Most savvy shoppers are by now familiar with the term “greenwashing” It’s when a company expresses environmental concerns and uses keywords on products to dupe the consumer into thinking an item is eco-friendly, when in fact it is not.
If, like myself, you’re trying desperately to sift through all the misinformation out there, read on; here is a list of resources that will help you determine whether companies are being upfront about their environmental claims.
1. Launched in 2004, the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database ( ewg.org/skindeep) provides you with easy-to-navigate safety ratings for a range of products and ingredients. At about a million page views per month, it is the world's largest personal-care product safety guide. In Canada, there are barely any regulations around the type of chemicals that end up in your personal care products; this site will help you make sense of what those chemicals are, what their risks are and how you can protect yourself. Type the name or chemical into the search bar and see what comes up.
2. The Business & Human Rights Centre ( business-humanrights.org) is a one-stop-shop index of just about everything on the Web, including articles from the media and NGOs, relating to corporate behaviour and human rights. Environmental damage is a biggie.
3. Responsible Shopper ( greenamerica.org/programs/responsibleshopper) . This site is run in conjunction with Co-Op America and provides information on companies that is both positive and not so positive. It's not as in-depth as the previous site, but it’s worth a visit.
4. If you’re looking for dirt on a company, check out CorpWatch ( corpwatch.org). They don't pull any punches. Under research tools, click on Hands-On Corporate Research Guide for information on everything from corporate structure to environmental offences and even military contracts.
5. Eco labels are probably one of the most confusing elements of green shopping, but GreenerChoices.org ( greenerchoices.org) gives consumers “accessible, reliable, and practical source information on buying greener products that have minimal environmental impact.” The site was launched on Earth Day, 2005, by the Consumers Union (the not-for profit publisher of Consumer Reports). On the home page, click the “eco labels” tab and use the search tools for evaluation of labels on food, wood, personal care products and households cleaners. You can search by product, category, certifier and compare the labels using their report card.
6. If you see the words “organic” on any label it should always be accompanied by a third party certification logo. The federal government’s EcoLogo Program ( ecologo.org), launched in 1988, has become one of the world’s most recognized and trusted logos. Products and services bearing the logo meet stringent standards of environmental leadership. You can browse certified products as well as services for consumers and professional buyers.
7. The Green Washing Index ( greenwashingindex.com) is a fun website where you can share or upload ads that promote the eco qualities of a product or company. You can read what others say about the ads and find out what score it has received on the Green Washing Index. The higher the score, the worse the ad.
8. Shopping for sustainable clothing can be a major challenge, but there’s a website with some very useful information: Oeko-Tex Standard 100 ( oeko-tex.com) was launched in 1992 by a group of European textile institutes to screen for harmful substances in consumer textiles. The site provides technical details on the standard itself and includes a database of certified companies and products.
9. Want the facts on climate change? Check out NASA’s Global Climate Change site ( climate.nasa.gov), that’s all I have to say.
10. Probably the best source on greenwashing is TerraChoice ( sinsofgreenwashing.org). In 2009, the consulting firm released the study “The Seven Sins of Greenwashing” to present significant emerging trends. This year's research includes more big box stores in Canada and the U.S. and more products. The latest edition also takes a closer look at consumer goods such as toys and baby products, cosmetics and cleaning products.
Candice Batista is an eco-expert who appears on CTV’s Marilyn Denis Show.