It's not easy being green.
Home builders follow energy efficient building codes, appliance manufacturers adhere to Energy Star guidelines and more and more car makers are putting batteries under the hood.
But the act of being "green" -- the use of more environmentally sustainable goods and services, conservation techniques, and a lifestyle in tune with the survival of the planet Earth -- isn't tied to any single, overriding, legal definition or regulatory standard consumers can follow.
Consumers Union wants to help change that.
Its new GreenerChoices.org website brings to the world of things green, the same trusted goods and services ratings scrutiny CU made famous in its Consumer Reports magazine and website.
A Consumer Reports survey revealed that while only five percent of respondents consider themselves activists, nearly nine out of 10 actively consider environmental and health factors when making purchases, including avoiding dangerous chemicals in household products and looking for energy-efficient appliances.
The survey also said consumers don't mind paying more if their choices will help protect the environment, public and personal health, and provide long-term savings.
"Forty-three percent of respondents said they would be willing to pay more for electricity generated from environmentally sound sources like solar and wind power and nearly seven out of 10 would be willing to pay an additional cost to recycle big-ticket items like TVs and computers. What this says to us is that, not only do consumers care, but they're willing to put their money where their mouth is," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, an environmental health scientist and director of GreenerChoices.org. Rangan is also director of another new Consumers Union website, Eco-labels.org, which serves as a guide to environmental labels on foods, personal hygiene products, household cleaners, woods and papers.
Consumer Reports says its energy-use ratings are more stringent than the federal government's Energy Star program, and that its testing represents more real-world use than the methods used to give the Energy Star rating.
The GreenerChoices.org site launched Earth Day, April 22 with a dozen products across several categories, including air conditioners, dishwashers, washers, dryers, garbage disposers, refrigerators, compost bins, gas cans, water filters, batteries, desktop computers, fish and meat.
The new site also explains how making choices that favor the environment come with favorable side benefits, including protecting personal health and saving money. The site also helps consumers determine if greener products perform as well as mainstream products.
Consumer Reports recently named the Honda Accord Hybrid its top-rated family sedan, ousting the Volkswagen Passat, which held the title for the past seven years.
The website will also address broader environmental issues related to energy, climate change, agriculture, waste and dangerous chemical substances, while connecting that information to products people buy and services they hire.
Also look for related tools including energy calculators, rebate information, food label meanings as well as links to help them find out more about their local energy, water and sewage treatment services.