With a Master's degree in Sustainable Development, Susette has taught herself, and now teaches others, how to live a sustainable lifestyle.
I was excited to discover a couple of years ago that Amazon had a Green Store. Being an avid environmentalist, I wanted to know what kinds of products I could find there, and if it would make buying "green" for Christmas or any other time easier. Unfortunately, Amazon stopped promoting it and now I can't find it at all.
Not to give up without looking further, I decided to see if there were any online directories specifically for eco-friendly products. First I looked up Green America, since I was once a member when they were a mail-order catalog called Co-op America. I did find them online and many others, as well. Next was to check them all out and choose the best ones.
Herein are some of the most interesting directories, followed by an in-depth look at what an eco-friendly product really is.
The following seven directories provide links to stores that sell green products. Many of them post educational articles about sustainability too. Be sure to contact the seller if you find that they don't package or ship their products sustainably. And let me know in the comments below, if you know of one that's better than these.
Note: For an active link to each directory or the company's FB page, click on "Source" under the logo.
Ecosites is user-friendly and is especially designed for women purchasing for the family. It may not be as big as the sites that follow, but it feels comfortable to browse and contains the essential family type products a traditional woman needs––clothes, personal care, bedding, toys. This site also opens links in a new window, so you don't lose anything while you're exploring.
What I like best about Ecosites is that when you click on one of its categories, it opens a choice of eco-stores, which then take you directly to their products on Amazon.com. Since I already shop on Amazon a lot, I don't have to get used to a new site. Prices are reasonable and the quality of products is good . . . at least the women's clothing I checked out is good. I found a few things right away that I wanted to buy, and I'm pretty picky––one being a poncho sweater that has the neck and lower arms covered (normally cold areas for me). I like this directory.
I was first introduced to Green America when they were known as Co-op America in the late 1990s. They had already been in existence for a number of years and promoted their goods via mail order catalog.
Since then, that catalog has grown to over 3,000 businesses, culled from analyses of more than 80,000 companies. These stores make and/or sell a whole slew of environmentally safe, organic "Made-in-USA" products, from air and water purification products to women's personal products. The catalog has over 90 categories of product listings––including food, household, personal, family, financial, educational, construction, and business products and services––all eco-friendly.
The directory, itself, seems not to be organized very well, and may not have been updated lately. Although I did find interesting stores, all with goods made in the U.S., you had to go through a few layers of links to get there, and then some of those were broken. I was frankly disappointed, although I am impressed by the activism and articles.
Healthline.com calls Green America one of the best non-profits fighting for sustainability. In "Of Gods and Goblins" The Huffington Post talks about Green America's "Chocolate Scorecard" that keeps worldwide track of cocoa manufacturers using child labor. In another article Huffpost quotes The Tergis Group as stating that Green America's reports help counteract consumer distrust of brands and companies.
This is Green America's strength––the action they take, the reports they write, and the incredible array of information they post about sustainability in finance, labor, social justice, green living, and food production. This is for people who not only LIVE green, but also want to promote green living.
This year is EcoMall's 24th year on the Internet. EcoMall is an international site founded in 1994 by UK professionals. It seeks to give consumers the tools they need to integrate environmental awareness into their daily buying decisions, both personal and professional. The underlying premise is that shoppers most strongly influence the economy through the products they choose to buy. When buyers choose environmentally sustainable products and services, the economy responds by becoming more earth-friendly itself.
EcoMall's directory opens with a cute little infographic of buildings labeled with linked shopping categories––like Companies & Products, Eco-Restaurants, and Renewable Energy. There are twelve altogether, including one for email. Below that is a "Companies & Products" chart with over 60 subdivision links covering food, sports, financial, construction, and many other types of supplies.
I tried the clothing one (to be consistent) and found an indigenous group that makes its own fabric and clothing from it. Naturally, the price is higher, but look what it supports! I found a 100% soft cotton/tencel scarf I'd really like to buy, although I'm thinking I should get a smart phone first, so I can download their free app.
Fair Trade Certified is a 1998 nonprofit that draws companies with fair trade practices together with buyers who want to support fair trade through their purchases. The company offers a directory, as well as articles showing what fair trade is and how to support it. Walmart and Costco sell fair trade items and are listed on this website . . . but so is Patagonia, the world's greenest manufacturer of outdoor clothing.
Through its buying practices, the organization makes sure its suppliers from 70 countries worldwide receive a fair wage. For products such as coffee, Fair Trade Certified staff guides growers into forming cooperatives that will give them greater leverage with their buyers. It provides buyers with a role model for how to treat all producers with respect, no matter their country or their socio-economic status.
They also pay for projects the suppliers, themselves, decide on to help build their respective communities. Covili Farm in Mexico hires over 700 migrant Mexican workers from neighboring towns, paying each one a fair wage. With the extra money the company received for community development, they've built a health clinic, outfitted a vehicle to use as an ambulance, and will next be building a dining room for workers and their families, complete with a nutritionist to show them how to eat balanced meals. This is how fair trade helps lift people out of poverty.
EcoFirms is one of the largest green business directories online. It's a grassroots project that originated in 2005, and is entirely run and operated by volunteers. Their website is specifically designed to serve as a marketing and promotional tool for member companies.
The directory is set up around nine major categories: Eco products, services, tourism, issues, media, trade, health, food, and source (raw materials). The eco-tourism section had 17 subcategories and I wanted to explore them all. I looked at wildlife viewing and found six pages of services and lodges from all over the world––Russia, Kenya, Peru, Thailand, and many more. I looked at Kenya/Tanzania (in the 70s I was a Peace Corps volunteer near there) to find they offered Maasai wildlife tours, beach tours, and birding tours.
Then I looked at clothing and found 16 pages of listings, from 420 Hemp Shop to Zia & Tia Pure Luxury Organics. A lot of their stores are really little, so keep looking until you find what you want. Given that, this is the best laid out website that I found.
One of the oldest online directories, Happy Hippie caters to old and new hippie-shoppers. Their website has a directory, an education section, and a hippie forum. They also offer free email.
Happyhippie.com was created in 1997 by two web geeks who were simply concerned about the environment, and the lack of organized eco-information at the time. Over the years, green living has grown in popularity, and information has become widely available. However, Happyhippie.com has become a place for like-minded people to get together and chat about ideas, and a hub for small business owners to gain exposure.
Happy Hippie's "Eco Business Directory" has 25 categories with links to product types under them. Some stores are listed in a couple of different categories. Some are hosted on Etsy (an online bazaar of small handicraft stores).
A lot of the stores in Happy Hippie's directory sew their own clothing, including tie-dyed clothes made by hippies that are kinda cool. I found some bohemian style pants similar to a pair I'd just made for myself. And just now I found a canvas backpack I might want to buy (to replace my distressed leather one that's falling apart after 20 years).
Other Leading Eco-Friendly Directories
Those above are not the only green directories, of course, just the ones that came up on Google's first pages that looked interesting. You can also check out the following:
- Go Green Directory (India)
- GreenPeople Directory (worldwide)
- EcoOfficiency - a listing of green directories
- Green Directory (Europe)
If you have used one or more of these, let me know in the comments section, especially if you liked it. I can always switch it out with one of those described above. Now let's look at what makes a green product.
What Makes a Green Product? Eco-Friendly Terms and Their Definitions
What makes a product "green" is the product itself––its design, its component materials, where and how it's manufactured, its intended use–– combined with how the product is packaged and shipped, and what happens once its shelf life is over. Producing in this way is not easy, so consumers who make it a point to buy eco-friendly products reward a company for making the effort.
To help you make eco-friendly decisions, here are definitions of several terms commonly used that are related to producing products sustainably:
- Eco-friendly, environmentally-friendly, earth-friendly, green––These mean much the same thing. The product either benefits the environment in some way, or at least does not harm it, either in the product's manufacture, packaging, shipping, or its use by consumers. For example, clothing that is made by manufacturers who dump excess dye in rivers (like most do) would not be considered eco-friendly. Patagonia is one of the most conscientious clothing companies in the world, where this is concerned.
- Sustainable––This term focuses on the ability of the manufacturing process to operate ad infinitum without using up scarce resources, polluting the environment, or degrading the communities from which a company draws its workers. Many companies focus on finances when they talk about sustainability, but that's only one of many components. The fossil fuels industry is hugely unsustainable.
- Fair Trade––This term is actually a label ensuring that a product's producers, both company and workers, earn reasonable wages for their work. Too many manufacturers, including some in the United States (e.g. garment factories in Los Angeles), pay their workers so little that the workers are not able to support themselves, much less their families. A few well known fair trade companies are Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's, Lush, Stellar Winery.
- WaterSense and EnergyStar––These are also labels, both indicating that the product was made to conserve water and/or electricity. When you look for labels like this when buying equipment or fixtures, you are contributing to living in a sustainable world.
Sustainable Packaging and Shipping
When goods are made sustainably, but packaged or shipped in plastic, they are considered only partly eco-friendly. Consumers like you are much more aware of human impact on the health of the earth than before, so a product packaged or shipped unsustainably should be less attractive to you than one that is eco-friendly all the way. Instead, you'll hopefully look to buy from a manufacturer that produces green products AND packages them in cardboard, bioplastics, or some other sustainable way.
The two main criteria for sustainable packaging and shipping materials are that:
- They be manufactured with minimal toxins and no toxic discharge.
- They can be reused or discarded safely after use, without harming the environment in any way.
Most of our products are packaged in plastic, but plastic is not sustainable. It's produced by fossil fuels extractions and recombinations of elements in factories using toxic chemicals. Such factories discharge excess poisonous gases into the air, which have been known to cause cancers in surrounding communities. Bags of plastic pellets, that fall off of trains or trucks in transit and burst open, end up with pellets in the ocean clogging the gullets of fish and sea birds, and depriving the water of air by covering the ocean surface. And plastic wrappings from store-bought products are discarded into landfills where they pile up, instead of decomposing.
Because of the dangers of plastic (and the requests of consumers), many manufacturers and sellers have changed their packaging practices.
- Manufacturers wrap products with as little plastic as possible, use recycled plastic, or place them in cardboard boxes with see-through cutouts, assuming they are packaged at all.
- Retail stores in California are not allowed to give out flimsy plastic bags to carry groceries anymore. Bags either have to be sturdy enough to reuse, or be made of paper or fabric.
- Instead of plastic bubblewrap, green online retailers ship orders in cardboard boxes stuffed with crunched-up paper or corrugated cardboard.
A good example of unsustainable versus green packaging is egg cartons. Many egg cartons are made from polystyrene materials––a form of plastic. They have little redeemable value, once the eggs are gone, and disposing of them in a way that does not harm the environment is a problem.
Others are made from pressed paper pulp, which is recyclable and biodegradable. Those you can reuse as seedling starters, cutting the sections apart when the seedling is ready, and planting them directly into the ground. The carton will break down in the soil and provide nutrients for the growing plant.
The same is true of products of all kinds. A truly eco-friendly product can be reused, recycled, resold, or decomposed in a landfill, once the buyer is finished with it.
- Reused––Converted into a different use from which it was intended, like cutting up an old towel into washcloths or an old flannel sheet into furniture polishing rags.
- Recycled––Returned to the manufacturer to break down component parts for reuse or blended into new raw materials for making recycled products.
- Resold––Donated to a thrift shop to sell at a cheaper price, or sold at a neighborhood garage sale.
- Decomposed––Made from biodegradable materials, so it breaks down naturally in a landfill or compost box.
Truly green companies take the disposal stage of a product into account when they produce it. Some, like Hewlett Packard, have buy-back programs for their discarded products. Others, like Cereplast (whose owner I met and interviewed several years ago), make plastic polymer substitutes out of vegetable starches. They then sell the pellets to manufacturers of plasticware, who want to make their products biodegradable.
The Enjoyment of Shopping Online
If you like shopping online or are just learning how to shop for eco-friendly products, start with one of these directories. Be sure to take a look at all of the features in their product windows. Go ahead and follow links to see where they go and, just in case links don't open in a new window or tab, right-click each link and tell it to do that. Then you can go back to the pages you liked when you're ready to explore a specific store. Have fun!
Kristen Stanton on March 27, 2018:
Great resources here! Thank you!
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on June 28, 2014:
You're welcome Maggie. They still don't promote it very heavily, but I assume they will as people start to be aware of and utilize it.
Maggie.L from UK on June 28, 2014:
Very useful information here. Myself and my family are always looking for ways to be more environmentally friendly. I'd never heard of Amazon Green before I read this. Thanks for making myself and others aware of it.