, Salem, MA


November 6, 2009

Figuring out the green labels maze

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, 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.

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