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How do I know I am buying green?

It can be tricky to know if what you are buying is a "green" choice. These three basic tools can help you evaluate your choice:

Labels/certifications decodes and evaluates the usefulness and validity of many labels that appear on consumer products in a variety of categories.

Energy Star provides standardized labels for water and energy efficient appliances and electrical and electronic equipment.

Fair Trade works to ensure that local farmers receive an equitable price for their crops, and that sustainable farming and labor practices are used. Provides certification for staple goods and foods such as coffee, tea, honey, sugar, and bananas.

Green Seal certifies products including cleaners, paints, vehicle maintenance, floor cleaners, paper and print products, windows and doors, and lodging properties.

USDA Organic provides the background on the criteria that must be met in order for food to receive the USDA Organic label.

US Forest Product Stewardship Council website has a searchable product database for wood and paper and printed products that are independently certified as harvested from sustainably-managed forests.

Specifications/contract language

EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program

Commonwealth of Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program

US Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System describes categories of construction for which rating systems are available. Related pages discuss the LEED certification levels and certification process.

Consumption/Emission calculators

Consumer Reports appliances and fuel economy calculator

EnviroCalc has a collection of calculators from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Operational Services Division. Includes a downloadable spreadsheet for environmentally preferable purchasing, links to the Energy Star calculators, an Environmental Benefits calculator for material usage, and the EPEAT tool for computer model selection.

Ithaca College EarthCafe ecological footprint quiz

TerraPass calculates carbon dioxide emissions from your home use, auto, and air travel activities. You can also purchase carbon offsets that help fund renewable energy projects.

Tufts Climate Initiative "Green Flying" Consumer Handout—There is a growing interest in purchasing carbon offsets on the retail market as a way to reduce one's greenhouse gas impacts. Offset purchases are invested in projects that reduce or sequester emissions. This page gives a brief overview of the status of the market and tips to consider when purchasing offsets.

Learn More

EPP-Net is a listserv set up by the Northeast Recycling Council, and it is a free resource for those interested or involved in environmentally preferable purchasing. You can post questions to the group or search the archives for invaluable advice on a wide range of green purchasing issues, ideas, product recommendations, specifications and contract language, etc.

Ecology of Commerce is a book written by Paul Hawken, describing how our economic systems and patterns of consumption must be changed to align with Nature. He gives examples and illustrations of how businesses can learn to embrace environmental and social ideals while still pursuing profit.