This past spring, the big-box retailer launched Eco Options, a green-labeling program that covers more than 2,500 items, including building materials, appliances, and gardening and cleaning products. “Every product with the Eco Options label has less of an impact on the environment than competing products,” reads the company’s Web site.
But is Eco Options worthwhile or just another example of a corporate giant greenwashing U.S. consumers eager to make their lives greener?
I recently took a closer look at Eco Options products both on the company’s Web site and at a Home Depot near our office in Yonkers, N.Y., and where I live in New York City. Here are some of my findings, which might be the same or different from what you find at a Home Depot near you:
1/ Eco Options items were difficult to find. Products were not clearly identified as Eco Options, even at the store that featured several eye-catching signs advertising the program; the other store didn’t appear to have any signage. When I asked several salespeople how to find Eco Options products, I got more blank stares than help. When I finally found a few Eco Options shelf tags, some appeared to be misplaced, like the ones hanging over drill bits. One was even above an oil-based paint, which likely contains relatively high levels of volatile organic compounds compared with water-based paint.
2/ Eco Options is a guide to greener products, not a guarantee. Several Eco Options products are considered green because they meet certain environmental standards. But some of those standards might not be all that high.
• While the Forest Stewardship Council label on Eco Options wood products means they come from a sustainable source, it doesn’t mean the wood comes from 100 percent FSC-certified wood. And thanks to industry ties, the label is not free of conflicts of interest—the standards are determined by parties with a vested interest in them. To learn more about the FSC label, visit our Eco-labels.org.
• In the case of the Energy Star label on Eco Option products, the government’s efficiency tests for appliances don’t necessarily reflect how you and I use appliances. For example, when Consumer Reports evaluates energy use for dishwashers and washing machines, we use loads that more closely mirror real-world usage scenarios (they’re dirtier or fuller than what Energy Star requires). To compare our energy scores, consult our dishwasher and washing machine Ratings (available to subscribers).
• The Design for the Environment label doesn’t indicate that cleaning products are free of potentially toxic chemicals—it simply means the cleaners use chemicals that pose the least concern in their class. Moreover, since manufacturers aren’t required to disclose all the ingredients they use, you might unwittingly buy a product with harsh chemicals. For tips on choosing potentially safer cleaning products, check our greener-cleaning report on GreenerChoices.org.
• Also be aware that no standards exist for organic or natural gardening products. That means that products tagged as Eco Options are not necessarily any greener than others. Learn more about the meaning of organic and natural labels on Eco-labels.org.
3/ Performance, reliability, and safety matter. It’s important to consider the performance, reliability, and safety of Eco Options products as well as their environmental impact. A shoddy product that won’t last is not only a disappointment and a waste of money but it could also end up in a landfill prematurely.—Kristi Wiedemann, Science and Policy Analyst, GreenerChoices.org
Essential information: For more green-buying tips, go to GreenerChoices.org.