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What Makes a Product Green?

Green products. Many shoppers want to buy them, many businesses say they have them. But what qualifies as "green"? How can consumers judge the green claims that marketers are attaching to nearly everything?

Green Criteria

In general, a "green" product is one that has fewer environmental impacts than others in its class. This greenness may result from one or more stages of the product "lifecycle":

  1. Production: greener raw materials used to make a product (e.g., non-toxic, recycled, biodegradable); less energy and water required to produce the product; fewer waste by-products of production.
  2. Transport: shorter distances between sources of raw materials and manufacturing location, and between manufacturing and consumer location, mean fewer transport-related emissions (carbon, air and water pollutants).
  3. Product Use: characteristics may include low/no emissions of ozone-depleting substances or greenhouse gases; energy and water efficiency; durable vs. disposable.
  4. Product Disposal (including packaging): the product may be reusable, repairable, recyclable, biodegradable.

Drinking Water Purification Systems by APEC


Although there is not a single standard for labeling a product as "green," voluntary consensus standards are emerging for some product categories through work by government, industry, and non-profit organizations.

Energy Star is an energy efficiency labeling program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy Star appliances usually use 20-40% less energy than the required federal minimum standard, with actual energy efficiency gains depending on the particular product class.

Green Seal is a non-profit organization that offers labeling guidelines and a certification process for manufacturers who wish to display the Green Seal. Their assessment takes into account environmental impacts for the lifecycle of a product.
Green-e: companies that generate or purchase qualifying amounts of renewable energy, and are independently certified by the Center for Resource Solutions, may display the Green-e logo on publications and websites.
USDA Organic: the U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates use of the term "organic" as applied to all agricultural commodities, including food and natural textile fibers (e.g., cotton and wool). Implemented by the National Organic Program, USDA develops organic standards and a certification process for product labeling.

Recycled Products

Many Americans participate in local recycling programs, sorting bottles, cans, and newspapers for curbside collection or drop-off recycling centers. In order for recycling programs to be cost-effective, however, there need to be robust markets for recycled products. The American Chemistry Council has a database of recycled plastic products, and a number of fun and inventive products are now made from recycled or reclaimed materials.

Here's another idea for those empty bottles and rubber inner tubes!

Green Shopping Categories

» Cleaning Products
» Clothing & Textiles
» Furniture
» Personal Care
» Recycled/Recovered
» Solar Gadgets, Inc

Eat Local, Sustainable

Eat Well Guide: an online directory of thousands of family farms, restaurants, and other outlets for fresh, locally grown food


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