Avoid Greenwashers' False Claims: How Do I Know I'm Buying Green?

A guide to help you wade through the clutter and find truly green products and services in a market flooded with false claims.

| July/August 2007


Stores stocked with environmentally friendly home products make eco-conscious shopping easier. For a searchable list, see Green Showrooms article

How many times have you heard the phrase “green is the new black” in the past year? Sustainable building is hot, and a flood of new products tout vague and cryptic claims about being green. Referred to as “greenwashing,” these exaggerated assertions range from tiny overstatements to outright lies.

Determining whether the product you’re buying is truly green can be a tricky business. Ask questions; look for trusted seals of approval and set priorities for yourself. The following suggestions can help you separate fact from fiction to determine a particular product’s true sustainability.

1. Look for certification. Several well-respected green-certification programs give you some assurance of product claims. Their websites usually list products that carry the certification. See these groups' certification labels, and check for them on products you purchase.

ENERGY STAR: Energy-efficiency guidelines are set by the U.S. Department of Energy for appliances, heating and cooling systems, lighting, roof products, windows, and doors.

FOREST STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL: Sets standards for responsible forest management and certifies products from specific woodlands.

GREENGUARD INDOOR AIR QUALITY: Approves products with low-VOC emissions including adhesives, appliances, ceiling, flooring, insulation, paint and wallcoverings.

GREEN SEAL: Maintains environmental standards for many products, including paints, cleaners, windows, alternative-fuel vehicles and paper.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): The U.S. Green Building Council rates buildings, including homes, in categories such as water conservation, energy, materials and indoor air quality. The number of points awarded determines the building’s green level: certified, silver, gold or platinum. LEED certification applies to entire structures, not individual materials or products. Many manufacturers claim their product earns LEED points, but specific products only help a building qualify for those points.

SCIENTIFIC CERTIFICATION SYSTEMS: Certifies environmentally preferable products and services such as adhesives, sealants, cabinetry, carpet, doors, flooring and paints.

CRADLE TO CRADLE (C2C) Certification: Sets high standard for “environmentally intelligent” design, examining the entire lifecycle of environmentally safe and healthy materials. 

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