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How green is that product?

An increasing number of consumers want ‘green’ products for their homes. How to determine which ones are and which ones claim to be but aren’t?

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Ms. Lehrman suggests that consumers look for third-party certification on products. (See below.)

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One area consumers aren’t likely to overlook in deciding on a product is performance, says Dr. Stafford. If a company decides to go green, its product has to be as good as the nongreen product. “The bottom line is, we don’t buy carpet cleaner to save the planet. We buy it to clean our carpets.”

Testing of green and energy-efficient products has shown that performance is improving on the whole, Lehrman says, although she advises checking the Consumer Reports website for specific product reviews.

Sometimes, just refraining from buying anything is the greenest choice a consumer can make, experts say. “If you need something new, you have to weigh the whole life-cycle cost of the product and decide whether or not you’re really helping the environment by buying something,” Lehrman says, citing $400 organic sheets as an example. “Is it better to just not buy new sheets?”

“Buy less, buy better, and when possible, buy local,” advises Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, creator of “Apartment Therapy,” a book and website that encourages green living. He advocates “editing” your home, buying only what you really need.

“The whole green mantra is ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle.’ It’s not ‘shop,’ ” says Linda Hunter, author of “Green Clean,” a guide to green cleaning solutions.

But trying to transform your entire home into a green one overnight can seem daunting, says Ms. Ingram. “You have to take it step by step. I can’t change everything about how I live, but ... if you just take it a little at a time, it won’t feel so overwhelming.”

How to tell if a product is really green

When you’re buying green products for your home, checking the label isn’t enough, consumer advocates say. It’s better to check for third-party certification. Some common ones:

Designed for the Environment – Introduced by the US Envir­onmental Protection Agency (EPA) to indicate that products contain environmentally preferable ingredients.

Green Seal – Aims to reduce the environmental impacts tied to the use, manufacture, and disposal of products and services.

Energy Star – An EPA certification whose goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency.

Water Sense – It certifies water-efficient products such as faucets and toilets.

Forest Stewardship Council – Products that bear the FSC logo are guaranteed to contain wood or wood products harvested from a certified, well-managed forest.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) – Promotes sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, sustainable materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.

For more details on eco-labels and ways to go green at home, check the guides on these websites: a Consumer Reports site that includes definitions of eco terms; Treehugger's How to Go Green Guides; and the Organic Consumers Association.