Shopping more sustainably—whether for cleaning products, clothing, food, home furnishings, or other goods—is a meaningful way to reduce your individual environmental impact. However, navigating the broad landscape of “eco-friendly” products can be a challenge. Companies can make all sorts of ecological claims, but labels often contain misstatements and terms that aren’t really green. To help you sort through the sustainable jargon, we’ll walk you through the labels that actually matter—and what might indicate a product is not as green as it seems.
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First up, product claims such as “Free of [insert ingredient]” are a common instance of greenwashing. For example, a boast of “lead-free paint” isn’t really touting anything: Lead paint was banned in 1978. CFCs (or chlorofluorocarbons) are also banned. Additionally, many products are labeled as nontoxic when they contain harmful ingredients. In fact, the label “certified nontoxic” is essentially meaningless since no organization or department of the federal government regulates that term.
Certification on labels might not mean what you think it does either. Look into where the certification is from and where the organization gets its funding. For third-party awards, determine whether the third party is unbiased and, if it’s a nonprofit, who (or what) funds the group. Before you’re swayed by flashy claims, do a bit of research to figure out what’s behind the bright packaging and eye-catching logo.
You should also watch for terms that sound good but really don’t mean a thing about a product’s eco-friendliness. Terms including all-natural, nontoxic, and chemical-free, for example, are not defined and not regulated. A biodegradable label could either refer to the product (like a cleaning solution) or the packaging. For packaging, see if it’s made with recycled content or PET/HDPE materials. As for the word green, any company can call anything green, so the claim carries no weight.
Eco-Friendly Labels that Matter
Product labels can be pure marketing, or they can really help you make greener choices. Educate yourself on what these popular certifications mean:
1. B Corp
The B Corp certification signifies that a business has resolved to follow strict social and environmental standards. These standards apply to the entire company, including aspects such as employee benefits, charitable giving, supply chain practices, and the materials used to make their products. To maintain the B Corp label, these companies are legally required to consider their impact on their employees, communities, customers, suppliers, and the environment—as opposed to simply prioritizing profit.
2. Cradle to Cradle
The Cradle to Cradle certification recognizes sustainability metrics on an end-to-end basis. With the goal of eliminating waste, this program looks at the lifespan of a product as a continuous cycle. Cradle to Cradle certified products are made using renewable resources and materials that are designed to break down naturally or be reused for other resources or products.
3. Energy Star
The Energy Star label certifies a product’s energy efficiency, according to standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The certification often applies to appliances, electronics, heating and cooling equipment, lighting, …….