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Jessica Kleinman at Delicious Living (newhope360.com) recently interviewed three national experts on sustainability claims and how to best evaluate green practices. Below are the answers the experts provided.
Environmental health scientist: Urvashi Rangan, PhD, director of consumer safety and sustainability, Consumer Reports
. Do your research. Websites such as Consumer Reports’ greenerchoices.org feature eco-label databases that provide free information on labels for everything from food and personal care to wood and household cleaners. Credible eco-labels are developed with broad public and industry input and have publicly available standards and company information. You also can download the Eco-Labels smartphone app for 99 cents.
. Look for USDA Organic. The USDA Organic label ensures the product meets the National Organic Program (NOP) standards, which rely on ecologically based practices such as excluding all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones in crop and livestock production.
. Be skeptical of general claims. Labels such as “environmentally friendly,” “nonpolluting,” and “eco-safe” are unregulated claims that companies can apply to a product without any verification.
Environmental policy expert: Dara O’Rourke, PhD, cofounder and chief sustainability officer, goodguide.com
. Consider your values. The science may be clear on a product’s health and environmental impact, but choosing the “right” sustainable product ultimately comes down to what’s important to you. One consumer may be morally opposed to animal testing, while another believes animal testing makes a product safer. Websites like goodguide.com have a filtering option, allowing you to find the right products according to your personal preferences.
. Check labels. Ingredients such as triclosan and oxybenzone are red flags. Triclosan, common in hand sanitizers, toothpastes, and beauty products, builds up in the ecosystem and is toxic to aquatic bacteria. Plus, it acts as an endocrine disruptor, potentially causing cancer, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Oxybenzone, a common sunscreen ingredient, penetrates the skin and can increase free radical production in sunlight. It also can contaminate water, trigger viral infections in coral reefs, and cause feminization of male fish.
. Think beyond the purchase. Buying an organic T-shirt may seem good for the environment, for example, but the purchase is only part of the equation. The number-one environmental impact of a T-shirt is how you launder it. Washing a T-shirt in hot water and then putting it in the dryer takes more energy than washing it in cold water and letting it hang to dry.
Health reporter: Susan Freinkel, author, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)
. Buy in bulk. Instead of throwing away countless packages, avoid packaging altogether by purchasing products in bulk as often as possible.
. Investigate local recycling programs. Communities vary in terms of which plastics they recycle. The resin code featured in “chasing arrows” on the bottom of most plastic packages may seem promising but doesn’t mean the product will necessarily be recycled. The higher the resin code number, the less likely the product will be recycled. Research program guidelines on your town’s website before tossing plastic in the bin.
Can’t recycle? Repurpose. Repurpose plastic containers or other items you can’t recycle by using them for home projects, such as planting a kitchen herb garden.