Monday, January 28, 2008

Advice from Grist: Is It Green ?

This is an excerpt from Grist's "Is it Green?" Guide :

Buyer Beware: Greenwashing's Red Flags
Vague claims. Words like "natural," "green," "eco," "nontoxic," and even "biodegradable" don't mean much on their own. They're easy to slap on a product, and they're not currently regulated. Look for more concrete terms like "organic" and "recycled," which are overseen more closely by the federal government and can be verified with a symbol on the package. (And note that "recyclable" just means you might be able to recycle the product in your community, while "recycled" actually means the company has already incorporated some amount of recycled materials in the product.)

Pretty packaging. More and more products, especially cosmetics and household cleaners, are adopting a "natural" look, eschewing the bright colors of old and replacing them with a cleaner, softer design. Is your laundry detergent really made from flowers, or has it simply added 1 percent flower oil to its chemicalicious mix? Read the ingredients to find out.

Nontransparency. If a company doesn't have the space on its product to explain its green claims, it should make the information available on its website or through its customer service department. Look for a phone number or web address on the package -- if you can't find it, or if it's hard to track down more details once you contact the company, there's something fishy going on.

Big promises. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Can you really make up for a year's worth of driving by paying a carbon-offset surcharge when you buy a car? Can a biodegradable diaper really biodegrade if it's smooshed into a deep, dark landfill? (Doubtful, and no.) Companies want to ease your mind with such promises -- but try not to make purchases based on emotions. Instead, learn as much as you can about the realities behind the claims.

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