The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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Closeup of certification stamp on wood provided by Endura Hardwoods, which specializes in certified and salvaged wood products.
Image by Howard Silverman.

Product Labeling

Prices do not reflect true social and ecological costs and benefits. This makes it difficult to assess a product's ecological and social characteristics when making a purchasing decision.

Product Labeling systems send a clear message to the consumer about the broader lifecycle impacts of a product. By addressing the social and ecological costs and benefits of a product, Product Labeling provides critical information for values-based purchasing decisions. In turn, this awareness can help promote Fair Trade in products which are produced in ethical and ecologically sound ways.

Product Labeling schemes provide a way for companies of all sizes to create market share by documenting their Conservation Economy practices. In some cases, labels allow significantly higher prices to be charged (e.g. organic produce). In other cases, labels capture a niche market (e.g. certified wood).

In order to be credible, labels and certification schemes must be independently evaluated by third parties which are widely respected for their neutrality and reliability. For instance, The Forest Stewardship Council maintains a network of regional organizations like Northwest Natural Resources Group, which in turn certify forests as sustainably managed.

Virtually any service or commodity can be labeled and certified. Produce is labeled organic, hormone-free, salmon-safe, non-genetically modified; wood is certified as sustainably harvested; tuna is certified as dolphin-safe; and fish stocks are in the process of being certified as sustainably managed. Furniture can inherit a chain-of-custody certification from mills, which can inherit a chain-of-custody certification from the certified wood that it uses.

Electricity is now certified as green or salmon-friendly by dozens of utilities and companies. Craft products are given a fair trade certification. The U.S. Green Building Council has developed the L.E.E.D. rating system for Green Buildings based on their environmental performance. The International Standards Organization has developed the ISO 14000 standard for certifying corporate environmental management systems. Products are given a Green Seal certification based on their overall lifecycle performance.

Ultimately, every sector of Bioregional Economies will have well-defined labeling and certification systems. Such systems allow individuals wishing to express their values and organizations following Green Procurement policies to make purchases reflecting their priorities. While they are somewhat cumbersome to establish, and often require initiative from the non-profit sector, such systems will continue to grow in importance and sophistication and earn increased acceptance in the marketplace. Over time, they will provide an important foundation for True Cost Pricing.

Participate in product labeling and certification systems that effectively document the sustainable practices associated with a product or service. When necessary, start new systems to provide an even clearer picture of social and ecological benefits. Use product labeling and certification systems to guide consumption and green procurement.

Examples of this pattern in action:

Salmon-Safe offers Northwest farmers a comprehensive agronomic certification program that provides a structured and reproducible procedure for recognizing those farm operations that are contributing to the recovery of native fish and stream ecosystem health. The focus of the certification process is on a broad array of management practices and the degree to which a farm's operations are compatible with best management practices for avoiding harm to streams and salmon populations.

Organic Trade Association
The mission of the Organic Trade Association is to encourage global sustainability by promoting diverse organic trade. OTA provides leadership consistent with organic principles and values, and creates and expands market opportunities for the industry.

Northwest Natural Resources Group
The criteria for certifying forests varies by region and organization. The Northwest Natural Resources Group, which assesses Washington forests for the international Forest Stewardship Council, awards certification based on questions such as these…

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Marine Stewardship Council

Forest Stewardship Council

Oregon Tilth Certified Organic

Certified Forest Products Council

Green Seal

Silva Forest Foundation


Forest Stewardship Council

Scientific Certification Systems


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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling