Consumers shop with the environment in mind, remain confused by products

Joan Michelson, special to

WASHINGTON – A new study by Cone Communications found 71 percent of American consumers consider the environment when they shop, and almost half look for environmental information when deciding which product to purchase.

However, consumers are not easily finding the environmental information they seek, the study reports.

Liz Gorman, senior vice president of Sustainable Business Practices at Cone explains that consumer seals help shoppers when choosing their purchases.

“Consumers only have so much time in their lives so they look for cues that can inform their purchasing decisions, such as eco certification seals,” Gorman says. “The appeal of these seals is that they provide consumers with added assurance that the product has been tested or held to a higher standard, presumably by a credible and independent third party.”

Here are three ways to obtain product information for environmentally-friendly purchases:

  • Green Good Housekeeping Seal: The Hearst Corporation created an environmental version of its venerable Seal of Approval in 2009. All products that receive the Green Good Housekeeping Seal first need to pass the rigorous Good Housekeeping Seal testing process. It’s rigorous because Good Housekeeping provides a two-year warranty on all the products that carry its seal.
  • Green Seal: An independent nonprofit founded in 1989, Green Seal currently rates 3,800 products and services, including beauty products, household products and paints. Companies have to apply to be certified under the accreditation, and they agree to annual monitoring.
  • Good Guide: This guide is the most comprehensive rating program. It covers more than 100,000 products, from diapers, to cell phones and food. The Good Guide chooses which products to rate based on market share and consumer demand, and it uses a scale from 0-10, with 10 being the best. The factors the scale measures are the product’s healthfulness and environmental impact (including manufacture and use), and the manufacturer’s level of social responsibility. Good Guide has a mobile app that consumers can use when shopping to look up the guide’s rating of products via the bar code. Good Guide also has a “transparency filter” to use when shopping online.

The Cone survey also found that consumers misidentify “green” or “environmentally friendly” as having a neutral or positive impact on the environment, as opposed to a lighter impact.

The above tools aim to clear up confusion over pro-environment products, so consumers can shop with greater clarity about their carbon footprint.

So tell us: How do your favorite products rate?

The following video explains how Good Guide works for consumers.

Joan Michelson is CEO of Green Connections Radio and a consultant on the green economy and cleantech. She can be reached at Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

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