During manufacture, use and disposal, green products give off less pollution and save more energy and resources than the items they replace. To truly qualify as "green", they should also use recycled materials, responsible packaging and be durable and non-toxic.
Unfortunately, many products which claim to be green fall far short of these ideals. Watch out for unqualified claims that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-safe’. Look for product labels with specific information about the product and its packaging. For example, if the label says ‘recycled’, check to see what percentage of the product or packaging is recycled. There are guidelines for manufacturers and producers which aim to prevent misleading advertising of green products, issued by the Federal Trade Commission, with the cooperation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Consumer Affairs. However, these are guidelines only, with no legal enforcement procedure in place.
Look for products with minimal or no packaging. Check if the packaging is made from recycled materials or can be recycled. Two packages of pens may be exactly the same, except one comes in a plastic container that you will pay to throw away while the other comes in a paperboard box that can be recycled.
Check for quality and durability. One package of pens might seem very reasonably priced, but another seemingly more expensive packet of pens may be refillable, providing a saving in the long term, both for your wallet and for the environment as it does not contribute to the waste stream.
Check to see if the product is produced by a local company. Or produced within your region – how far has the product traveled to get to you? Supporting local businesses also supports your local economy.
Purchase products in bulk, or from cooperatives. This will lessen your unit cost, while increasing demand for the product, further lowering the cost of an item.
It is important to make your own educated decisions about which products have a smaller environmental impact, and we should realize that different factors will be most important for different individuals. For instance, someone faced with a chronic illness may rightfully focus on the health effects of their purchases, whereas others may concern themselves mostly with protecting forests and water supplies.