The beginning of a New Year, and many resolutions have been made, and hopefully, not broken yet.  For those who have made the decision to buy more sustainably and make environmentally friendly decisions – congratulations and thank you for your commitment to help Mother Earth.  And now the hard part – how are those decisions made?  If you want to buy “organic” or purchase “cruelty free” meats and farm products, or environmentally safe cleaners, how are those choices to be made? What does “environmentally friendly” or “eco safe” mean on a label?  The quick answer – these are meaningless phrases, since there is no agency that regulates the useage of these terms.   As more and more companies sense that consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of the ingredients of products, more and more are making claims that may or may not be correct.

For food products, the US Department of Agriculture regulates the standards, and allows products which fulfill its criteria to use the USDA Organic label.  The Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) has developed an extensive database of cosmetics which rates products as to their safety.  It is a very extensive site with massive amounts of information not only on cosmetics, but also food products, health issues, and farming.   Many of the most highly rated products are not available in local stores which can be a little discouraging, but hopefully as consumer demand grows, more will become available.  The product description also lists why the product received the rating it did, so an individual can make an informed choice that perhaps the risk posed by the ingredients is acceptable.  Definitely a worthwhile website to look at.

The term “greenwashing” describes false, or only partially true statements made by companies.  In a previous Hows the Water article I had written about a site, greenwashingindex.com, which has good information and exposes many of the outlandish claims made by marketers.  One of my favorites is an ad by Fiji water which claims it is environmentally friendly – bottled water, shipped from a remote island in the South Pacific ?  Needless to say, it scored very high on the “greenwashing” scale.  This site is worth visiting in order to gain knowledge and learn how to become more discerning regarding claims made by manufacturers.

GreenSeal (GreenSeal.org) offers certifications for household products, like cleaners, office supplies, etc. As stated on its website, “GreenSeal is a non-profit organization that uses science-based programs to empower consumers, purchasers and companies to create a more sustainable world.”  The website lists products which have fulfilled GreenSeal’s standards for sustainability and safety.  Green Seal also certifies businesses, such as cleaning companies, and hotel chains.  Many of the cleaning products, like RealSimple  products are easily available in local supermarkets and retailers.  GreenSeal also offers institutional greening programs.  These programs assist goverments and organizations improve human health and the environment in their communities.  The five key areas GreenSeal provides assistance in is Green Cities/Green Businesses, Green Purchasing, Green Hospitality, Green Buildings Operation and Maintenance and Green Mail.

There is much more to be said on this topic, but due to space limitations, will be addressed in another column.  Happy New Year and best wishes to all!