What does it mean to buy green? – The Truth About Green Product Labels
There are no standard definitions for the words used to describe green products, so we sometimes tend to confuse products that sound green or claim to be green with those that truly are sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Some companies intentionally use words like natural or eco-friendly as a marketing ploy to imply that their products are better for you and the environment than they may actually be. That is known as greenwashing. Unfortunately, many companies that greenwash their products spend a lot more time and money on marketing than on becoming more sustainable and ecologically friendly.
I am Marla, the Green Home Coach. Today, I am pulling a podcast out of the archives in which Tony Pratte, my regular co-host, and I dive into the concept of greenwashing. In our conversation, we explain what you can do get above and beyond greenwashing, take action, and do better. We focus on green labels for the home and explain how they can work for you. Green labels for the home cover everything from energy efficiency to water efficiency to resource efficiency to toxin-free products and recycled materials. Stay tuned for more!
Greenwashing has been going on for a couple of decades now. Lately, people have been getting more concerned about it. Due to the current uncertainty surrounding the environmental and eco-friendly claims that companies have been making, the Federal Trade Commission has created green guides to help ensure that marketing claims regarding the environmental attributes of products are substantiated and truthful.
Wise up to greenwashing
We all need to wise up to greenwashing and realize that we vote with our dollars. Many of us base our purchasing decisions on the performance, sustainability, and culture of the companies we buy from. So we are usually willing to pay a moderate premium for products made by people and companies authentically committed to being better environmental and health stewards.
A lot of research goes into figuring out if products are what they claim to be. Green labels prove that research has been done on products by a green label-certified independent third party. Green labels give us guidelines to ensure that the products we buy will protect us, our families, and our fellow human beings. If the third party did not exist, anyone would be able to do or say whatever they wanted about any product. Green labels give us the peace of mind that comes from knowing we are using something better.
The term greenwashing got coined about ten years ago. It gets used when someone thinks or hopes, rather than knows, that a product is green. It is nothing more than marketing hype or the misdirection of consumers because, although something gets claimed to be good for the environment, in reality, that may or may not be so.
The FCC and greenwashing
The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has put out rules about what you may say and claims you may make about a product. There is also a standard code of ethics for marketers, and the American Marketing Association has specific rules that forbid marketers from making any unsubstantiated claims.
Using ‘green’ terms
Many people- even those in the home-building industry, do not understand fully what green terms mean. Nor do they understand their value. And they often do not even know how to use the terms correctly. So they tend to throw them around loosely, without understanding the consequences or the ramifications that are sure to follow. For example, a home that has Energy Star-certified, energy-efficient windows cannot be described as an energy-efficient home simply because it has an energy-efficient feature in it.
No real meaning
Some terms have no real meaning to the FCC, like natural, which is often used to describe food and personal care products.
There are some specific rules for using the word ‘organic’ to describe products.
The goal of green labels
Green labels exist to give people something tangible, and reliable parameters around a particular characteristic. They help us to understand more about what we are buying.
Having peace-of-mind around energy-efficiencyLately, many companies are doing things that are more sustainably-minded. There are multiple levels on which we can choose to engage with the companies that are doing things better.
Green labels give us all the necessary guidelines to ensure that we are doing something impactful that will protect our families, ourselves, and fellow human beings without doing all the research.
Everyday Green Home ShopTo help you, I have started putting a lot of products in my Everyday Green Home shop that have green labels. For the products that do not have green labels, I go through the vetting process I learned from the Green Building Standard to ensure that they meet the requirements needed for a Green Home Certification. For the personal care products in my shop, I refer to the Environmental Working Group.
Taking small steps
You can green your entire home, taking one small step at a time. Some steps to take in that direction are:
● Energy Star – It covers 1000s of quality products including complete home certification. Choose these products when you decide to upgrade or change anything electrical in your home.
● Water Sense – It covers, for water, much the same as Energy Star does for energy. Choose these products when it is time to upgrade or replace your washing machine, dishwasher, faucets, showerheads, or plumbing fixtures.
● Green Guard – This certification tells you that a product, usually for woodwork or cleaning, has fewer toxins in it, and it meets California’s requirements for air quality.
● Start taking control of the quality of the air you let into the house.
● Cradle To Cradle is a new energy-saving concept for both products and processes. It is an efficient way to use resources.
How green labels apply in other parts of our life and for homes
The US Green Building Council has LEED (Leadership, Energy, and Environmental Design). It is available for homes. There is also the National Green Building Standard, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and local and regional green building standards, like Green Build Texas, Green Build Washington, and Earthcraft Homes in the South-East. There are also energy-efficient only certifications, like Energy Star, for homes and new homes. Home Energy Ratings Score (HERS) is a home energy ratings score index or a scale of energy efficiency which assesses the energy usage and relates it to an existing home.
Sustainability is about more than just the products
Sustainability is about society and living standards. It is about how people get treated and the wages they are paid.
My website Green Home Coach
Everyday Green Home Shop for curated better and green products
FTC Green Guides https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/federal_register_notices/guides-use-environmental-marketing-claims-green-guides/greenguidesfrn.pdf
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