It turns out that many of the so-called “green” products in our homes might not be so green after all. The latest study from TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm, found that 95 percent of consumer products make some kind of false claim about their environmental-friendliness. Even allegedly BPA-free baby toys might contain that unwanted compound.
The problem, TerraChoice reports, is that anyone can slap a “green” or “all-natural” label on a product. Many consumers don’t realize how unregulated and ill-defined these labels are, and pay more for the products that have them even when they don’t mean much.
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So, how can consumers navigate the world of green—and not-so-green—products? As I report in Generation Earn, looking for third-party approvals, such as the Green Seal, can help you separate legitimate environmental-friendliness from the fakers, as can Internet searchers of products and ingredients. E-mailing the company directly when answers prove elusive is another option. Websites such as “The Smart Mama” also do a lot of that research for you.
“Green-washing,” as TerraChoice labels it, has also spread to the world of global travel. Resorts from Thailand to South Africa promise “green” getaways in the form of organic dining, local nature trips, and carbon offsets. Whether or not the trips are actually green, especially considering that they probably require a 14-hour jumbo jet ride, depends on the details.
One eco-tour operator in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in partnership with the nonprofit carbonfund.org, fuels its vehicles with biodiesel, uses only existing hiking trails in order to minimize the impact of visitors on the environment, uses washable lunch plates, and serves organic and local produce. Concerned travelers can also offset their carbon footprint further by funding wind energy, reforestation, and renewable energy projects through carbonfund.org. The nonprofit’s motto is that people should "reduce what you can, offset what you can't."
The Wall Street Journal reports that the government is also taking a closer look at companies that falsely use its “Energy Star” label, and that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission might tighten its own rules about green marketing.
The bottom line: Do some research before buying into any “green” labels, because on their own, they don’t mean much.
Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back.