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Green Overload? Take it One Day at a Time.

March 4, 2010

By Jennifer Chaky

Green Green Green. That’s all you hear these days. From chemical companies touting “natural” cleaners to car companies saying their car is the greenest- you need a PhD in Greenology to sort through it all. I hear ya, it’s overwhelming.

As a green retailer, it is my job to decide what is truly good for the planet and what is “greenwashed” – and it does get confusing. But my reputation depends on making the right choice…and more importantly, so does the planet. The things we buy do have the greatest impact –good or bad- on our future. Every single time we buy something we are casting a vote for what kind of world we want. Do we want a healthy, fair, abundant world or a toxic, unjust, scarce world? It really is up to us. Every dollar we spend tells companies what we want. What we demand.

But where to start? It is hard to think of revamping all of your consumption and changing over all the products you use. So I recommend taking it one day at a time. Next time you are out of coffee, choose a fair trade brand. Out of toothpaste? Choose a truly natural brand made by a small organic company. Need a wedding gift? Choose a bowl made from recycled glass. Going to a baby shower? Start the newborn off right with a set of glass baby bottles. Do you need new boots? How about checking out a thrift store? Next time you buy beer or wine, ask your retailer for a local organic option. You get the idea.

Once you get going, before you know it you will have transformed your lifestyle- where the goods you buy truly back-up your principles. At first you may have to do some leg work to read labels and research the companies but after your initial efforts, you will become acquainted with some really great products and companies, and you will gain an intuition for what is greenwashed and what is truly green.

Here are some tips on what to look for when shopping:

• Keep it simple. Products with a simple list of ingredients tend to be better than those with long list of unearthly chemical names.

• Look for these Third Party Verification Seals: Energy Star; Certified Organic; Leaping Bunny; Fair Trade Certified; Green Seal; and Green E.

• Words like “natural,” “pure,” “nontoxic,” “cruelty-free,” and “biodegradable,” do not necessarily mean anything. There is no regulation regarding the use of these terms, so be wary.

• Truly green companies do not over-package their goods.

I also highly recommend reading Diane MacEachern’s book Big Green Purse to learn everything you need to know to become a lifelong lean, clean, and green consumer.

Jennifer Chaky is the owner of Go Lightly, Montclair New Jersey’s green-living store. She lives in Montclair with her daughter and menagerie of rescued animals.

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