Top Sustainable Packaging Material Certifications and How to Use Them


Top Sustainable Packaging Material Certifications and How to Use Them

There are credible certifications available from packaging service providers like Edge2Edge to guide your packaging substrate selection. The Forest Stewardship Council, Global Organic Textile Standard, Global Recycled Standard, and Better Cotton Initiative offer certifications and labels to help consumers identify sustainably sourced paper and natural fibers. Presenting these certifications to consumers on your sustainable packaging…

Top Sustainable Packaging Material Certifications and How to Use Them

There are credible certifications available from packaging service providers like Edge2Edge to guide your packaging substrate selection. The Forest Stewardship Council, Global Organic Textile Standard, Global Recycled Standard, and Better Cotton Initiative offer certifications and labels to help consumers identify sustainably sourced paper and natural fibers. Presenting these certifications to consumers on your sustainable packaging can boost your brand image and help protect ecosystems. 

Choosing to create sustainable packaging is a crucial step toward building your brand and lessening the impact of businesses on the environment. One vital decision in creating eco-friendly packaging is material selection. 

There are numerous packaging material options for creating unique and eco-friendly brand packaging, from recycled paper to reusable natural fiber and more. 

So how do you know you are picking a sustainably sourced material? 

Material certifications can act as eco-friendliness indicators to help you choose the best option for your brand and the planet. 

We will break down the credible material certifications that are popular with consumers and the value they can provide your brand. This information can help you make the best decision for your brand’s packaging.

Why Packaging Certifications Matter

The pool of conscious consumers is growing, and they are demanding more concrete actions from companies to reduce their environmental impact. According to an FMCG GURUS survey conducted in Q3 2019, over one-half of global consumers think that brands should be doing more to care for the environment. 

One straightforward way conscious consumers can shop for sustainable products is by seeking out certified products. For example, material certifications help communicate to consumers that the item creation process is in line with specific standards. They identify and confirm the sourcing and attributes of the product. 

This type of consumption goes beyond the product itself. With value-based consumerism, shoppers incorporate intangible product benefits into their purchasing decisions. 

Buyers are now much more aware of oceanic plastic pollution and other issues related to conventional packaging. Subsequently, many consumers are choosing which brands to buy from according to the sustainability of their product and retail packaging. 

This consumer preference comes with a higher price tag. Nearly three-fourths of global consumers will pay a premium for sustainable packaging. 

Now, creating packaging consumers will love includes environmentally and socially responsible sourcing and production. Similar to certified products, certifications are available for retail and product packaging that allows them to carry an eco-friendly label. 

Sustainability is inherently difficult to define in business. Certifications can help create a unified definition and understanding of what sustainability means in the context of different materials. 

Next, we dive more deeply into some of the more common sustainable packaging accreditations: the Forest Stewardship Council, Global Organic Textile Standard, Global Recycled Standard, and Better Cotton Initiative labels.

Forest Stewardship Council Certification

Paper will likely be widely used this decade as a sustainable packaging material. But how can consumers know for sure if a brand sustainably sources its paper packaging? 

The Forest Stewardship Council has the solution. 

The Forest Stewardship Council is the original and most trusted forest certification body. The organization promotes sustainable forest management through verifying and offering supply chain and product accreditation to companies for tree-based products. 

The organization will certify any tree-based product or supply chain, from books to furniture and, of course, packaging. It even recently endorsed a newly developed tire by Pirelli as having a responsible natural rubber supply chain. 

The accrediting body offers multiple certification types, beginning with the forests themselves and extending through the supply chain to the final product.

FSC Forest Management Certification

Designated accreditation bodies use ten guiding principles to determine whether to certify a forest. Foresters must manage the area to protect and benefit workers, the community, and local biodiversity while simultaneously maintaining profitability. 

FSC Chain of Custody Certification

This certification confirms that members of the supply chain properly sort and identify material from FSC-certified forests sorted throughout the supply chain. This verification ensures that the sustainably sourced material reaches its destination and becomes the intended end product.

FSC 100% 

Material exclusively sourced from FSC-certified forests go into products with this label. These products guarantee support for socially and environmentally responsible forest management.


These products consist of 100% recycled content. This includes both post-consumer and pre-consumer recovered materials. Products made from recycled materials lessen the demand for virgin wood and help protect forests.


Products with this label consist of a mixture of FSC-certified, recycled, and/or FSC-controlled wood materials. This certification helps reduce the risk of wood from unacceptable sources, such as illegal harvesting, from entering the market. 

Certification Process

The Forest Stewardship Council makes use of the latest technologies to further its mission. The organization uses satellites for Earth observation, blockchain, and digital audit reporting to enhance the accreditation and certification maintenance processes. 

It also works to confirm and support sustainable tree-based/wood-product supply chains. Transaction verification, wood identification, and sample testing are all used to promote supply chain transparency and ensure authenticity.

The Global Organic Textile Standard

The Global Organic Textile Standard emerged from an international collaboration between textile and organic expert organizations. It is universally recognized and widely implemented across industries. 

Before organizations implemented the standard, it was difficult to verify and consistently obtain high-quality organic textiles worldwide. Now, businesses can easily identify quality fabric with the Global Organic Textile Standard label. There are over 10,000 certified facilities globally, covering more than 4 million workers in 72 countries. 

Certification Requirements

The standard uses multiple criteria to determine whether to award a certificate to a product or supplier. First, to create a Global Organic Textile Standard product, the original fiber must consist of at least 70% certified organic material. This means that the fiber production did not involve synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, or genetically modified organisms. 

The standard encompasses the processing, manufacturing, and distribution of these organic fibers. The product supply chain must meet several environmental and social criteria to receive the certification. For example, manufacturers cannot use environmentally hazardous substances and must not use child labor. 

The organization evaluates the entire supply chain via on-site, accredited third-party inspections. The whole supply chain must be certified for the final product to receive the GOTS label.

Scope Certificates

Global Organic Textile Standard certified suppliers who meet the criteria can apply for a GOTS Scope Certificate. The document verifies that the holder can produce textile goods that follow the standard requirements. Retailers, traders, manufacturers, and processors can qualify for the certificate. 

Product labels 

If the entire supply chain receives a certification, the end product is eligible to carry a Global Organic Textile Standard label. There are two label options based on the organic fiber content. A product made with 95–100% approved material qualifies for the ‘organic’ label, and that with 70–94% approved material receives the label ‘made with x% organic fibers.’

The Global Recycled Standard

The Global Recycled Standard is an international third-party certification that verifies the recycled content of products, chain of custody, and social and environmental practices. The standard encourages higher percentages of recycled content in products and reduces environmental harms related to production.

The standard unifies the definition of recycled content and verifies the pre-and post-consumer reclaimed material in products. 

Standard Criteria

The Global Recycled Standard includes several social and environmental requirements. For example, it requires an organization to have ecological and chemical management systems that monitor energy use, water use, wastewater, emissions, etc. It also prohibits the use of chemicals that are dangerous to human health or the environment. 

The standard also protects workers, including provisions to ensure the health and safety of workers and prohibiting worker abuse and discrimination. 

In addition, the Global Recycled Standard verifies the chain of custody of the product material. Each portion of the supply chain undergoes an evaluation to certify the recycled material chain of custody. This practice ensures correct material identification throughout the supply chain and more sustainably processed products.

Certification Process 

Independent third-party bodies audit each site annually to check that the company and product meet the certification standards. The recycled material is also tracked and verified across the supply chain. 

The Better Cotton Initiative

The Better Cotton Initiative is the most extensive nonprofit cotton sustainability program worldwide. In the 2018–2019 growing season, the Better Cotton Initiative partook in 22% of global cotton production, training 2.3 million farmers in sustainable farming practices. 

The organization focuses on farmer education to encourage sustainable cotton production. Farmers obtain Better Cotton Initiative licenses to produce Better Cotton, and businesses can become members who purchase the cotton material. 

Better Cotton Criteria

Farmers must abide by the following principles to obtain a Better Cotton Initiative license: 

  • Minimize the harmful impact of crop protection practices
  • Promote water stewardship
  • Care for the health of the soil
  • Enhance biodiversity and use land responsibly
  • Care for and preserve fiber quality
  • Promote decent work
  • Operate an effective management system

Better Cotton Initiative Logo

The Better Cotton Initiative logo indicates that a committed provider supporting Better Cotton Initiative farmers and purchasing Better Cotton sourced the product packaging. 

Only members of the Better Cotton Initiative can use the logo. They must source at least 10% Better Cotton with plans to source a minimum of 50% Better Cotton within five years. 

Better Cotton Chain of Custody

The initiative’s Chain of Custody framework incentivizes farmers to use more sustainable practices. It requires the documentation of Better Cotton product movements through the supply chain. The organization uses the mass-balance system, which ensures that the businesses in the supply chain account for the correct volume of Better Cotton. 

Certification process

The Better Cotton Assurance Program requires farmers to participate in educational opportunities regularly. The initiative also works with members to ensure that they are engaged with the program through third-party verification and assessments by the organization. 

Benefits of Packaging Certifications 

Choosing a service provider that offers certified packaging substrates is advantageous to your business in many ways. 

Risk Management

All of the certifications presented here contain a supply chain verification component. This means that a third party has already confirmed responsible business practices for the entire supply chain. 

This reduces business risks such as the legal and reputational risks of an unethical supply chain. Certifications that prohibit hazardous materials also lessen the risks related to public and environmental health.

Improved Brand Image

Incorporating credible certifications into packaging reflects well on brands in customers’ eyes. Third-party accreditations confirm the sustainable sourcing and origin of the packaging material, demonstrating to consumers that the company values sustainability.

Additionally, these certifications all require a paper trail, which means your business and/or the certifying body collect a lot of data on the company’s sustainability efforts. Reporting this information to buyers can improve the company’s transparency, enhancing the brand reputation.

Higher Margins

On the one hand, the environmental management required by the certification bodies involves optimizing resource use, such as water and energy use. This practice can potentially lower the packaging material cost. 

On the other hand, certified packaging commands a premium in the market. Together, lower packaging costs and increased pricing can improve your product margins. 

Certified Sustainable Packaging Possibilities

Edge2Edge Packaging offers all of the Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper packaging substrate options (100%, recycled, and mixed). The service provider also carries Global Organic Textile Standard, Global Recycled Standard, and Better Cotton Initiative natural fiber substrate options. 

You can use these certified materials to create a variety of unique and sustainable product and retail packaging products that enhance your brand image: 

  • Mailers
  • Totes 
  • Shoppers
  • Card Carriers
  • Gift Boxes
  • Subscription Boxes
  • Inserts
  • Sleeves
  • Pouches
  • Tissue Paper 

Edge2Edge can help your brand navigate its selection of certified single-use paper, reusable paper leather, and other reusable natural packaging materials to determine the best option for your brand. 

While not an exhaustive list, this breakdown is an excellent start in understanding some of the most widely used certifications. These accreditations can help consumers identify your packaging as sustainable and recognize your brand’s efforts to protect the environment

Companies currently have the opportunity to satiate consumer demands for sustainable packaging while benefiting both their bottom line and the planet. Brands can use packaging material certifications to prove to buyers that their packaging is eco-friendly and worth paying a premium. 

Consider incorporating certified materials into your next packaging design to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions and improve your brand image.