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Bankrate's 2007 Living Green, Saving Green Guide
Fact & fiction
Many truths and untruths are circulating. What's true?
Fact & fiction
Products hyped as 'green' often fall short
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"I would actually look at the whole sustainability movement, not just about sustaining resources but about sustaining profit. Wind energy is a good example of that. It's not like fossil fuels where there is a certain scarcity. We can have as much as we want," says Shepp.

Larsen at Co-op America points to Patagonia as a successful and profitable company that was founded on and operates on strict green principles. The outdoor clothing and gear company has actually built a loyal following on its principles and is known for producing products that cause the least harm to the environment and treating its employees well. The company engages in environmental activism and even recycles clothes into new garments.

About 130 million cell phones are thrown away each year. Soon, the number of discarded cell phones will surpass the number purchased.

As more certification organizations come online and jump into the industry, the greenwashing of products may become less common. Linda Chipperfield, vice president of marketing and outreach at GreenSeal.org, says that because organic products must be certified and because organic foods must have a United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, organic seal, there is little, if any, greenwashing in the organic industry. Companies that make false claims can be investigated and fined up to $11,000 per incident under the Organic Foods Production Act.

"Because there are national organic standards, there should not be any greenwashing with organic products. And if you're talking about food, there cannot be greenwashing with organic food because there is traceability and a paper trail," says Chipperfield.

"Organic" is defined as an ecological production management system that is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs -- materials, such as chemicals, used to increase production that do not originate on the farm -- and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Organic products are not just limited to produce and can include organic clothing, apparel, flowers, pet food and nutritional supplements.

Other green-related certifications and authorities include Energy Star, whose logo is given to products which meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Green Seal uses science-based environmental certification standards to certify everything from coffee filters to air chillers. Green building design, which is becoming increasingly common, is measured and documented by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System under the U.S. Green Building Council. Co-op America also runs a network of more than 3,000 screened and approved green businesses.

In the end, it's a combination of consumer education and the rise of certification standards and organizations that will lay greenwashing to rest. Chatterjee says fluffy green ads are often a response to consumers' increasing concern for the environment. "It's really just about selling a product," says Chatterjee.

-- Posted: Oct. 4, 2007
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