How to shop green
oes it really matter to shop with the environment in mind? "You bet it does," say Norman Dean, President of Green Seal. Green Seal is the national nonprofit environmental labeling organization that awards a "Green Seal of Approval" to products found to cause significantly less harm to the environment.
How do you rosrt out valid from bogus "green" product claims? Green Seals are one answer.
But when walking down the supermarket aisle, consumers are bombarded with competing "green" claims: Biodegradable! Earth Friendly! Recyclable! How do you know which claims to believe? How do you know which are significant?
Green Seal identifies products that are environmentally preferable. According to Dean, all consumer goods have some impact on the environment. "And last year 13% of new products on the market made "green" claims, because," say Dean, "marketers know that four out of five consumers say they want to buy products that cause less harm to the environment.
Green Seal shows exactly how enormous consumer impact on the environment can be. For example:
- If all tissue products met Green Seal's standards, each year we would divert more than a million tons of paper from landfills and incinerators; save the amount of energy generated annually by two average sized power plants; keep 71,000 tons of pollutants out of the air; save the amount of water used annually by the city of Boston; and ease the pressure to log environmentally sensitive areas by eliminating demand for 40 million trees.
- About 95% of American homes contribute to the annual 2.5 million ton usage of paper towels and napkins each year. If all paper towels and paper napkins met the requirements of the Green Seal standard, more than 1.7 million tons of wastepaper would be kept out of landfills each year. This amount of waste is equivalent to the annual capacity of 15 landfills.
- If every American replaced one 100 watt incandescent bulb with a Green Seal-certified compact fluorescent light (CFL), we would save enough energy to displace the need for three new power plants. Even better, use of CFLs immediately cuts the air and water pollution and environmental damage associated with extraction and burning fossil fuels. Use of CFLs also help reduce acid rain, the risk of global warming and oil spills, and the production of nuclear and other toxic waste.
- Most showerheads use 3 to 5 gallons per minute (gpm), with some as high as 10 gpm. With a 2.5 gpm Green Seal-certified showerhead, a typical household could save 17,000 gallons of water per year - the amount of water you would drink in more than a century. And the $135 it costs to heat that extra shower water and the $70 in water and sewer expenses will go into your pocket instead of down the drain.
What to do
Now that you know that it makes a difference to buy products that are environmentally preferable, how do you know which environmental claims to believe?
Look for the Green Seal, of course! The Green Seal Certification Mark - a blue globe with a green check mark - assures consumers that the products bearing the Green Seal have met stringent environmental standards. Green Seal aims to give scientifically-based, unbiased advice. Products are Green Seal-certified only after rigorous testing and evaluation. Underwriters Laboratories Inc. is the primary testing contractor for Green Seal.
The organization studies products to develop environmental standards for product categories, then submits its proposed standards to a public review process involving environmentalists, manufacturers, consumers, and government agencies. Green Seal's standards typically address the environmental impact of a product, its packaging, and its performance. And Green Seal considers the impacts of a product from manufacturing through use to disposal or recycling.
Dean urges consumers to buy only what they need, and says people should be aware that when they make a purchase, they are sending a strong message to the manufacturer. "Buy a product that meets Green Seal's standards," Dean says, "and you are, in fact, casting a vote for the Earth with your wallet. Use your purchasing power to tell manufacturers you care that the product was made in ways that cause less harm to the environment. They will listen and respond by making green products more readily available.
For a list of environmentally preferable products, call Green Seal at (202) 872-6400, or write 1001 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste. 827, Washington DC, 20036.