Sadly, there’s plenty of greenwashing going on in the world, so if you’re trying to go green it helps to have concrete product review criteria in place to help you make smart consumer decisions.
Over the years I’ve fine-tuned the eco-product criteria that I use when I choose products to buy or when I post product reviews.
Keep in mind:
While it’s smart to read product reviews, you should take all of them (even mine) with a grain of salt. No matter how much you like a particular writer or friend, what they consider eco-friendly may not be what you consider eco-friendly.
I use the following criteria to evaluate green products I review…
Criteria I apply to all green products
- Safety: Is it safe? Toxic? Would I use it? Would I let my family or friends use it?
- Why: Is it useful? A necessity? Or is the product just something I want (um, lip gloss) or is it just supposed to be fun?
- Packaging: Is it necessary, excessive, recyclable, reusable? Does it carry a recycling reminder?
- Price: Is it affordable for the average consumer? Is it worth the price?
- Availability: Can I easily find the product locally or online?
- Value: Does it do what it’s supposed to do? Is it made to last?
- Website: If the product or company has a website, is it easy or obnoxious to manage?
- Comparison: Is the product better or as good as its conventional non-green peers.
- Greenwashing: Is the product eco-friendly, kind of green or outright greenwashing.
Company criteria I use for all green products
- Is the company ethical and green as a whole?
- Did the company just recently go green or have they been walking the talk for a while?
- Do they test on animals?
- What sort of green policies do they follow? Do they recycle, use renewable energy, have a paperless office, etc.
- Do they disclose all information about their products (ingredients, uses, etc.) on both the packaging and website AND was it easy or hard for me to find that information.
- If I have a product question do they actually get back to me? Are they nice? Helpful? Snotty?
Additional criteria for edibles
- Organic: If a food product is not certified organic, I normally score it down a full point. That said, I’m flexible is the company offers other major eco-friendly benefits beyond organic.
- Taste: Is it yummy? To who? Kids, adults, everyone?
- Ingredients: Will the ingredients in the product harm me or the planet? Are the ingredients organic, local, and free from icky stuff I wouldn’t let my family near? Can I pronounce all the ingredients?
- Labels: Are all ingredients listed on the packaging and at the company website?
- Nutrition: Is it nutritionally viable? or just a fun food? NOTE: I’m not down on fun foods, what I am down on are companies who make candy or soda then claim it’s a nutritionally necessary item. It may be fun, and worthwhile for a treat, but that’s not the same as nutritious.
Additional criteria for clothing
- Materials: Is it eco-friendly? Certified? What percent of the material is green?
- Care: Does it wash well on cold, can you hang it to dry or does it require dry cleaning?
- Sizing: Do the sizes seem reasonable – not too small or large?
Additional criteria for green cleaners
- Ingredients: Will the ingredients harm me, my family, or the planet? Are ingredients biodegradable?
- Usefulness: Does the product work as well or better than a homemade or conventional counterpart?
- Labeling: Does the company disclose all ingredients on the product label and at their website? AND are they easy to find?
- MSDS: Can you locate the product’s Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) without much fuss?
- Danger terms: Is the product labeled with terms such as… “Poison” or “Danger.” Federal law mandates that these terms indicate the highest possible level of hazard. “Caution” or “Warning,” both mean a product carries a moderate hazard. “Wear gloves” – “Only use in a well ventilated area” and other terms which show you need protective gear are also big baddies.
Additionally I consider if products are…
- Ammonia free
- Chlorine free
- Plant based
- Certified organic
- Solvent free
- Phosphate free
- Chemical free
- Dye and artificial color free
- Fragrance free or naturally scented (I also hate when companies simply say “fragrance” which could mean anything)
Additional criteria for green beauty and body care products
- Certification: THIS IS A BIGGIE – is a product labeled as organic? If so, it must be certified. If a product is not officially certified, and yet the packaging makes organic claims, it’ll lose big points with me. I like some non-certified products. What I don’t like are products that claim to be organic when they’ve got nothing backing that claim up.
- Ingredients: Are they toxic? Biodegradable? Will the ingredients harm me or the planet? Can I pronounce all the ingredients? Do I have to look them up in a chemistry book to know what they are? Are the ingredients organic or local?
- Skin Deep: What is the company and product’s Skin Deep rating?
- Disclosure: Are all ingredients listed on both the packaging and website? Can I easily find them?
- Usefulness: Does it do what it’s supposed to – does it work as well or better than conventional versions?
- Cost: Is it affordable to the average consumer? Is it worth the price? Could I easily make a green and less expensive version of the product myself, at home?
Additional criteria for green books
- Is the book printed on recycled content paper?
- Is it informed and useful or just bunk? Is it all rehashed green info I’ve heard before?
- Who is the book meant for – green newbies, experienced tree huggers, kids, etc. and does it hit that target audience?
*NOTE: If you’d like to help put an end to shoddy product reviews at websites and blogs, feel free to use the above product review criteria at your own site. Please just make sure to add some variation of the following blurb to the end of the criteria; “This product review criteria is copyright 2009 Jennifer Chait and is used with permission.”