According to recent market research, 60 percent of shoppers are searching for greener products. However, the market is flooded with green claims like natural, eco-friendly, sustainable and certified organic.
Did you know that a product can be organic, but not sustainable?
The terms are so confusing that today's green product and service market might be compared to 1880s quack medicine.
Even more complex, there are more than 300 green labels, according to ecolabelling.org, which finds and lists most of them. Two labels, Greenlist and Honda Hybrid, are facing class-action suits in California for false environmental safety and soundness with the former and for inflated miles/gallon statements advertising the latter.
Without overarching certification, consumers are forced to rely on manufacturer marketing claims and labels. Consumers Union and other organizations are asking major companies to agree to labeling standards, but it seems most are waiting on the Federal Trade Commission to update and reissue the "Green Guides," last updated in 1998, to clarify green terminology and set rules.
Sources say a draft of the updated guides may be ready for public comment next year.
In the meantime, how can anyone be sure what these labels mean, or if they are legitimate? The following Green Quick Fixes will help you carve a path through the maze of today's green marketing and labeling jungle.
First, start reading labels on products where you normally shop.
Then, look up certifications and what industry watchdog groups and databases say about company practices and products.
Keep a list of certifications handy in your wallet for reference when shopping.
Once you are satisfied with a product, stay with it.
Here's an example. I was looking for a shampoo and conditioner that lacked parabens, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, phthalates, phosphates, fragrances, Disodium EDTA, and animal and petroleum-based products and that was mostly organic. This is a tall order.
Despite all the fantastic-sounding green claims in most corporate drug and department stores, there wasn't one that even came close to meeting all of my criteria.
Then I found Desert Essence Organics hair care line at New Leaf in Beverly. The brand's organic certifying labels, Quality Certification Services (QCS) and Quality Assurance International, were both founded in 1989 and thus have experience in the marketplace. Both offer organic certification accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program and QCS also through USDA ISO Guide 65, which ensures that third-party verification is credible.
I searched Skin Deep at Cosmeticsdatabase.com and saw that because of panthenol, a humectant also known as pro-vitamin B5, and polyquarternium-7, a substance classification that by definition contains thickening agent and known human carcinogen acrylamide, the product received a rating of 3, which is low on the database's moderate hazard scale. Note Desert Essence labels the source of the polyquarternium-7 as coconut-derived, and I suppose I could ask the company for an explanation if I were inclined to go further.
I feel confident though that I've conquered the green shampoo maze locally and affordably.
Andrea Fox, a Beverly resident, has been writing about environmental sustainability and eco-topics for nine years. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a watershed protection advocate in Salem Sound Watershed. Visit her Web site at www.msgreenquickfixes.com.
Winter Weatherizing Checklist
Check heating-system filters and change or clean them. Bleed radiators.
Weather-strip and caulk cracks in floors, walls and jams. Replace worn weather stripping.
Seal leaky duct work with metal-backed tape.
Lock windows and install plastic sheeting.
For hard-wired air conditioners, cover inside and outside.
Insulate water pipes and add "water heater blankets" around uninsulated units.
For more energy-saving tips and strategies, go to Msgreenquickfixes.com/homeandhealth.html and click on "Prep List for Winter Energy Savings."