Streams

Greening Your House One Tool at a Time

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

So, you want to be green? Looking to buy some eco-friendly soap or flooring or a TV?  OK, but how do you know if they really are good for the environment?

MATRANGA: I think all of us are confused.

REPORTER: That’s Vicky Matranga.  She’s not looking to buy eco-friendly products. Actually, she represents a group of housewares companies trying to create those green products.

MATRANGA: It is such a fast-moving target, the sustainability issue, that what seems to be an appropriate answer to a question today may no longer be appropriate in another year or two as we learn more.

REPORTER: There’s no national standard for declaring a product green – and some companies have been accused of “greenwashing” – or making claims about their products that are misleading, unproven or have hidden tradeoffs. Examples range from what some would call the obvious -- right now we're hearing music from a Hummer commercial.  The H3 has been advertised as gas-friendly because it gets an estimated 20 miles per gallon.  The less obvious include flooring products that say they're green but need to be cleaned with harmful chemicals. The federal government and some industry and marketing groups are trying to clear up the confusion as consumers – and even some big retailers, like Walmart and Home Depot – are demanding greener wares.

DEMONSTRATOR1: We have our Rowenta Pressure Iron and Steamer [Steam sound]

REPORTER: At a recent housewares show in midtown, companies touted their eco-friendly products.

DEMONSTRATOR1: It’s the way that you use it that makes it green. So it’s a powerful iron, saves you trips to the dry-cleaner, saves the use of chemicals at the dry-cleaners. It’s also so powerful that you can iron twice as fast.

DEMONSTRATOR2: We are Epicurean Cutting Surfaces. We came out with paper-based cutting boards four years ago. It’s basically sheets of paper, saturated in food-grade resin and pressed under heat and pressure. One board is made from recycled cardboard.

REPORTER: Bruce Kammenstein’s company, Casabella, makes high-end cleaning tools. Its new line of eco-friendly mops, floor dusters and buckets are made of recycled materials.  Almost all the components are made in the US and they're assembled in Rockland County.

KAMMENSTEIN: Why did I go into the green? I don’t know. I had an epiphany one day driving over the Tappan Zee Bridge, listening to the news, listening to all the cancer scares around the country. I said, I gotta do something. I just gotta do something. This is crazy.

REPORTER: The show's organizers, the International Housewares Association, put together an expert panel to help companies be more sustainable by giving them feedback on their products.  Stephanie Gitter-Feldman of the New York City Industrial Assistance Corporation was a member of the panel.

GITTER-FELDMAN: One of my biggest issues of course was where it’s made. Bamboo gets a lot of credit and attention for being a rapidly renewable product because the material regenerates itself every seven years in nature, which is great, but most bamboo is actually grown in China. So you look at the tradeoffs and try to understand, what did you get by picking the bamboo material versus the tradeoff of having to transport it.

REPORTER: It’s not yet clear what the current economic climate will do to sales of green products.  While most eco-friendly products cost more than their traditional counterparts, experts believe consumers will pay the premium if they perceive the benefits are significant enough.  That could be saving money in the long-run, being gentler on the environment, or just using healthier products. So what to do until a national “green seal of approval” is adopted? Consumers can get some guidance from an environmental marketing firm called Terrachoice, that’s come up with what it calls “The Six Sins of Greenwashing.” You can find a link to the list at our web site, wnyc.org.


The Six Sins of Greenwashing

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