How to Identify if a Product Is Eco-friendly Before You Buy

Consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious of what they buy, and businesses are catching on. Without a doubt, the number of eco-friendly products has never been higher. However, how do you know if a product is really eco-friendly?

There are a variety of levels that companies can use if their product meets certain requirements. These are known as eco-labels, and they are determined by the EPA and other third-party organizations.

Unfortunately, businesses that are trying to make a quick buck use deceptive packaging.

For instance, a product may try to deceive shoppers by placing images of trees, using green packaging, or something else that is typical for eco-friendly products. However, none of that actually proves anything. Thus, shoppers need to be aware of the actual labels to look for.

Today, I will demonstrate how you can ensure you are buying an eco-friendly product at the store or online.

What Is An Eco-friendly Product?

An eco-friendly product is one in which the product was made in a way that minimizes its impact on the environment and also minimizes the consumer’s impact as well.

Of course, how a product is actually environmentally friendly can change drastically. And not all of them are created equally.

For example, we may think of something like a reusable bag as an eco-friendly product. It helps customers avoid using single-use plastic bags. However, if one was to look closer at locations where plastic bags are banned, like New Jersey, it’s not so clear.

The reality of it is that homes now have too many reusable bags from delivery services, and well, those are ending up in the trash. If used properly, a reusable bag is eco-friendly as it can have a long lifespan. However, when they aren’t, well, it’s actually worse.

Of course, this is just one example. There are a ton of factors, such as if the supply chain uses renewable energy, or if the product includes recycled materials. It’s also important to see what kinds of chemicals are included in the product as they could be toxic.

It’s anything but easy to actually determine this when you are trying to get out of a store as quickly as possible.

What Seals Identify An Eco-friendly Product?

To make things easier, you should focus on the seals that are present on the packaging. And the good news is that if a product has something to show off, it’s usually front and center. So, you won’t need to be a detective to find them.

The real question becomes what are the major seals to be on the lookout for?

Obviously, this depends on the type of product you are buying. So, many of these seals will not apply to every product. Here are some of the major ones to keep an eye out for.

Energy Star

Energy Star is perhaps the most recognizable seal on major appliances today. This program comes directly from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and rates products on their energy efficiency.

These seals are present on most electronic devices that meet the standards and are most common on larger appliances like refrigerators, ovens, air conditioners, televisions, lightbulbs, and basically anything else that plugs into an outlet.

Water Sense

Water Sense is another program from the EPA that focuses on water efficiency. It is awarded to products that are at least 20% more efficient with water usage compared to other products in the same category.

You can generally find this on water-based products like dishwashers, refrigerators, toilets, showerheads, and more.

Green Seal

Geen Seal is one of the world’s most trusted eco-labels and has some of the highest standards. The focus is on protecting the climate, and human health, cleaning water, and minimizing waste.

There are over 33,000 products that have received a green seal. You can rest easy that your product is eco-friendly when you spot it.

Seals Are Not Everything

Of course, there are other things to be on the lookout for besides a seal.

For example, some shoppers may be interested in vegan products as they do not contain meat and are generally seen as eco-friendly goods. This is definitely true for the most part.

Another prime example would be something like tuna. You may already be familiar with this, but many tuna brands are dolphin-safe, which means no dolphins are harmed in the process of collecting the fish.

This is because dolphins often swim alongside tuna and have been known to become entangled in the same fishing process.

Or perhaps you are a coffee enthusiast like most of the world. If so, you might want to be on the lookout for shade-grown labels. Coffee beans that are grown in the shade do not require fertilizer, benefit bird populations, and improve biodiversity in the region.

Of course, not every green term you read may be correct. And this is where deceptive marketing comes into play.

Don’t put much stock into the following terms:

  • All Natural: This has no requirements and tells you nothing about the product.
  • Hormone-Free Poultry & Pork: In the US, it is illegal for pigs and chickens to receive hormones. Thus, the label means nothing to poultry and pork products.
  • Conflict-Free Electronics: Some electronics like smartphones often claim they are made with conflict-free materials. This is not verifiable.
  • Free Of: Many products often claim they are free of X, but in many cases, they list ingredients that no similar product uses.
  • Non-GMO: There are no standards associated with these claims. Thus, you need to verify it with a third party.

This is just scratching the surface, and companies are getting craftier with what they place on labels.

Don’t Take A Company At Their Word

As you can see from the short list of terms companies love to use, they are happy to throw around deceptive phrases.

That’s why you cannot take them at their word. Instead, you need to research every claim they make. In some cases, they may actually do everything they assert, but get lost in the sea of products that contain such claims.

The good news is that there are a variety of sites that are dedicated to identifying green products.

For instance, Spot has one of the largest databases of green products on the web. It’s a great resource, but even a simple Google search will help out a lot. Companies are always quick to make big press releases when they have something good to share.

Sometimes the Most Eco-friendly Product Is the One You Don’t Buy

Obviously, this is not always an option, but sometimes the best way to think about the environment is to not buy a product at all. In many cases, you can find DIY solutions using things around the house.

For example, instead of buying a reusable bag, you could actually use old fabrics and sew one together yourself. It may sound like a hassle, but it’s honestly a much better option than buying a new one.

And it may even be more rewarding to put together yourself! Not to mention being able to customize it to your liking.

And never forget to shop for second-hand goods when possible. Not only is it a better environmental choice, but it can also save you a lot of money.

What steps do you take to ensure a product is environmentally friendly? How big of a factor is the environment in your purchases?

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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