/or cruelty-free fabrics like cupro, organic cotton, and jute are rising. Ecocert could back these fabrics since COSMOS products claim to be cruelty-free. However, this criteria isn’t explicitly defined by Ecocert, which is vital since vegan and cruelty-free are not precisely the same.
Ecocert Vs. Fair Trade
Fair Trade empowers the global labor force by setting a high bar on responsible business practices and creating ethical and transparent supply chains. On a similar note, Ecocert has a “Fair For Life” label on certain COSMOS-certified products. Like Fair Trade clothing brands, they also claim to consider the social well-being and labor standards behind a product.
So Is Ecocert legitimate? Final thoughts!
Consumers want to make more sustainable choices with their dollars and are oftentimes willing to pay a premium for organic products. Sustainable certifications are crucial for helping us make this choice and authentically participate in the slow fashion movement.
Unfortunately, while Ecocert Certification may have started with good intentions, they provide a false sense of security that a product was made with organic principles. Considering their vast size and scope of work, I find this concerning.
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