The explosion of the green marketplace in the past year has been stunning, but it turns out it's not really clear what "green" means. A recent New York Times piece on Home Depot reports:
“Everybody is in a mad scramble to say how green they are,” said Jim O’Donnell, manager of the Sierra Club Stock Fund, which handles $50 million in a portfolio of companies it considers environmentally friendly. He added that he was hopeful the product greening would become more meaningful over time.
One reason for the scramble is that there are few verifiable or certified standards to substantiate claims. Crest has introduced a toothpaste containing green tea extract and natural mint, sold under the “Nature’s Expressions” label, even though it contains artificial ingredients like most toothpastes. Raid sells a wasp and hornet killer in a green can marked “Green Options” with “Natural Clove Scent.”
“You almost have to be a scientist with a lab to decipher the dizzying array of claims,” said Robyn Griggs Lawrence, editor in chief for Natural Home magazine. “It’s hard to get information on what makes a product green.” (Emphasis added)
The food business went though a similar progression, with the term "natural." The term was slapped on just about every product and only regulated by the USDA in one specific arena - meat. The word "natural" in meat means "minimally processed" and without colorings or additives, so virtually any meat product could qualify. Looking for beef produced without antibiotics or synthetic hormones? The word "natural" does not identify such a product.
Organic food proponents saw what happened to the word "natural" and decided they wanted more rigor for the word "organic," so set up a system of verifiable claims that ensured the word had integrity. Hence, the national regulations for organic food.
As for the word "natural," the Hartman Group market research firm reports it is now virtually meaningless. "In fact, the word has become so diluted that many actively avoid products bearing this word out of fear that they could be 'imposters,'" the firm says.
Which only leads one to wonder about the fate of the word "green."