The Green Trend
Color of the environment, or the color of money?
When you buy products claiming to be green, do you really know what you are getting? We rest on the fact that manufacturers are legally required not to lie on packaging and in advertising, but did you know, many of the "green" terms used in today’s marketing are not themselves regulated? This leaves it up to the consumer to recognize who is truly helping the environment and who is just cashing in on the color of money. Diane MacEachern, author of Big Green Purse, tells us how to be sure we are making a positive environmental impact through our shopping by reading the label, buying products with less packaging, reducing what we buy and buying local.
1. Read the label
We’ve trained ourselves to read the ingredients of our food; why are we not reading the ingredients of other things we use in and around our homes? Labels on household items can be quite telling, but also quite confusing.
Watch out for warnings
There is no need to use something in your home carrying a warning that it could potentially harm you, your children and the environment. Natural cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda work the same wonders they did 50 years ago. If you must buy commercial cleaners, there are a number available that are made of natural ingredients, however you must not only be careful to read the label, but also be aware of what you are reading. Too often, the lack of regulation on so-called "eco-friendly" products leads to misleading marketing tactics.
“Greenwashing” is a term coined almost 25 years ago to describe the practice of spending more time and money on marketing green practices, than actually engaging in them. Unfortunately, greenwashing has become rampant in recent years. GreenerChoices.org, a Web-based initiative run by Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, helps consumers avoid greenwashing through cost consideration, reliability, performance, quality of products and services, and environmental attributes.
Both GreenerChoices and Big Green Purse, strip the vale off many green marketing terms. GreenerChoices offers consumers a fun and easy way to research green “promises” and logos found on labels, while MacEachern shares the following terms that sound good and green, but don’t necessarily mean what they imply. She says there is little to no government regulation on their definition, and even less enforcement of those definitions.
Biodegradable (A claim not verified by any government agency.)
Free range (Does not necessarily mean animals spent large amounts of, or even any, time outdoors. Designation does not regulate feed.)
Natural (May still contain synthetic dies and fragrances.)
Fragrance-free (No perceptible odor, but may have added chemicals to mask odors.)
Hypoallergenic (A term not defined or regulated by the FDA.)
Hormone-free (e.g., Despite claims from individual producers, all poultry is free from added growth hormones. However, not all feed given to poultry is free from hormones or antibiotics.)
Signed, sealed and delivered
Product labeling might be cryptic, but armed with the right knowledge, you can feel comfortable with your next green purchase. The government and other organizations have set up certifications and accompanying logos identifying companies that have truly green products and practices. You can identify these products by looking for the third-party verification seals, such as Energy Star, Fair Trade and Certified Humane, that have become somewhat of a badge of honor. The Sustainable Standards page from the Big Green Purse Web site (pictured below) shows consumers some of the seals to look for while shopping.
2. Less packaging
After reading the label on the packaging, take a moment to look at the packaging itself. Packaging is designed to entice the shopper to pick up a product. Unfortunately, that beautiful packaging only ends up in the trash in as little as a few minutes after the product enters the home. Reducing packaging is one simple way we can make a large impact on the environment. Take these tips to limit the amount of packaging you throw into a landfill each year.
- Buy in bulk
- Buy refillable items
- Reuse and/or recycle packaging
- Use concentrates
- Shop with your own bags
- Avoid styrene products like Styrofoam
- Shop farmers markets (Enjoy Mother Natures packaging!)
3. Buy less, buy local, use multipurpose
Think about it. The less we buy, the less is manufactured, the fewer trucks are on the road and the more money is left in our bank accounts. But lest you think this means you must do without, check out these ideas for "buying less."
- Freecycle "“ Buy, give, receive or barter services and goods (many of which are gently used) through an online network such as freecycle.org and Craigslist.org.
- Neighborhood Listserv "“ A local version of freecycling, easily set up through Yahoo! or Google groups. Can even be used to coordinate shopping schedules to reduce carbon emissions.
- Yard (Tag) Sales/Thrift Shops "“ Used items avoid the landfill and given a new life in a different home.
- Rent, borrow or share items that are infrequently used, such as leaf blowers.
- Shop online "“ Reduces the number of trips an item must make before it reaches its final destination. Online shopping also eliminates the need to drive all over town shopping for one or several items.
- Buy local "“ Reduces the fuel needed to transport products, allows food to be picked at the peak of freshness, and supports local economy.
- Buy multipurpose cleaners to reduce manufacturing, packaging and shipping.
- Even better, use inexpensive, multipurpose, non-harmful, natural cleaners like vinegar and baking soda. Hints from Heloise gives recipes and usage ideas for everything from everyday cleaning to those stubborn stains.
You want to be a responsible shopper, but as you see, the consumer is continually under a barrage of marketing attacks aimed at the uninformed. Thankfully, that is no longer you! You are now armed with a bit more knowledge to shoot down any false claims of green practices. Review the following list of stores and manufacturers that have proven themselves good and green and you’ll be even further ahead when it comes to green shopping.
Using less, recycled, or recyclable packaging
Bath and Body Works
Johnson & Johnson
Alternatives to pesticides for pest control
Neolite bulbs (contain ¼ the mercury of most CFLs)
Restore cleaning products (also has refillable packaging!)
Occupancy sensors for lights
contributed by Aden Holasek | 11/3/2009 and revised by John Watson on 6/17/2013