In today's world, many consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the state of the environment. They worry about the depletion of natural resources, the overflowing of landfills, and the pollution of airways and water sources. To address this concern, more corporations are introducing 'green' or eco-friendly products into the market. The sad truth, however, is that there is a lack of regulation when it comes to claims companies can make regarding how 'green' their products are. More often than not, a product is not as eco-friendly as a company declares it to be.
So how can one tell if a product really is 'green'? Here are a few red flags to watch out for, and a few tips for being a smarter, greener consumer.
#1 If the claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is
Can a product really be 'all natural' with dozens of chemicals and preservatives listed under the ingredients? Can a biodegradable diaper really biodegrade if it is buried under layers and layers of other garbage in a landfill? (It is unlikely, and no, they must be composted in order to properly decompose). As an eco-conscious consumer, it is easy to be entranced by such grand promises of eco-friendliness, but more often than not these promises are empty. In reality, these companies are often eager to trick consumers into believing that their products are truly 'green' through ads and other labeling techniques. If a claim seems too far-reaching or even counter-intuitive, approach with caution.
#2 Look for labels that are very specific
The more specific the claim, the more likely that claim is to be true. Vague terms like 'natural,' 'green,' 'nontoxic,' and even 'biodegradable' on product labels are not regulated by the FDA and can therefore be extremely misleading. Although the law requires labels to be truthful, companies can pick and choose which facts to highlight and spin. For example, since there is no law that requires how much real fruit has to be included in a product that is 'made with real fruit', the product could contain just one grape or one slice of apple. The best option is to disregard the claims altogether on the front of the package and take a close look at the ingredients, or do some additional research in order to dig up the truth.
#3 Educate yourself about green product language
As mentioned above, many companies will play on the consumer's ignorance of what constitutes green product language by using terms like 'all-natural.' Unfortunately, none of these terms have any sort of standardized meaning that all companies must follow. Thus, companies can use these terms to mean whatever they want them to mean. This is a green marketing strategy known as 'greenwashing.' Learn more about greenwashing and how to spot misleading environmental terms on product labels.
#4 Research the companies that claim to sell green products
Often times, eco-conscious consumers simply need to do a little bit of homework on companies in order to make eco-friendly purchases. First and foremost, look for trustworthy third-party certification. For appliances and electronics, look for the Energy Star designation; for food and cosmetics, look for the USDA organic seal; for household cleaning products, look for the Green Seal; and for wood and paper products, look for the Forest Stewardship Council logo. While many of these certifications are not perfect, they are a good starting point for digging deeper into the true 'greenness' of a product. Sites like greenerchoices.org and greenercars.org can also help to make sense of a 'green' claim on a product.
#5 Don't be fooled by pretty packaging
Just because something looks 'green' does not mean it is 'green.' More and more products, especially cosmetics and household cleaners, are adopting an 'all-natural' or 'organic' design. Do not be fooled by a soft-toned color scheme and gorgeous tree-bark design on the package of a product. Read the label, do some research (if necessary), and make an informed decision before making a purchase.
#6 Think about how you buy, not just what you buy
Eco-friendly products can be great, but the choices an eco-conscious consumer makes when buying a product can be just as important when it comes to making minimal impact on the environment.
Here are some general tips:
- Buy in bulk to reduce individual packaging
- Buy durables instead of disposables (e.g. rechargeable batteries, reusable mugs, etc.)
- Make sure to actually recycle products that are recyclable
- Think carefully about what you need vs. what you want
Read more about how to be a greener shopper!