In the United States, words such as “clean,” “eco-friendly,” and “green” commonly appear on product labels and in marketing campaigns, but their use isn’t actually regulated by any governing body. Instead, companies can—and do—use this language to lure in consumers, rendering conscious decision-making difficult. To make sense of it all, we tapped into the spirit of ahimsa (nonharming); consulted environmental, beauty, and manufacturing experts; and researched ingredients and production practices to develop our own guidelines for what it means to be green, which you’ll find below.
And so, without further ado, we present our first-ever Green Choice Awards. In a world of Best lists, the focus here is not on perfect, but better—better for your body, for the environment, for the world at large.
Focus on Reducing and Reusing
Recycling is the first step in closing the loop, but don’t forget about the reduce and reuse parts of the equation. A whopping 91 percent of plastic goes unrecycled, so the most powerful move we can make is to stop buying petroleum products in the first place. Instead, look for companies with creative solutions for packaging that can be refilled or repurposed.
Green Choice Guidelines
1. The product must not contain chemicals known to be harmful to the environment or to humans.
Sure, this may seem like a no-brainer, but the US Food and Drug Administration bans or restricts just 11 chemicals and ingredients in personal-care products and cosmetics; by contrast, the European Union prohibits the use of more than 1,300 that are known to cause serious illnesses, genetic disorders, birth defects, and reproductive problems. We’ve taken all of that into consideration, avoiding any chemicals or ingredients on the EU blacklist or identified as harmful by nonprofit advocacy organization the Environmental Working Group.
Products highlighted here are free of everything from the usual suspects—carcinogenic parabens and formaldehyde, for instance—to sneakier, potentially toxic chemicals found in yoga props, such as azodicarbonamide (which the World Health Organization says may cause an asthmatic response) and phthalates (often used to make plastics more flexible but which may damage your liver and reproductive system).
2. The product is made using eco-friendlier power methods (such as solar) or with recycled or upcycled materials.
According to the folks at climate tech startup Cooler, electricity is almost always the largest contributor to the carbon footprint (or total greenhouse gas emissions) of a product or service, accounting for 35 to 40 percent in most cases. That’s why we’re favoring goods made via sustainable production, such as solar, wind, and small-scale manufacturing. But a product may also qualify if it’s created with recycled, upcycled, or compostable materials, which reduces its carbon footprint by requiring less energy in the long run than new raw materials.
3. Ingredient information must be publicly available.
No hidden agenda here. All ingredients must be readily available so consumers can make informed decisions for themselves. Simple as that.
4. The product must be packaged and shipped using recycled, upcycled, compostable, or low-impact materials or methods.
Here’s where we’re judging a book by its cover. The diligent work of making a better-for-all product shouldn’t be negated by harmful packing materials, so the goods on this list are all delivered using lower-impact packaging and shipping methods.