Apr 7, 2013

welcome to earth month!

image via

it's april already, which, in my book, means it's earth month. sure, most people are familiar with earth day (april 22, though often celebrated on the closest saturday), but i just don't think 24 hours is enough time to really assess your impact on the environment and make meaningful changes.

while it has gotten much easier to be green in recent years (cue kermit singing), i wouldn't go so far to say that it is easy, and the popularity of environmentally-friendly products comes with its own set of issues. sure, you can pop into almost any chain store and head to the natural products aisle, but are the products found there really safe for the environment? are they really safe for you and your family? with the exception of fair trade and organic certification, there aren't many regulations on when you can and cannot use certain terminology. 'natural' has no specific or legal meaning, and, really, when you think about, just about everything is natural. you can't get much more natural than single elements on the periodic table, but many of them (arsenic, lead, uranium, etc., etc.) you would never want to see in the ingredients list of your 'all-natural' lip balm.

so when is something 'green,' and when is it 'green-washed'? once upon a time, i had the luxury of being able to spend hours on the computer researching products, chemicals, companies, and corporations to distinguish the good from the bad-disguised-as-good. now, like most people, i just don't have the time or energy for that.

luckily, there are some tools that can help you out. i think i've blogged about these sites before, or maybe i just thought about blogging about them. anyway, if you've read this here before, please consider it a gentle reminder that these services are available. both of these websites seek to rank companies and products in terms of their environmental, health, and/or social impacts. their ranking do not necessarily agree, so you'll just have to decide for yourself if you want to stick to one exclusively or use them in combination.

better world shopper

  • pros: easy to use and less overwhelming for on-the-go decision making. smart phone app available. based on 20 years of data, lessening the possible skewing effect of recent greenwashing in order to capitalize on consumer interest in green products. if you want to support companies that have always been sustainable and responsible, this is it. '.org' domain name extension suggests that better world shopper is not for profit. seems to be a labor of love by a sociology and anthropology professor.
  • cons: not as exhaustive as good guide--only gives brand/company information, not product information. does not seem to include health impacts as part of ranking. since this seems to be a service that one man is providing to the world, you're getting ratings based (more or less) on the specific values he holds. not a problem in my case, because my values essentially overlap with his. if you're curious, they're spelled out on the main page of the website.

good guide

  • pros: more comprehensive. you can search by product as well as brand/company. smart phone app and 'transparency toolbar' available. based on data collected by in-house researchers. customizable. includes health ratings. more transparent in how they determine their ratings. also includes pricing information and reviews.
  • cons: addictive. just try to resist looking up every product in your home! newer products have often not been analyzed, so you end up falling back on the brand/company's rating. this may or may not be a 'con': ratings are based on 2010-2011 data, so you may end up supporting companies that have not always been acting in line with your values. however, you are rewarding them for making positive changes, and that's nothing to scoff at. 
personally, i tend to use both of these databases together depending on my needs. for general 'which companies are better?' questions, i tend to go to better world shopper. for 'is this product killing me and the environment?' questions, i tend to go to good guide. i especially like good guide because i have hyper-sensitive skin that tends to play nice only with a limited number of products. i can go to good guide to determine if my conventional products are ok, or if i should switch to something else. if i decide to try something new, good guide will actually give recommendations for alternate products with higher rankings, and it provides reviews from other users, so i can see if anyone has reported sensitivity issues before i buy. 

have you used these websites? which do you prefer? or do you have different strategies you employ? if all goes according to plan, i will be bringing you more 'earth month' content as the days go on, so please come back and visit soon!

No comments: