How green is green?

A recent article in the LA Times had bad news: Not all green products are made equal. Many products tested in the article, including items featured here on ecochick, were found to contain a petrochemical that has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals.

I’m not finding this particularly surprising. The point behind ecochick has always been to find more environmentally friendly alternatives for everyday products and highlight them so that consumers can make a better choice. But the hard truth is, there is no product that’s perfect. By being alive, you have an environmental impact. There is never a 100% environmentally friendly option. You could be sleeping on organic cotton sheets, reading your recycled paper book via compact flourescent lightbulb lit with solar power, and you still have an impact. The manufacture of those sheets, the disposal of the bulbs, the chemicals in the solar batteries. It’s unavoidable. All of the products featured here on ecochick still have an environmental cost. The cost of these products is less, hopefully, than the products used everyday by most consumers, but it’s still there.

The green purchasing movement is fraught with peril from all directions. Greenwashing (“This product contains 1% recycled content! Conscientious consumer, buy it cause it’s Green!”), overjustification (“I drive a hybrid, so I’m saving the planet!”), saturation from the media (“Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore!”), trendiness (“See our “Green” section in our magazine!”) But the most pervasive, the most damaging issue is hypercriticism. Anything that claims to be “green” is then inspected under a microscope, and criticised for the least failing. People refusing to use CF bulbs because they contain mercury, even though the environmental impact of that mercury is far, far less than the impact of the power generation required to power one traditional lightbulb. Or studies such as this one, that gleefully point out any issues found with products that claim environmental friendliness, while neglecting to point out the comparative environmental hostility of mainstream products. And it’s feeding the feeling of hopelessness: That no matter what we do, we are doomed.

Will this study affect sales of products named in the survey? Probably. And it sucks, because even though they have been found to have petrochemicals, these products are still most likely far ahead environmentally than most mainstream products.

The truth really is that making better choices can make a difference. The products I highlight here are ones from companies that, in my assessment, are at least trying to look at the world and their interaction with it differently. By and large, they aren’t simply products that are capitalizing on a green movement; they are products from companies that are saying, we want to make products that are different. We want products that are simpler, better for you and for me. Yes, they still have issues. No, they aren’t perfect. Consumption, by nature, cannot be perfect. But they’re better. And better helps.