On Being Green

Being “green” is the thing to thing to do now. Whether you are driving around in a new hybrid car or sporting a “Save Our Planet” t-shirt, the trendy thing these days is to be eco-friendly. But what does it mean to be eco-friendly? Wikipedia says it “refer to goods and services, laws, guidelines and policies considered to inflict minimal or no harm on the environment.” That sounds good, right? In short, yes. The problem, however, is that there are new products put out everyday with “safe for the environment” and “green ingredients” slapped on the label, even though there is no international standard for these claims. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has even said that these labels and claims are useless in determining the safety of a product and its ingredients.

There is also another term that has come out of this green movement: “greenwashing.” This term refers to companies marketing their products or their companies as green and safe for the environment. Did you read that? Marketing. Selling. At the end of the day all many (note I did not say all)  of these companies care about is the bottom line, so they spin their data and their product to make it look like it is a much better choice to make, even if it is not much, or any, better than the non-green alternative. These companies spend a lot of money tailoring their products to consumers and right now, green is in so green is what these companies are giving their customers.

I have always had a problem with these “green” products that started coming out a few years ago. One look at the label makes me wonder how the company can even give it that label. What about the harsh chemicals used in the cleaning products, the toxic waste produced as a result of creating and packaging these chemicals? I am always pretty skeptical of any claim made by a company (since their goal is to make money), so I never really bought into these product claims. Until recently.

Even after I was just talking to my husband about how the ingredients in a popular brand of green cleaning products actually weren’t all that safe and how it is important to look at the labels before buying a brand (or maybe I just had this discussion in my head…either way I was thinking this), I bought a green product without reading the label. I bought some foaming handsoap (yes, I know I have the Dr. Bronner’s in my house for this, but there are a couple guys in my house who don’t like the smell/lack of lather from it) from Company X that I just assumed was safe. Company X has been around a long time and has always been a popular brand among the eco-friendly crowd (even before all the greenwashing). It is marketed as being safe for you and the planet. But one look at the ingredient list made me regret my decision. The first thing that made me regret buying it is the fact that it is a very long list, and I do not like products (be it cleaning or food) with long ingredient lists. When I got home that day I sat down and actually looked at the ingredients, most of which were foreign to me. I will admit that while the list of ingredients is very long, most of these are harmless. The problem, though, is that there are still ingredients that I choose not to use in my home. While they may be “nontoxic” and “safe,” there are still concerns over them. And I like to err on the side of caution.  I thought about still using this product, since I did buy it, but the husband told me that I should not use a product that I am not completely comfortable with; it is just money. To me, being “green” isn’t just about saving the planet and being seen as eco-friendly, it is about saving my family. I like to use products that I know are safe, and while I know there are probably better options out there than what I use, I feel pretty confident in my choices.

So with that said, what is the point of this post? Is there even a point to all my ramblings? Yes. My point is that we should all be educated consumers. Don’t take for granted what a company tells you is safe or best, do your *homework and figure out what it best for you and your family. Don’t just blindly buy products because you like the claim made on the packaging or because it is what so and so always used.  A product that has been around for 100 years may not be the safest for the environment or for you. And remember that what works for one person or one family may not work for another. Company X (which has many products I would happily use, by the way) may be a great source of hand soap for one person, but not for me. It is also important to remember that even though a company has one safe product, the rest of their products may not be as safe.

*My favorite place for doing research is Skin Deep, a database put together by the researchers at the EWG (Environmental Working Group). I love this site because it takes two seconds to type in an ingredient in a cosmetic or cleaning product and see how safe it is. Skin Deep gives ingredients (and products based on their cummulative ingrdients) a score of 0-10, 10 being the worst. This is an easy way to research your products, especially is you don’t have much time.

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