Luckily for us all, there is only one answer. That answer is yes. A better question might be, “Who can you trust?” In this ever growing and rapidly changing green market, it is harder and harder to figure out who or what is actually green. With so many words being thrown at us daily, ranging from “green”, “biodegradable”, “non toxic”, and many more, it is close to impossible to find out what truly is green.
The other side of the coin is to find out what you mean by green. Everybody’s “greenness” differs dramatically. Personally, my “greenness” is solely based on the health benefits of green which luckily incorporates a more sustainable option while another’s “greenness” may solely rely on environmental impact. I want to clarify that neither of these decisions is “right”. Both have merit and are based on the uniqueness of that person and that is okay. Everyone has different priorities and needs, and we need to do what works for us.
The first thing I encourage everyone to do is establish your “greenness”, and make your list of your priorities. Once you have this, it is time do some work to figure out what companies fit with your “greenness”.
This brings me to the second question I always ask: What are we looking for?! When it comes to the “green” option, how do we know we need a “green” option? Can’t we just assume that what is on the market will not compromise our health or hurt the planet? Sadly, we cannot assume this at all. The products that are not green are so broad that it is hard to even imagine how to narrow it down. These categories range from food to building materials to clothing to transportation to shoes — you name it. Unfortunately, the majority of the words that we see in marketing these days are not governed by anyone — which means anyone can use it and not get in trouble!
For example, take “biodegradable”. Just a hint, everything on the planet is biodegradable. The question here is how long does it take? I have seen car tires say “biodegradable” and while that is true it takes over 100 years to decompose! And the reason the actual amount of years is not defined is because no one really knows how long it really takes. We haven’t been around long enough to test it!
How about “natural”? How many times today have you seen this word on some label? Chips, diapers, canned soup, paint, flooring, and on and on. Here’s the thing, they are allowed to use that word because there are no regulations in place to stop them. What does natural even mean? It isn’t clearly defined, but I can tell you what the masses think the definition is. They think it means healthy and okay to use. That is not necessarily the case, and that is why we have to look further into each of these products before we believe the market words they use.
How about the recycled symbol? I can’t tell you how many times I see this and I assume it means that the product contains recycled content, but looking further it just says it “can be recycled” and while that is great, the labeling is very misleading. Most people buy that product assuming they are doing good and buying something recycled. What you are not being told is in your town you most likely cannot recycle that product, but would have to send it back to the manufacturer — and the manufacturer only excepts a minimum amount of a thousand in a pick-up to be able to recycle the product. This goes on and on until you realize you have been had!
I consider all of these words to be greenwashing words. If a word is not governed by some third party that truly confirms whether the product is natural, recycled, etc., then I research it. This is where your handy “greenness list” comes into play. It will help you narrow down, at least for the moment, what it is you are looking for in the green world.
My rule of thumb is that you question everything, don’t assume that anything you live with, feel, smell, eat or use is green. Always do a little research to see how it fits into your “greenness list”. This might seem daunting at first, but as you get better at it you will know what to look for and be able to decide its “greenness” at a quick glance. Luckily, there are some great third party certification companies that have done a lot of work for you.
The third party certifiers out there are setting a standard for some of the most common issues we are experiencing right now. Once again, my rule of thumb is to question everything. I mentioned that these companies are setting standards. This does not mean that they live up to your standard.
First, you need to find out what their standards are before you decide to choose a product because they certify it. Some of what I start with is, Green guard, Green Seal, FSC certified, water sense, energy star, and I am sure there are more.
As the owner of a green building store, one question many people have is “Why does it have to cost more?” I always like to answer that with, “There are many green things that cost nothing and by doing them you can even save money!” For instance, the one we have all heard a million times, if you shut off the water while you are brushing your teeth, this not only saves water but it saves you money, and depending where you live, it could save you well over $50.00 a month.
Or how about hanging your clothes out to dry? Riding your bike? Buying used instead of new? This is where I start but then I get realistic. This lifestyle is not for our generation. We are moving way too fast and barely even have time to sleep. We need green solutions that don’t change how we live and don’t cost a lot. Sadly, there isn’t a direct answer to that. Being green really is a whole new way of living. You do have to slow down and make a conscious decision about everything that you do throughout the day. It isn’t a simple solution, but it does work.
When it comes to purchasing things that are green, there is a premium that you pay. But what you are paying for is the quality and the assurance that you are getting your money’s worth. I have witnessed many trends in my life that have to do with green. I was raised vegan, and growing up there was nothing to eat. (I’m being dramatic, but it wasn’t as exciting)! We didn’t have soymilk, tofu, soy meat, restaurants, ice cream, cream cheese, margarine, you name it! We made our own almond milk, ate lots of beans, and always ate at home.
But then in the mid 80’s, there was a boom! Vegetarianism hit the market place and brought with it soy products, organic food, whole foods, education and restaurants! Now you are guaranteed that every grocery store has tofu, every town has a health food store, and almost every restaurant has a vegetarian menu. I know these are small steps, but it is a testament that the consumers rule the market place and their decisions have forced the market place to conform. The more we support and purchase green, the lower the prices can get. You are paying more because the companies that are truly green don’t outsource to China. They are mom and pops hand-making their products, paying their co-workers fair wages, supporting their local economies and thinking about your future. If they are going to be the pioneers and create the alternative, it is our responsibility to support them and help them flourish.
Being the owner of INDIGOgreen for almost 3 years now, I have watched this step once again, but at a much faster pace. What took vegetarianism 20 years to take hold, has taken but 3-5 for green to be established. We have seen products go from $7-$10 a square foot to as low as $3-$5. We have watched product lines double and companies flourish right before our eyes. In just 3 years, we went from a significant loss to turning a profit, and all of these changes are because the consumer is prioritizing with their “greenness list” and choosing to put their money where their values lie. Supporting the right company, local businesses, buying farm fresh produce at your local farmers market, and reducing your own impact is where we can all go green.
Liberty Phoenix Lord has been a resident of Gainesville, FL since 1989. She is married and has 3 beautiful children; and is on the Board of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC the heart of Florida chapter). Liberty owns and runs INDIGOGreen, a Green Building supply store. The mission of INDIGO is based on her commitment to the environment and the health of our planet.