How green is green?

Greenwash: The act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

Green is truly the new black. There are trendy, eco-friendly ways to update our homes, our travel, our meals, our clothing—and our beauty products. But how do consumers know how “green” a product really is? And how can you keep from being duped into buying something that only appears to be eco-friendly?

Helping consumers wade through the plethora of retailers claiming to be environmentally-conscious was a topic up for discussion last week at the Natural Beauty co-founder Ann Francke was on hand to discuss what it means to be an ethical retailer when it comes to natural, organic beauty products. The last thing a green-minded gal wants to do is spend money on a product or service she believes is doing right by environment, only to find out the product’s packaging or advertising was misleading.

In the beauty category, decoding a product or company’s claims of “natural” or “organic” can get a little challenging: “Natural” doesn’t mean “organic,” and vice-versa. Plus, there are plenty of products that claim to be green, organic, or natural, but whose claims either can’t be easily confirmed or are too vague to be useful to a consumNatural Seal_Finaler., for example, offers a carefully handpicked selection of natural and organic beauty products according to five criteria, many of which have been certified by reputable international organizations (find a list here). Francke also suggests consumers look for authentic seals, like those from the Natural Products Association (NPA) or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which are getting to be more widespread.

Francke also mentioned some great resources on the web. The Greenwashing Index offers a three-step guide to spotting greenwashing. offers Green Ratings Guides, ranking levels of “greenness” according to five specific criteria when it comes to automobiles, mass retailers, fast food, and more. There’s even a site produced by TerraChoice, which lists the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing.”

More good news, according to Scot Case, vice president of TerraChoice, is that eco-labeling is on the rise. “Legitimate eco-labeling is nearly twice as common as it was in our 2007 survey, increasing from 13.7% to 23.4% on all ‘green’ products,” he says. “The 2009 Seven Sins of Greenwashing report demonstrates that consumers do have greener choices in products but that they need to recognize the legitimate labels and ask questions of unfamiliar ones.”

Bottom line? Consumers need to be aware and thoughtful about the beauty products they buy and where they buy them. But every day, retailers are taking steps to make it easier for you to feel good about using the products that make you feel good!

-Aleigh Acerni



  1. Vik
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    This is so important. Like any product it’s important to know what you’re buying. Once something gets trendy it’s becomes harder and harder to know if you’re getting what you think you are. Hopefully this “green” movement will create a lasting legacy and won’t become just another forgotten fad.

  2. melissa tansarico
    Posted June 29, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    This is so true and important. Money talks, especially in these economic times. We speak with our spending choices. Personally, I consider very carefully where I put my dollars and often times the companies’ claims very much factor into my decision process. My choice to make an ethical/responsible purchase goes out the window if it’s based on false and/or misleading information.

  3. Posted July 13, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for informative read. I’m familar with the USDA Organic and glad to know about the others.

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