1. Does the company use lots of buzzwords? Terms like "green," "natural," eco," "kind" and "all natural" are vague and unregulated, so anyone can use them to describe a product — no matter what's actually in it or how it was made. If there is nothing more to support the claim that a product is green beyond calling it green or putting a little leaf on the label, you'll need to look deeper.
2. Is the marketing full of feel-good images? Ads and packaging featuring oceans, forests or really healthy-looking people frolicking in fields of wildflowers may give the impression that the stuff being marketed is good for the planet. When paired with green buzzwords (see question number one), this strategy can be pretty effective at swaying us. Of course, plenty of truly green products use natural imagery — but if no facts are presented along with the nature scenes, do more research.
3. What is the life span of the product, and can it be reused or recycled? An important part of going green is thinking about our impact on future generations. Is the product in question high quality and built to last? And where will it go when it reaches the end of its usefulness? Some materials (such as wood and metals) can be easily reused or recycled. Other products, like Flor carpet tiles, can be sent back to the manufacturer through a recycling program.
4. Is it available locally? Heavy products, like stone, require an incredible amount of fuel to be transported from place to place, so it makes sense to seek out a product available in your area instead of having it shipped from afar, even if it is a wonderful salvaged material.
5. Is it healthy? If you are trying to keep your home as toxin free as possible, it is important to ask about what is in the product and whether it is harmful. Just because something is labeled "fair trade," for instance, does not necessarily mean it is healthy, so look for specific information about ingredients and finishes before making a purchase. The cabinets in the (truly ecofriendly) home shown here are formaldehyde free.
6. Does it just not sound right? Water bottles made with less plastic, SUVs that use less gas and McMansions incorporating some green features are all just pollution-causing, resource-depleting things trying to be given a greener image. Listen to your own common sense — you know it's better to carry a reusable water bottle and choose a smaller car and home, so ignore the hype and trust your gut instead.
7. Does it carry a label from a respected third-party certifier? The kitchen shown here features Energy Star–rated appliances. Energy Star is a trusted system for rating energy efficiency in appliances and fixtures. Familiarizing yourself with a few of the other most widely used third-party rating systems will make it easy to spot the real deal:
8. Does it support an ecofriendly lifestyle? If buying a coffee maker you love means you can skip that daily visit to the coffee house, and that helps you cut down on driving, I would consider that an ecofriendly purchase. On the other hand, if buying that fancy organic bedding set would just add to an already overstuffed linen closet, you may want to rethink your motivation. More stuff means more resources used, even if the product was made in an ecofriendly way.