06/12/2011 10:12 EDT | Updated 08/12/2011 05:12 EDT

The Easiest Way to Go Green? Use Common Sense

If you take a step back, and think about it, you'll realize that the world we live in is actually encouraging us to consume more in order to reduce our impact. Buy green. Try this. Throw this out. Never use that. Replace it now. Nope, that was wrong, now do this.

Too many products and services are now being marketed as "green", and while this may seem like it's positive, it's really not. Many products may not in fact really even be green, they may just been marketed that way, or, they may just be completely unnecessary (classified as "greenwashing").

Somehow, many toxic cleaning chemicals on shelves actually have an 'eco' or 'green' certification. Do you even know what the standards of that certification are? It might be parallel to potato chips claiming "reduced fat" on the bag; sure, that might be better, but it's still not healthy and it's certainly not as low fat or healthy as an organic apple, or nothing at all!

Maybe you find it all stressful, maybe you find it overwhelming, but just take a deep breath (of clean indoor air because I'm sure you've already rid your home of all toxic chemicals, right?) and don't write off living green. It is absolutely worth buying into the green movement. Any one change you make, or new service you try, is simply another beginning, not an ending point. And, when you like it and you feel that you've made a positive change, tell a few friends and all of a sudden, you will be making a big difference.

Whether you consider yourself green, not green at all, hippie, tree hugger, lifetime suv-driver, all-natural or anything else, all you need to do is ignore the front-of-label claims and the media-making picks for you and use your common sense to make your purchasing decisions.

Start by supporting as many businesses (and people!) that are local to you, pleasant, making efforts to be green, and providing quality products and services that aren't going to make us sick, or contribute to an unhealthy planet.

Try to consider the following when shopping:

  1. Country of Origin How far did it travel to get onto the shelf? What are the working conditions like there? Are toxic chemicals like cadmium found in products from that country?
  2. Labeling As a general rule, if you can't pronounce the ingredient, you shouldn't be using it. If there is not a complete list, this is a strong indication that it is not a responsible purchase. Beware of claims such as "natural" or "biodegradable" or even "organic" etc., and certifications as they unfortunately don't mean as much as a clear ingredient list that makes sense to you.
  3. Packaging Is it a food product in glass or plastic? Are you paying for packaging or what's actually inside? Hint: pudding cups with pictures of Shrek on it are probably not going to be better for our health and our planet's happiness than a homemade one with fresh ingredients!
  4. Other Options Is there an organic or less packaged, less processed version close by? Compare labels. Don't get caught in the debate that surrounds us daily about the health impacts of our purchases, just choose to simplify. The Precautionary Principle teaches us that if we wait until we're absolutely certain something is not acceptable, we've probably waited too long.
  5. Research and Perspective Use QR codes and safe shopping apps to learn more about what you are buying, and visit sites like EWG's Cosmetics Database to learn about what's in your personal care products. Watch Story of Stuff and share it with friends and family. Ask questions about what you are buying, and demand answers.

Instead of depending on large corporations or experts to tell us that we need, rely on yourself - you are your own best expert (possibly hypocritical as I'm telling you what to do?). Just a reminder: We control the way we shop, and what we shop for and using our common sense will help us make more responsible purchases that will in turn save us time, save us money, save our health, and positively impact our shared world. How is that for good sense?