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How to Know if a Product is Really Green

Updated on November 5, 2009

Is that Product Really Green?

Green is the new fad. I say "fad" because people have been recycling and conserving for years, but it's only now becoming fashionable. For example, I bought reusable cotton bags to put groceries in back in 1987, but they didn't catch on then. And, every time I used them in grocery stores, I got odd looks from the checker. Now, every store sells them and the consumer is encouraged to use them. It's politically correct to be "green" now. But what IS "green"? If a product claims to be "eco friendly" or "natural" does this mean you are helping the environment by using it? Not always. Here are a few things to consider:

1. Organic foods. Once prohibitively expensive and only purchased by health food fanatics that had a trust fund, organic foods are beginning to go mainstream. But just because it says "organic" or "natural" doesn't mean that you are buying something that doesn't contain harmful chemicals. "Natural" has no legal definition.

According to the USDA website, produce that is labeled "100% organic" "organic" or "made from organic ingredients" must adhere to strict standards defined by the USDA. They can not be grown using methods not approved by the USDA, using sewage sludge or ionizing radiation. Look for the USDA Organic Seal. Keep in mind that only larger farms have to adhere to these standards. Bottom Line: Look for the USDA Organic Seal to be sure. Or buy from a farmer that you know and trust.

Another issue is, some foods use a lot of pesticides to grow and they are worth buying organic. Peaches, apples, potatoes, nectarines, cherries, pears, apples, sweet bell peppers, spinach, lettuce, grapes and strawberries are very susceptible to pesticide residue. If you can afford to buy organic, these are the foods that are worth it. Other foods use little pesticides or can be peeled and washed to remove much of the residues. They may not be worth the extra expense.

2. Wood Products. Is a bamboo floor really going to leave a smaller environmental footprint than an oak floor? I went to to find out what their criteria was to determine what is "green" when choosing flooring. Their ten attributes that make a flooring "green" are:

Social Responsibility- How environmentally aware is the company and employees.
Manufacturer Processes- Manufacturing methods are not harmful to the enviroment.
Distribution Methods- packaging, transportaion and using local materials are taken into account.
Renewable- How many years does it take to grow that oak or bamboo?
Recycled Content- Did you know you can buy carpet made from recycled bottles?
Recyclability- What do you do with it when it's worn out?
Toxicity- Does not contain any toxic materials. What kind of offgassing does it give off?
Life Cycle- Designed to last an extended life cycle so you don't have to replace it so soon.
Installation-Can it be installed without VOC adhesives?
Maintenance-does it require chemicals and lots of water to maintain.

Obviously, you can go crazy choosing the "right" flooring. Don't just assume "environmentally friendly" on the label means it is the right choice. even has advice on recycling your old carpet. I'm not advocating and I've never used their products. But choose a company who is environmentally aware and informed enough to help you make the right decision for you.

The Forest Stewardship Council US ( is located in Minneapolis, MN and was established in 1993 to change forestry practices towards sustainability and promotes green building. You can check out their website which describes the LEED rating system for forest certification.

3. Cleaning products. Just because a cleaning product's packaging has changed to look more "natural" and the label says, "natural" or "green" doesn't mean they've actually changed the formulation. Think about it: asbestos and mercury are both "natural" but you wouldn't want them in your home. Read the label. Most cleaning products have chemicals you can't pronounce. You have to have a clean home. When possible, use harmless items, such as vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice to clean. Bleach is still chlorine and is poison. Don't overdo it. A tiny bit can sanitize a big job (1/2 cup to two gallons of water). Hot water and detergent will kill most germs. Try to use as few chemical products as possible. There is some research that suggests overusing antibacterial products are producing "super bugs" that are resistant to many chemicals, just as overuse of antibiotics have created "super germs". Unless you have someone with a compromised immune system living in your house, making your home super sanitized can actually do more harm than good. Your children have to be exposed to germs in order to build up their immune systems.

4. Appliances. This has gotten much easier in recent years. When you can afford it, replace appliances when they are 8-10 years old. The old clunkers use so much electricity, it's worth investing in a new one. Don't know how old that refrigerator is? Look inside and find the label. There is a manufacturing date on it. Mine says 1995. I'm WAY overdue for a new fridge! I'm not sure your stove needs to be replaced that often. Look for the EnergyStar label on new appliances. Maybe the power you save won't pay for the appliance in the first year, but you will eventually. You can even get a tax write-off this year for Energy Star appliances. It's a good year for a new refrigerator!

5. Paper Goods. You can look for the Green Seal. Products are evaluated to see if they meet strict standards for bleaching and recycling. Try to buy products that are made from recycled materials. Try to buy products that are non bleached. Try to buy products that use as little packaging as possible.

I'm going to write the company that makes my favorite laundry detergent and ask them to make refills packages made from something other than big plastic jugs, although they are recyclable. Why can't they use cardboard cartons or plastic pouches? Do your best to think about each purchase and choose products that use very little packaging.

Things to Consider:

Things to look out for:

1. Misleading claims on the label. Be aware that "natural" "green" and "environmentally friendly" have no legal definition and can be used on anything.

2. No way to contact the company. Is there a phone number or address on the product that you can contact? If they don't want your feedback, why do you want to give them your money?

3. Promises. Does the product really do what it claims to do? Is that "Giant Triple Roll" toilet paper really have triple what the "big roll" has? So, are you really saving anything?

4. Packaging. Beware of packaging that looks "natural". Are they just sucking you in because that spray bottle looks like it's made from soft, cream colored plastic instead of fire engine red? Don't be fooled by pictures of leaves and sunshine and grass. Just because the picture on the label looks like "nature" doesn't mean what inside is from nature.

5. Is changing to something "green" really the answer? For example, is purchasing a brand new electric or hybrid car going to cost less than an old clunker? I've read studies that compares the cost of a brand new hybrid car with its low gas milage to a an old car that gets 20 mpg. It would take so long to recover the cost of replacing your old car, it really isn't worth it. If your old car is totalled and you are in the market for something new, then a hybrid or electric might be worth it to you. I would rather buy a three or four year old car with cash and keep it tuned up, myself. It will cost much less in the end, I don't have to pay interest on a loan and I'm reusing something old until it's used up instead of buying something shiney and new. Now, maybe some day I will find a five-year-old hybrid for sale that has been well taken care of that I buy for cash. Then, maybe.

We can all contribute to a cleaner, greener earth. But, step back and take a look at what you are buying. Don't be fooled by marketing ploys that trick you into something you don't want. Reuse what you have when you can, buy only what is truly renewable, recycled, natural, organic or green.

Check out my website: for ideas to reuse what you have!!


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    • wyanjen profile image

      Jen King 8 years ago from Wyandotte Michigan

      Hi Carrie

      You did a great job with the research here. This hub is filled top to bottom with good common sense.

      It's good to point out that "green" has become a marketing tool. We need to be looking past the labels! :-)

      Thanks for your hub.