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Consume Green
Jamais Cascio, 8 May 05

greenshopper.jpgIn the beginning, there was the Whole Earth Catalog, and it was good.

Today, if you want to get advice on how to construct a green(er) life through consumerism, you have myriad choices. If you want your advice from the remnants of dead trees, you can check out Plenty, Green*Light, and a bunch more. Those who prefer bits to atoms can go with (among others) Treehugger, HippyShopper (for the UK regiment), Metaefficient, even our own Bright Green Living Wiki. All of these provide advice from a perspective that's green first, consumer second. But what if you're more of a traditional type, and have a strong aversion to tie-dye?

Consumer Reports is probably the best-known name in not-for-profit consumer watchdog groups in the US. Although they are sometimes criticized by specialists for inaccuracies in reviews of highly-technical products, their comparative reports on appliances, financial services, home and garden gear, and the like, are justly admired. This month, Consumers' Union (the organization behind Consumer Reports) opened Greener Choices, a new website providing reviews of products and services with a sustainability focus. will launch beginning with a dozen products across several categories, including electronics, appliances, home & garden, autos and food. There will also be a "green ratings" section for many products covered, which provides ratings of a product's energy, water and fuel efficiency performance. also provides environmental and health assessments for various food products including meat and fish.The site includes information on large scale environmental issues concerning energy, climate change, agriculture, waste and dangerous substances and connects these larger issues to the products people buy. Consumers will also find tools such as energy calculators, rebate information, food label meanings as well as links to information about local energy, recycling and sewage treatment services.

The site is somewhat spartan at the moment; this may suggest a green asceticism or may simply mean they don't have many reviews available yet. The bigger question, in my view, is whether this is an attempt to cater to a growing sustainable consumer demographic, or a "green ghetto," allowing Consumers' Union to downplay or ignore issues of sustainable production in Consumer Reports. This points us back to the ongoing question of whether sustainable production should be considered an "of course" element in a product (you don't see many products these days advertising on the basis of "Now with electricity!"), or a specialized category that consumers will look for in particular. That sustainability is a design and use characteristic, not (generally) a function characteristic, cuts both ways: anything can, in principle, be more efficient or be made in a more efficient way; given that not everything will be made more efficient/more efficiently, at least at first, it helps to draw attention to those products that have been.

Where do you go for information on product efficiency and sustainability? Is it a requirement in your purchases, or something that's just nice to have? Are there products for which you'd like to get more sustainability/efficiency information, but can't find it? What do you do to make "greener choices?"

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I also highly recommend The Green Guide (, on whose editorial board I sit.

Posted by: Joel Makower on 8 May 05

Another similar site is Pristine Planet (

Posted by: Mike on 9 May 05



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