True Colors

How to tell if a product is really green

She calls herself the “black queen of green.” Jo Boykins, 42, of Bowie, Maryland, eats only organic foods, makes her own laundry detergent and household cleansers, and grows wheatgrass in her kitchen window. Her husband, Richard, 52, even uses a push-reel mower to cut the grass. “We started going green to alleviate allergies and the overall day-to-day energy drain,” Boykins says. “Every little effort each person makes toward improving their health and the health of the environment promotes positive change.”

The green movement is in full force, and many companies have jumped aboard the green locomotive, hoping to ride to huge profits. But a company’s claim that a product is green doesn’t make it so. Some engage in a practice known as “greenwashing,” or passing off a product that has no real benefit to the environment as eco-friendly. However, there are ways to know if a product is truly green.

Look for a seal of approval. A seal will tell you if a product
has received third-party certification from a reputable organ-
ization. Linda Chipperfield, a representative for Green Seal (www.greenseal.org), recommends looking for products made by companies that have received approval based on an internationally recognized environmental standard. “Some of the most accepted labels are Energy Star for energy-efficient products; the Forest Stewardship Council for sustainable forested wood products; Certified Organic, which is policed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Fair Trade Certified, which covers coffee, chocolate, and many other imported goods; and Green Seal, which puts products through a stringent process to show that they have less impact on the environment and human health,” Chipperfield says.

Research the manufacturer. Steve Urow, founder of Green People.org, an online directory of green products and services, advises conducting background research on the company that makes the product you’re interested in purchasing. “Look at who is producing the product. Unfortunately, some large companies tend to be almost solely profit driven,” he says. “Many green products are produced by small companies.” A good starting point for your search is Co-op America (www.coopamerica.org), a social justice and environmental awareness organization that has a database of more than 3,000 green companies. The directory, dubbed The National Green Pages, gives a detailed description of each company and its products, as well as contact information.

Investigate claims. The Federal Trade Commission warns against purchasing products that have vague terms and sweeping claims in their advertising. For example, be wary of items labeled “natural” or “ozone-friendly.” Contact the company or go to its Website and request documentation that substantiates its claims. Zach Bouchard, CEO of GreenShopper.com, a Website that sells environmentally responsible items, says green products have a specific set of criteria. “The best green products have organic ingredients; are low in energy and water consumption; and are made from easily renewable sources such as hemp, bamboo, and solar-powered products.” The FTC offers tips to help consumers understand environmental marketing claims. Look for the publication Sorting out Green Advertising Claims on its Website (www.ftc.gov).

IT MIGHT NOT BE GREEN
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