What You Can Do to Protect Biodiversity
Biodiversity—the variety of all living organisms including ecosystems, plants, animals, their habitats and genes—is fundamental to life on Earth. We need biodiversity for its invaluable ecosystem services, providing oxygen, food, clean water, fertile soil, medicines, shelter, protection from storms and floods, a stable climate and recreation. Tragically, today biodiversity is disappearing at 1,000 times the normal rate due to human civilization. Individual species are being obliterated by habitat loss and degradation, invasive species, the spread of pollution and disease, climate change and the over exploitation of resources. And because the human population, which has doubled since 1970, is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, the biodiversity crisis will only get worse as more people consume more resources.
What can we as individuals do to help slow the loss of biodiversity? Since consumption of resources is a root cause of biodiversity loss, we can consume less and be more mindful about what we consume. We need to leverage our purchasing power to help protect biodiversity by consuming products that do not harm the environment. Ecolabels enable consumers to determine which products are green, safe, and environmentally sustainable. But because so many ecolabels have sprung up—in 2010, there were 400 different sustainability certifications available around the world—they can be confusing. Here are some of the most reliable and respected ecolabels to look for.
USDA Organic – The USDA Organic seal, given out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, certifies that raw, fresh and processed products are either 100 percent organic or “organic” (containing 95 percent organically produced ingredients). Organic crops must be raised without conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Animals must be fed organic feed, have access to the outdoors, and cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones. Genetic engineering is prohibited. Generally, all natural (non-synthetic) substances are allowed in organic production and all synthetic substances are prohibited. Personal care and cosmetic products can also be labeled organic if they meet USDA/National Organic Program criteria.
Fair Trade Certified – This label guarantees that farmers and workers that produce products in the developing world are getting a fair deal. It also ensures protection of local ecosystems and promotes sustainable and organic agriculture. Fair Trade certified products include beans and grains, cocoa, coffee, flowers and plants, fruits and vegetables, honey, herbs and spices, nuts and oil seeds, sugar, tea and wine. Apparel, sports balls, and beauty products can also be certified.
Marine Stewardship Council – The MSC is a global organization that develops standards for sustainable fishing and certifies seafood (from wild capture fisheries only) that comes from sustainable fisheries. At sustainable fisheries, current catches must be maintained at levels that ensure fish populations and their ecosystems remain healthy and productive today and in the future. MSC provides a list of certified sustainable fish for responsible eating.
Green Seal – Established in 1989, Green Seal boasts one of the first environmental certification programs. It uses lifecycle based sustainability standards to certify products, services, and companies that protect the environment and human health. All significant environmental and social impacts are considered, from raw materials extraction through manufacturing to use and disposal. Certified products include cleansers, construction materials, paints, paper, paper towels and tissue, food packaging, and hand soaps. Cleaning services, restaurants and hotels are also certified.
Energy Star – Originally created by the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Energy, Energy Star is now an international standard for energy efficient products. Certified products must perform to consumers’ expectations while providing increased energy efficiency, and if an Energy Star product costs more than a traditional equivalent, consumers must be able to recoup their investment in a reasonable amount of time through energy savings. Energy Star products include appliances (refrigerators, washers, dryers, etc.), computers and electronics, lighting and fans, plumbing, heating and cooling equipment, and building products (windows, doors, roofing, insulation, etc.).
Forest Stewardship Council – The FSC promotes the sustainable management of the world’s forests by ensuring that the harvest of forests for timber and non-timber products maintains a forest’s biodiversity, productivity, and ecological processes, and by respecting the rights of and providing incentives to indigenous people to sustain forest resources. In addition to prohibiting the destruction of natural forests, the FSC safeguards endangered species, and bans toxic pesticides and the planting of genetically modified trees. FSC certified products include lumber, paper, printing, packaging, furniture, and other products made from wood.
LEED – The U.S. Green Building Council provides LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for buildings or communities designed and built with environmentally sensitive siting, energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, sustainable materials, improved indoor environmental quality, innovative technology and strategies, and stewardship of resources. It looks at the building lifecycle from design and construction to operations and maintenance, and substantial retrofits. LEED certification applies to commercial real estate, residential homes, schools and hospitals, and even the design or retrofit of neighborhoods.
Rainforest Alliance Certification – The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. It offers certification to farms that protect natural ecosystems and endangered species, do not pollute water bodies, prohibit hunting of wild animals except when done by indigenous groups in a controlled manner, ban the use of certain chemicals and genetically modified crops, and protect workers’ rights. As one of the founders of the FSC, it certifies forests and forest products. It also certifies hotels, restaurants and other tourism businesses that meet its environmental, social and economic criteria including the use of clean technologies, waste management and recycling, carbon offsets, biodiversity conservation, cultural preservation, gender equality, and green marketing. The Rainforest Alliance also certifies forestry projects that demonstrate an ability to sequester carbon dioxide and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Certified Wildlife Friendly – The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network promotes wildlife conservation through certifying products that are linked to conservation actions, and that benefit and involve local individuals and communities living with wildlife. Certified products include alpaca garments, essential oils, chili products, rice, eco-fashion, a community market organization, and a conservation program that helps control bushmeat poaching. Each certified entity is tied to conservation efforts for particular species.