How to find eco-friendly products online?

If you are looking for a sustainable and ecological product on the Internet, why not use a French or European solidarity search engine? You can then refine your search by studying the ecolabels, without falling into the trap of greenwashing. And once you have found the eco-friendly product of your dreams, you can turn your attention to hosting the site. In this article you will find a lot of information on how to find an eco-responsible product on the Internet.

Search and Save

A trivial thing such as using the right search engine could help save the planet. Most of us have never considered that our choice of search engine could actually have an impact on the environment.

Note: These search engines are not designed to find eco-friendly products but every click sponsors a cause.

There are now many types of search engines that aim to do more than just search for goods stuff. They are committed to do social good and search to save the planet. They are known as ‘green search’, ‘solidarity search’ or ‘socially conscious’ search engines.

  • A ‘green’ engine moves away from high-energy, high-functionality features responsible for intensive energy and electricity use.
  • Transparent’ search engines do not have monitoring and user tracking systems that overload browsers and retain user data for marketing purposes.
  • A ‘solidarity’ search engine turns every search into a benefit for the environment by financing humanitarian or environmental actions all over the world.

Note: If you want to know exactly where your click goes, check the charity partners and affiliates of the particular social solidarity engine you wish to use.

Look for the eco-label

Eco-labels and ‘green stickers’ are certification systems used for food and consumer products, particularly in regions such as the European Union, where the EU Ecolabel of environmental excellence has been in use since the early 90s.

Note: The use of ecolabels is voluntary, whereas green stickers are mandated by law.

Eco-labels can help identify environmentally friendly products, based on precise certification criteria.

Essentially, they guarantee that products and services carrying the label meet criteria aimed at reducing their environmental footprint throughout their life cycle, while remaining energy efficient overall. The absence of an eco-label on a product does not mean that it is not environmentally responsible, but an eco-label on a product can be a real guarantee of sustainability.

Note: Eco-labels should not be confused with energy labels, for items such as household appliances in the EU for example. Eco-label measures the life cycle energy efficiency while energy rating labels refer to energy consumption during the use of an appliance.

The main Eco-Labels in the EU

The European Ecolabel (ecolabel.eu), created in 1992 by the European Commission, is the only official European eco-label recognised in all European Union Member States. 

It is only awarded to products and services that meet strict environmental standards throughout their life cycle: from sourcing raw materials, to the production process, distribution chain and disposal method. It works by encouraging suppliers and manufacturers to use processes that generate less waste and CO2 emissions to develop products that are durable, easy to repair and recycle.

In 2022, the label covers more than 80,000 product references across 23 categories.

Example: European Ecolabel wall paints contain 10 times less harmful substances than conventional products.

In France, the European ecolabel is managed by the Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME) and the French Association for Standardisation (AFNOR).

Established in 1989, Nordic Ecolabelling, also known as the Nordic Swan, is the official eco-label of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden).

It works by setting strict environmental requirements across all the phases of a product’s life cycle and currently certifies 55 product groups and more than 25,000 products according to strict criteria that take into account important environmental aspects such as the use of sustainable raw materials and biodiversity, the circular economy and resource efficiency, energy use and climate impact, and avoidance of harmful chemicals, nano- and microplastics in manufacturing.

The Blue Angel (Blauer Engel) is a label created by the Federal Environment Agency in Germany. It certifies products based on strict criteria such as ecological processes and environmental impact.

The testing and certification criteria are developed by the German Environment Agency on a scientific basis and it currently manages a database of 20,000 products from 1,600 companies.

Many eco-labels in Europe cover high-volume, high-use consumer products that people tend to use every day, such as food products, hygiene articles, computers, textiles, furniture, paints, etc. Every European Union Member State has regulatory authorities and public organisations that work with both manufacturers and consumers, across all the sectors of the economy but also in specific fields, such as below.

Examples :

  • In France, the main source of information on eco-labels is the website of the Agency for Energy Transition (ADEME).
  • In Germany, the «Siegelklarheit» platform of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development aims at making labels understandable to consumers.
  • A German NGO certifies wood and paper products sourced from managed forests or plantations, taking into account social, economic, ecological and cultural aspects.
  • In Italy, an eco-label sets specific standards assessing the overall sustainability of the activity of companies in the wine sector.

In addition to eco-labels and public sector guidelines, various associations or tech applications can help consumers reduce their environmental footprint and take eco-responsible action.

Example: Dutch organisation Milieu Centraal advises on sustainable consumption choices.

Organic Products Label

If you buy organic products online, look out for the following label.

  • The French Agriculture Biologique label by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food certifies that a product contains at least 95% certified-organic agricultural ingredients. Note that it is optional.

  • The EU Organic Logo is the Europe-wide label for products that comply with organic farming specifications and it is mandatory for all products sold as ‘organic’, meaning they contain at least 95% organic ingredients. It must be accompanied by an indication of origin and the certification body details. In each Member State of the European Union, both national and private logos may be used for the labelling, presentation and advertising of organic products.

Green or just greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a manufacturer, seller, website or brand projects a respectable environmentally-friendly image but in fact fools consumers into believing the products are ecological.

There are many ways advertisements can deceive consumers. Remember not all products displaying a green sticker and environmental protection messaging is in fact organic or ecological. Deceptive commercial practices such as greenwashing constitute false advertising in some countries, like for example in France since the entry into force of the Climate and Resilience Law.

A 2021 European Commission screening found that just under half of environmental claims by various European websites investigated were not supported by evidence and may mislead consumers. A legislative initiative that will require European companies to substantiate the environmental credentials of their products is under way.

How to spot greenwashing practices

Some sellers or service providers use questionable certifications in a misleading way. If you want to ensure that you are buying a ‘green’ product, check the official website of the label or certification body listed. Only labels that comply with the international standard ISO 14024 are genuine.

If you choose products based on their claiming to be 100% ‘green origin’, you may want to investigate further, particularly when it comes to cosmetic and personal hygiene products (more information on this category of products can be found here).

To make an informed choice, you may wish to learn more about a product’s ingredients, staying away from those known to be controversial or harmful.

Check a brand’s entire range to see if their environmental credentials are consistent across all of their products. This can often reveal a brand’s real commitment to environmental protection practices.

See for example 

  • Many retailers and brands use the terms ‘sustainable’ or ‘natural’ to reassure consumers that a product is ‘green’. They sometimes display ‘green origin’ figures or percentages without any real foundation.
  • Others claim that a product is ‘biodegradable’ even though the product itself it is over-packaged or packaged in polluting, hard-to-recycle materials.
  • Eco-design’ is another term that is misused when it comes to information on appliances, for example. Eco-design requirements are regulated by European Union law for many electrical appliances. There are strict requirements that allow manufacturers to market products claiming to have a high environmental performance so as to enable end-consumers to identify energy-efficient products. The rules on labelling for energy efficiency can be checked on this European Commission database.

The latest terms in use are ‘carbon-neutral’, ‘zero-net emissions’ and ‘negative carbon footprint’. Carbon-neutral product labels are proliferating but it is unclear what consumers make of these. Carbon neutrality when it comes to production and manufacturing overall means that any CO2 released into the atmosphere is balanced by an equivalent amount being removed. In essence, in order to become carbon-neutral, companies must drastically reduce carbon emissions to net-zero or balance their emissions in the manufacturing of products through the process of carbon offsetting, which means purchasing carbon credits. You can find out more about the EU carbon neutrality efforts here.

If this sounds reassuring, it is however difficult for a consumer to ascertain how this balance between emissions and offsetting is calculated in real terms. Sometimes, offsetting means keeping polluting manufacturing processes unchanged and buying credits (such as for planting trees) for environmental protection elsewhere. Learn more about how to make sustainable choices here.

One of the easiest ways for a website to give the impression on ‘clean’ and ‘natural’ is to use green colours in its design and imagery. Consumers will often be reassured that buying certain products means that they are also saving the planet in a small way – this is projected by marketing green packaging, images of natural landscapes, etc.

Nevertheless, it is advisable to investigate a seller’s or manufacturer’s real ecological credentials, and whether the imagery/content is not simply a marketing ploy to influence making a purchase.

Dropshipping and the Environment

Some third-party marketing e-commerce sites promote allegedly environmentally-friendly products but sometimes the process of dropshipping involves marketing unchecked poor-quality and even counterfeit products, imported at greater cost from outside the EU, which means from a far longer distance.

Before ordering from unregulated markets and industries, check the credentials of the seller and the manufacturer and think of the distance the product travels to reach you. Don’t forget you must also pay customs charges if importing from third countries outside the European Union.

Green Webhosting

Websites are hosted on servers, which require a lot of electricity, space and air conditioning to store data. Increased digitalisation and growing demand for digital connected devices means that digital technology, including the web and ever larger data centres, are responsible for increased electricity demands globally.

Some green web hosting companies seek to power their data centres with 100% renewable energy. Many green data centres are located in the colder Nordic countries where the energy emitted by the servers is reused to heat air and water in adjacent buildings. However, other web hosts call themselves ‘greenonly because they offset their carbon footprint by reinvesting the equivalent of the energy consumed in environmental initiatives (tree planting, etc.).

It would be difficult for a consumer to ascertain that a website uses green web hosting unless it is specified on the website information and the information is verifiable in some way. However, it is always worth looking into the current or future environmental commitments of any of website or search before making your choice.