Good Guide Helps With Green Shopping

10/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Without carbon labeling, it's hard for consumers to know which products make the eco-friendly grade and which don't (and some would argue it's difficult even with the labels). A new website, Good Guide aims to help shoppers make decisions based on a company's sustainability, health effects, and corporate social responsibility, ranking a product on a scale of 1 to 10 in each category. Scientists and researchers have dug up dirt on major companies' practices, rating everything from the impact of the product's environmental emissions to cancer effects to global labor practices.

The site could become a powerful tool for combating greenwashing in an age where companies capitalize on the trendiness of environmentalism in everything from cosmetics to cars. For now, it rates only personal care items and cleaning products, but food, electronics, toys, and clothing will be added in coming months.

"Most shampoos are pretty similar, so there isn't a lot of difference for most products, but there are some where your purchase can make a huge difference," Dara O'Rourke, the site's founder, told Wired magazine. "There's no question that there's still huge gaps in the data, but we're taking a big step forward on what is the most comprehensive and reliable set of data ever made available to the public for free."

Search for the products you use, and you may be surprised by the results. A Maybelline XXL Volume mascara that I use earned a "fair" rating of 5.7. But in the subcategories, while it ranked highly for environmental effects, it was noted as having ingredients that pose a health hazard. Guess I'll be switching brands. At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised that the Fantastik household cleaner I use, which I had always assumed was harsh and not very green, actually gets an "excellent" 8.1 rating, with a 9.0 for environmental effects. Some of the site's top-rated brands are Seventh Generation, Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees, Vaseline, and Trillium Organics.

Good Guide makes shopping easy by compiling a shopping list of all the items you select, along with quick links to Amazon for bulk purchasing. If you don't like what you see, the site has a link to contact each company so you can write a complaint or praise that will be compiled with other users' comments and passed along. But the best way to show companies what you think of their product, as always, comes from your wallet.