Last week, the US Department of Agriculture announced it won’t allow the “USDA Organic” label on cosmetics or personal-care products. The decision comes as a blow not only to the natural-product companies that have been spending money and time to coordinate their practices and products with the USDA’s standards, but to consumers as well.

Standardized labeling helps consumers identify products that adhere to criteria for sustainability—like the Forest Stewardship Council’s sustainable lumber label—or gives them more information, like the recently implemented Country of Origin labeling for seafood, which tells not only where fish is from, but whether it’s farmed or wild.

Those labels help consumers make informed choices, and as the demand rises for eco-friendly products (for organics, it’s been rising about 20 percent per year for a decade), those choices will have a bigger impact on the marketplace. Aligning markets with sustainable practices-and letting consumers know about it-is a key method for creating a sustainable economy (see This Place on Earth 2001, p. 70, pdf).

P.S. Widespread standards, like the USDA’s organic label, are also designed to help consumers cut through the clutter of information. But sorting through labels can also be tough; here’s one website that helps.