Going Green: What's Hype and What Helps

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The market for green home products has had quite a growth spurt in the last few years, thanks to savvy consumers who want earth-friendly solutions and savvy manufacturers happy to meet the demand. But how do you know what’s truly green vs. “greenwashed” with false claims of environmental and health benefits? Telling the difference has just become easier thanks to a partnership between the American Society of Interior Designers and the U.S. Green Building Council.

The market for green home products has had quite a growth spurt in the last few years, thanks to savvy consumers who want earth-friendly solutions and savvy manufacturers happy to meet the demand. But how do you know what’s truly green vs. “greenwashed” with false claims of environmental and health benefits?

Telling the difference has just become easier thanks to a partnership between the American Society of Interior Designers and the U.S. Green Building Council. Their Regreen Program guidelines for homeowners and industry pros include a Green Product Checklist that’s helpful in discerning all possible shades of product greenness, from material composition to end-game efficiency. Following are the assessment categories to help you create results that are green through and through.

Start with the manufacturer

Green begins at the industrial birthplace of a product, so check out the manufacturer’s website or product literature for a written, working environmental policy. It should strive to make important improvements in production, with reduction and reuse as top priorities, followed by recycling. The company should also be compliant with their industry’s voluntary testing programs.

Check the contents

Find out what raw materials go into a product and where they come from, remembering that long-distance transport involves other precious resources. Renewable material resources are a big plus, as are energy-efficient manufacturing processes. You’ll also want to know what adhesives, coatings and finishes are needed to make the product viable, and whether or not the manufacturing process itself is responsible for the release of harmful substances.

The product’s journey to and place in your home

Next up, assess what the product is packaged with, and how it’s transported to the point of purchase. From there, confirm whether or not it’ll release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into your home environment at installation and beyond, and at what rate; conversely, it may have qualities that nurture the health and well-being of occupants. And how about energy─how much does it use, and does it have a color or texture that leads to reduced lighting energy or an expanded range of thermal comfort conditions? Maintenance counts, too, with the greenest products having minimal, benign care requirements that call for the use of safe cleaning products.

Strategies for disposal

All good things come to an end, and a green one is preferred. This can take the form of content that can be separated for recycling, biodegradable elements, and even the opportunity to make one product into another that’s new and useful. Some items may also be returned to the manufacturer at the end of their lifecycle.

Consider the cost

With every project there is, of course, a budget, so the measure of green that you’re getting for the price will always be an issue. Spending more for something that has less impact on your health and the environment is a good investment, and the greener it is, the better the use of your monetary resources. Also refer to the manufacturer’s lifecycle cost analysis for a product, which can help you see beyond immediate comforts and conveniences into the sustainable future of your home improvement plans.

Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show’s podcast or sign-up for Tom’s free weeklye-newsletter, visit the program’s website.

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