How Sustainable is Your Valentine's Day Candy?

It's easy to lose sight of sustainability issues on a day that's so focused on material expressions of affection, but there are resources that gift-givers can use to measure the impacts of their Valentine's Day presents -- especially one of the most popular: chocolate.

"It's one of those sad ironies of a global economy that a gift that we give with love often has misery behind it," Dara O'Rourke, the co-founder and chief sustainability officer of GoodGuide, said of chocolate.

GoodGuide, through its eponymous website, provides sustainability ratings on more than 150,000 consumer products and, by extension, the companies that make them. The GoodGuide ratings for candy number almost 2,500 items and a hefty portion of those products contain chocolate -- bars, boxed sweets and some hard and soft confections.

Issues of sugar and fat aside, a big problem with chocolate has to do with its supply chain and the cacao beans used to make it. More than 40 percent of the cacao used in the industry comes from West Africa, where issues of child labor and labor in general are rife, O'Rourke noted when I caught up with him by phone yesterday.

"I think most people think of candy as a sinful pleasure and they aren't thinking about the nutritional or environmental issues," he said. "If you're buying chocolate, it's a treat."

The point isn't to be a killjoy, he said, but to let people know there are greener options when it comes to buying chocolate -- or just about anything else -- if they are set on making a purchase.

GoodGuide's candy listings, which made their debut about this time last year, provide overall ratings on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being a perfect score. That number is based on ratings for impacts related to:

  • Health, which considers the candy's contents
  • Environment, which deals with how the product was cultivated or produced
  • Society, which is based on the company's social policies, practices and performance

Next Page: The best and worst chocolates in GuideGuide's candy ratings.