Shop Talk: Practical answers for tough business questions

by : 
Kim Perkins
January 1, 2012

Question: What makes a product “green?” When a vendor tells me a product is “green,” what does that really mean?

Answer: This is a great question and one without an exact answer, although many proprietors wonder about it. No exact definition or legal guidelines for the term “green” exist currently, so it can be subject to interpretation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established guidelines for “green” cleaning products, as well as “green” energy (e.g., wind, solar) but not for all merchandise. In the broadest definition, a green product is one that is environmentally friendly.

It is generally accepted that green products make less an impact on the environment or are less detrimental to human health than their traditional counterparts. Green products usually are made from some or all recycled components, are manufactured in an energy-conservative way, and/or may have less packaging to wind up in landfills. Green products usually have qualities that protect the environment and have natural, rather than synthetic or artificial, ingredients.

So, when a vendor tells you their product is “green,” don’t be afraid to ask what they mean. Is it recycled? Organic? Non-toxic? Reclaimed? Created from sustainable materials?

One definition I found goes a bit further: A green product or service is both environmentally and socially responsible. That is, the products are accountable to, and respectful of, the places and people that provide and use them. Personally, I like this definition the best.

Kim Perkins is co-owner of Elysian Fields Books & Gifts for Conscious Living (, an award-winning store in Sarasota, Fla. Send your retail questions to