Friday, July 23, 2010

How to choose the right 'green' product

We are now in a culture where finding products touted as 'eco' friendly really isn't a problem. Unfortunately, being green is the 'new' black (whatever that means) so every company and their dog is 'eco-friendly'... even when it really isn't. Greenwashing is one of my pet peeves, I find it incredibly frustrating. Since companies know that green consumers are willing to spend the extra 'moral' dollar for environmentally friendly products, manipulation at our expense abounds.

I've come up with some strategies of my own when I walk into a 'health-natural' store and check out products. I thought I'd share a few with you to help you make good informed choices.

General Tips:
- Labels and claims such as 'natural, organic, biodegradable, eco-friendly' are *not* regulated nor do they necessarily mean a thing. There's no 'label police' out there stopping any company from slapping on a 'all natural ingredients' label while their version of 'natural' is formaldehyde. 
- The FDA allows beauty (and cleaning) companies to pull the 'it's our trade secret' bs. Which means they're not required to post all of the ingredients. (umm, I can think of a few companies who do that). Sketchy. Excuse me if I don't exactly trust a money making company who doesn't disclose it's ingredients 'but trust us, we're the real eco-deal'. Right.

Real logos to trust:

USDA Organic Logo (beauty industry companies only need 70% of ingredients to be certified organic whereas food requires a higher percentage).

Quality Assurance International Organic is another legit certification board.

Fair Trade now has two symbols

The Leaping Bunny is the only legit animal cruelty free label. Buyers beware, companies try to replicate by simply putting a bunny on their product.

Canadian Certified Organic Logo

Environmental Canada Choice (although there is no mainstream 'biodegradable' label choice- if you see one it's probably a logo fabricated by the company- this label is pretty close to being sustainable.)

Quick tips for big companies:
- always always look for certification to back up a claim. They say they're organic, what about certified? Fair trade? Better be the certification symbol to back it up. 'Natural' just won't cut it. Especially for big company brand names.
- ingredients. No ingredients, no sell. It's that simple. I don't care how trust worthy you claim to be, or how many promo videos the sales lady has viewed, if you can't print the ingredients then I don't have to sink my money into your business.
- Avoid the big scary ingredients that end in 'parabens' along with 'DEA's, 'PEG's' and any other non-translated scariness. If the word isn't followed by an explanation than I question (i.e. 'Tocopherol- Vitamin E). 

Down to business:
- smaller companies get more slack and brownie points. Hand made close to home? I can forgive random words that I may not immediately understand (and I will email them and ask later anyway). 
- look at the packaging. Is the container in plastic wrap? Automatic negatory. Any excessive packaging gets a black mark. I especially hate the Green Beaver in a cardstock packaging. How lame is that extra packaging? What is the point?
- The packaging should be in this order of preference:
1. no packaging (soap bar). fantastic.
2. glass. no petrochemicals at all.
3. post-consumer waste paper.
4. recyclable plastic (1,2 for HRM)
5. everything else.

Know your product. If you know that it's possible to get local soap without petrochemicals, synthetic dyes or random scientific ingredients, than why pay big moneys for a bar of soap that 'claims' to be natural with a huge ingredient list? 

Questions to ask natural store sales people:
- 'What is your cleanest product?' this tells the sales person that you actually want as little chemical as possible in your product. 
- 'What does *** chemical mean?' If they work in the beauty department of a health food store they should have a chemical 'dictionary' handy. If they don't- slowly back away and ABORT. Not worth your time. The internet will be more handy.

Final Type A steps to take:
- Research efficacy and company policies online. This means checking out what individuals other than the actual company itself has to say. I usually check spots like 'Ecoholic' column from Toronto Now, David Suzuki followed by Grist and Treehugger. I have found that the last two may not have the most accurate or well researched answers.

And realize that you may have bought a product that you discover actually isn't all that 'green'. Don't worry if a feeling of anger and guilt overcomes you. Buying Lush and believing that you are paying more for the green factor doesn't make you silly. We have all been there. Greenwashing sucks, but by taking a few extra steps we can make informed decisions to help us invest or money in the right places.  

Take a stroll on over to FiveSeed where she has linked 'The Story of Cosmetics' and some extremely interesting discussion and thoughts on the beauty industry. A fantastic read!

I hope this was helpful. When we can all take responsibility for informing ourselves on our choices with regards to what we put in and on our bodies, than we can start taking back control from huge companies. Although it is helpful to know if certain 'green' companies are actually reliable and do what they claim (i.e. provide a good shampoo lol), informing ourselves is the first step in independence.

Much Blessings!

article copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Look at me, actually commenting, lol! I've been on "commenting" vacation lately, but always reading your blog, of course! This was awesome. Especially the inclusion of the actual labels. Way to go!

  2. You're an inspiration!

  3. This a fascinating post.

    I should really get some of my research together and try and do something similar for the UK where some of this doesn't necessarily apply. There are many things wrong with this country but we do have quite strict labelling guidelines and our symbols are very different!

    I think there should be global symbols really though don't you?

  4. What a great post and wonderful resource! Thanks so much!

  5. Wonderful post! My favorite part was when you say "slowly back away and ABORT". lol. : )


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