The conscious consumer

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Amazon has developed an new website,, where you can shop exclusively for environmentally-safe “green” items. The recent increase in green and sustainable labels in the marketplace calls into question the link between sustainability and consumerism. Does buying labels with a “sustainability promise” equal a sustainable lifestyle? Can we trust these labels, and how much can we educate ourselves on the validity of these promises?

Amazon admits that the products sold on this site are not specifically meant to save the environment, but to offer a safer and more sustainable alternative to other products in the marketplace. As this New York Times article states, every product on Vine “must fall into one of the following categories: they must be designed to remove toxins, energy-efficient, natural, organic, powered by renewable energy, reusable, made of sustainable materials or water-efficient.”

These may be viable and helpful resources for the environmentally conscious consumer, but many sustainability advocates warn  that we as consumers must be aware of what these company’s promises are actually saying.

“Greenwashing” is a label given to deceptive advertising or false claims by any company that promises “environmentally friendly” products. Terrachoice, a Canadian marketing agency, has developed some helpful resources on greenwashing, including a list of six greenwashing sins.

There are also ways to check up on a company’s proactive efforts to protect the environment. offers a score card on various manufacturers’ efforts to stop climate change and reduce their carbon footprint. You can view it here. Finally, writer David Owen made the point in a notable Wall Street Journal essay that much of the idea of ‘green shopping’ is itself a fallacy. Buying less, and buying things that last, may be greenest of all.

It is difficult to keep up with all the logistics of sustainability and green labeling. But as we become more conscious of the products we choose as consumers, we can make better decisions about how we impact our environment, and help keep manufacturers in check.