In The Store, "Green" Is A Matter Of Opinion

Do you try to be a green consumer? Says who? The problem with eco-friendly shopping today is that it’s become the “Wild West” of marketing, says the Los Angeles Times, with dozens of self-appointed labels, grass roots seals-of-approvals, and no unified, federally mandated guideline. According to Bruce Hamilton of the Sierra Club,

“People are consciously trying to fuzzy the boundary lines between clarity and lack of clarity so they can sell more products. Everybody is trying to promote their products as green even though they may not be.”

One site that can help you decide what to buy is, run by the Consumers Union (who publish Consumer Reports). The site provides detailed information on various seals you can find on products, as well as the meanings behind phrases like “eco safe,” “biodegrades without forming microtoxins” (whaa?), and “cruelty free.”

Eco-labels believes a universal seal would be too difficult to implement, and that simply more consistency in labeling would help everyone. Of course, a federal agency seal doesn’t prevent abuse or mislabeling, it just standardizes it; we saw how that turned out with the whole “organic” category. But at least you can assume a minimum standard is being met before the label “organic” can be applied, whereas today “green” is just another marketing term to appeal to a highly attractive and growing demographic of environmentally conscious—but consistently frustrated—shoppers.

“It’s not easy being a green consumer” [Los Angeles Times]



Edit Your Comment

  1. overbysara says:

    you can get a building certified: []

  2. tozmervo says:

    This is a fantastic resource. The aforementioned USGBC website (which runs LEED for buildings) uses many of the listed labels as references for building products. Support the good ones – its the only way to keep Green from becoming the next Rubik’s Cube.

  3. phoenixcat says:

    Great resource- things get very complicated when marketing folks get their hands on them…

  4. CyGuy says:

    I was just faced with this dilemma today. I was at the pet store and they had this cat litter [] made from “short cellulose fibers not suitable for any other consumer purpose” I tried to find somewhere on the label where it indicated if it had any recycled content but there was no indication that it contained any recycled materials whatsoever. Also, it noted how it was biodegradable but elsewhere warned against using it as compost or recycling it as the used litter may harbor pathogens.

    What annoyed me was that also on the label was the familiar three arrows forming a circle recycling logo though this was product not made from recycled materials or recyclable itself.

  5. Alvis says:

    Ah yes, “organic”. THAT turned out well. Leave it to special-interest groups to have the government redefine a word. Anything who thinks pesticides are evil has read “Silent Spring” one too many times.

    I make a point not to buy anything advertised as “organic” just out of the sheer inanity of the label. Of COURSE food is organic! I’m hard-pressed to think of anything but salt that’s inorganic and in many foods.

  6. Alvis says:

    And water. Derr. Salt and water.

  7. Rusted says:

    @Alvis: Amen to that. “Organic” bananas as opposed to non-mineral bananas, cost more, more brown spots, and best of all, wrapped in plastic. I pass.

  8. aikoto says:

    Not that regulation will necessarily fix anything. The FDA is notorious for being stupid, inept, and/or corrupt.


  9. ElizabethD says:

    I need to register my objection to the Sierra Club guy’s choice of verb: “to fuzzy the boundary…” Oh, please, just BLUR that boundary and stop being twee!

  10. kc2idf says:

    This also leads to the problem of greenwashing. There is a brand of paper plates that is available in this area (sorry, can’t recall the brand off the top of my head), which has a green label, the word “green” in the brand name, and prominently features the three-arrow recycling symbol.

    So what makes this product so green?

    Is it 100% post-consumer recycled paper? No.

    50%? No.

    30%? No.

    Is it any fraction, however small, post-consumer recycled paper? No.

    Is it any fraction, however small, pre-consumer recycled paper? No.

    No, their claim to greenness is that it is paper. Period. Full stop. They advertise that their product is green because it could be recycled later, and does bio-degrade. Eventually.

  11. ancientsociety says:

    @Rusted: @Alvis:

    Queue the “scientific definition of ‘organic'” trolls…..

    *le sigh*

  12. theWolf says:

    This comment is cruelty free.

  13. Erskine says:

    @ancientsociety: That would be “cue.”

  14. @Alvis: “Anything who thinks pesticides are evil has read “Silent Spring” one too many times.”

    Or, you know, worked in agriculture. Or visited their county extension with the latest scientific data from the government and the universities. Or, like, driven vaguely by it at a distance of a mile.

    But don’t let facts cloud that happy horizon of yours.

  15. MrGromit says:

    Perhaps my libertarian (small “l”) bend is showing here, but why the heck do we need to get the government involved here?!?

    Seriously, there’s what, 20 different certifying organizations out there? Why can’t a few of these move to the top of the food chain and become the standard, or at least agree upon one?

    There’s enough press out there now that if some company invented its own certification organization to do bogus approvals, both it and the company could be hounded out of existence.

    Caveat Emptor

  16. dregina says:

    @alvis – There are actual people who do have to go out into fields and bring the food in to you, you know. Even if you aren’t worried about your own health, if you can afford to worry about theirs, why not do so?