Friday, February 02, 2007

Not all 'green' products save the world

That 'earth friendly' label looks nice, but shoppers need to ensure it's for real...


About four decades ago, environmentalists hit on an idea: People could help save Earth through their purchases, from recycled paper to organic food.

What took root then is a thicket today. "Green" products are big business, with Wal-Mart, The Home Depot and other retail giants joining a marketplace long served by small companies.
Consumers have several resources for weighing all the claims -- making sure, for example, that lumber really is from a properly logged forest or that a washing machine really does cut energy use.

"Sometimes the word 'green' or 'natural' is used more as a marketing approach instead of a commitment to the well-being of society," said Fran Teplitz, director of social investing programs for Co-op America, a group based in Washington that urges people to spend responsibly. "You need to peel back the layers to see what their true commitment to sustainability is."

Co-op America helps with its National Green Pages, a directory of businesses in line with its causes. The more conservative California Building Industry Association, for example, has joined in the effort with its Green Builder certification.

Clearly, green business is all over the political map. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation aimed at reducing global warming. President Bush called on Americans to cut their gasoline use in his State of the Union speech.

The federal government monitors energy-efficiency claims for cars and appliances.
Companies large and small are touting their green practices as well as products. Dell computers come in less cardboard and foam packaging than they did before, and the company offers to recycle old systems of any brand. The Ford Motor Co. has cut down on hazardous materials and factory waste.

Consumers can learn about the cost of buying green products, which experts say can be equal to or less than conventional products.

Meeting the Green Builder standards, for example, could cost just a couple thousand dollars, said Don Mull, the Stockton, Calif.-based director of the program.

"When you're looking at a $300,000, $400,000 or $500,000 house, that's not a big number," he said.

A solar electric system is pricey up front, but the cost plunges with government subsidies aimed at reducing the use of polluting fuels.

On top of that, the owner can reduce or even eliminate bills from an electric utility.
"It's a no-brainer," said Steve Vella, owner of Acro Electric of Oakdale, Calif., which does solar installations.

"It increases the value of a home by 20 times the annual savings on the power bill. So, when other people are complaining about rate hikes, our customers are celebrating."

No comments: