When should you spend your money to protect the planet – and when should you keep it in your purse?
Given the thousands of green products being introduced these days, and the vague marketing claims being used to sell them, you don’t want to blow your budget just to keep up with the newest “eco,” “herbal,” or “biodegradable” fad – especially if the claim turns out to be more greenwashing than green.
On the other hand, genuinely earth-friendly products do help minimize your environmental impact. Every organic cotton T-shirt you buy, for instance, helps reduce the use of toxic agricultural chemicals, protecting the air and water. Moreover, the same tee waves like a bright green flag in front of conventional cotton producers, reminding them that your money is filling their organic competitors’ coffers.
Using your Big Green Purse to favor companies whose goods protect the climate, eliminate toxins, keep the air and water clean, and safeguard forests and other natural places creates a powerful incentive for their rivals to do likewise. The challenge is in knowing how to avoid the “greenwash” so you can promote more green. A few clear principles will help you identify an ecobargain from a rip-off, while getting manufacturers to transition as quickly as possible to the most earth-friendly practices available.
The Big Green Purse Shopping Principles
1) Buy less.
2) Read the label.
3) Support sustainable standards.
4) Look for third-party verification.
5) Choose fewer ingredients.
6) Pick less packaging.
7) Buy local.
Buy less. This should be a “no brainer.” Consumerism – buying what we don’t need, over and over again – drives unnecessary manufacturing that fuels climate change, pollutes the air and water, and destroys the places in Nature we love. Remember “reduce, reuse, recycle”? It still makes sense. Plus, when you’re not buying, you’re not getting fooled by dubious marketing claims. If you don’t trust the source, don’t buy it.
Read the label. We read food labels to avoid trans fats, sugar, salt and carbohydrates. We can read product labels to avoid greenwashing words like “natural” and “planet friendly” that aren’t backed up by standards or third-party verification (see below). When it comes to cleansers and other household goods, avoid products labeled “caution,” “warning,”, “danger,” and “poison,” all of which indicate the item is hazardous to you and the environment.
Support sustainable standards. An increasing number of companies are proving they’re green by manufacturing according to sustainable standards that govern the product’s “life cycle,” beginning with the raw materials and ending with its disposal or re-use. Green Seal standards, for example, cover building materials, paints, cleaning products, even restaurants.
Look for third-party verification. In the absence of universal sustainable standards, if a company says its product is good for the earth, your first question should be, “Who else says so?” Reliable eco claims are backed up by an independent institution or nonprofit organization that has investigated the manufacturer’s claim so you don’t have to. Look for labels from groups like Forest Stewardship Council, ENERGY STAR, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Organic.
Choose fewer ingredients. A long list of ingredients often indicates the presence of questionable chemicals that may be harmful to you or the environment. This is especially true for personal care products, food, and cleansers. Simplify what you buy.
Pick less packaging. Regardless of the marketing claims a product makes, you can make an immediate impact by buying goods that come wrapped as simply as possible. For starters, buy in bulk, choose concentrates, and pick products in containers you can easily recycle (hint: glass and cans are more easily recycled than plastic). Carting home your packages in your own bags helps reduce packaging, too.
Buy local. Avoid the higher energy costs involved in transporting goods long distances. Supporting local farmers and businesses also increases the likelihood that U.S. environmental and health laws and regulations will be followed.
Bottom Line: Ignore boasts that a product is eco-chic, earth-safe, or planet-neutral. Stick to the green shopping principles above to ensure that your Big Green Purse has the kind of big green impact that will make a difference both in the marketplace and on the environment.