Shopping for environmentally-friendly products is a lifestyle staple for anyone trying to limit their impact on their planet. But in today’s marketplace, it’s increasingly difficult to tell the difference between those businesses that are actually operating with the environment in mind, and those that tout environmental claims to capitalize on the public’s awareness of environmental issues.
This challenge makes reliable product reviews a valuable resource when making purchasing decisions.
That’s why a new green product review site – Greener Square – caught our interest. Greener Square hand selects products produced by socially and environmentally responsible brands, rates the products based on five pre-defined qualities, and provides an easy path to purchase for the customer.
I had the opportunity to speak to Greener Square’s Founder, Jake Madoff, about the inspiration behind the new site, and the role he hopes it will play in increasing the public’s environmental awareness.
Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background?
My name is Jake Madoff. I’m a senior at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University – and I’m currently enthralled with all things ‘environment’. My program of study allows me to construct my own interdisciplinary curriculum; in turn, I’ve dedicated my four academic years to researching, reading, and writing about corporate sustainability, ecological ethics, green design, environmental policy, and ecopsychology.
So, I guess you could say that my background in environmental studies and earth systems science is focused, but also comprehensive.
How did you get started in the field of conscious consumerism and sustainability research?
For pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve been keen on espousing a healthy lifestyle; this mostly came in the form of skeptically looking into the ingredients in the food I would eat and exercising regularly. I’ve also always had somewhat of deep admiration for the natural world. In college, I explored this interest, and it quickly became my primary passion and subject of interest.
I think, though, connecting this more practical sense of healthy living with my knowledge of sustainability and environmental ethics, I came to the field of conscious consumption. I would argue conscious consumption is a nice merriment of these topics. In short then, I got started in conscious consumerism and sustainability research through my love and respect of Nature and overall health. I feel that’s how it usually happens, once you become passionate about something, you really just spend your time learning about and researching it!
We guide and connect you to healthy, and socially and environmentally responsible brands and products in a way that is simple and straightforward.
When and how did Greener Square come about?
Greener Square started in my junior year at New York University (NYU). I had this idea for a curated and researched platform for ‘green’ products for a while, and I think with the culmination of my study – and the fact that I had an urge to start a new project – I was ready and more than willing to dedicate my time to creating something new, something that was an extension of my personal thoughts and beliefs.
So I got a few fellow environmental studies majors, and we got to planning and researching. The overall site came shortly after.
Can you tell us, in a nutshell, a little bit about what Greener Square is, and what you guys do?
Sure – basically Greener Square is a social online marketplace for only “greener” products—products that are both good for the people, and the planet. We guide and connect you to healthy, and socially and environmentally responsible brands and products in a way that is simple and straightforward. In addition to curating only these kinds of brands and products, we also research them. Here’s our five-part research criteria:
Something a little new we’re starting is hand-picking a selection of products and making collections. For example, we’d do a bundle pack of ‘vegan kitchen essentials’ or ‘got-to-haves for organic cosmetics’. It just makes the whole browsing process a lot easier.
What platforms do you utilize during the research process?
We utilize over 25 platforms and resources, but it usually depends on the kind of product we’re reviewing. Generally we’ve been able to get great data and research findings from articles on Google Scholar. As a student at a University, Google Scholar is a free service.
We reference peer-reviewed studies on how and why organic agriculture is more sustainable, what ingredients are more ecologically toxic, etc. We also use data from the FDA and Environmental Working Group. They provide useful sources on the health and potency of certain ingredients.
What is your mission in starting this company? Has it changed since the outset of the project?
I break apart the mission in two ways: the practical short-term, and the conceptual long-term mission. In terms of the former, our mission is to provide a simple and straightforward platform, and review process, for those who practice and desire conscious consumption. Additionally, in providing this platform, we want to facilitate a healthy, green lifestyle. We felt something like this was generally lacking.
As for the long-term, we hope Greener Square shows people that you can live and thrive in ways that are good for you and the environment simultaneously! It doesn’t have to be an either/or decision! If something is good for the ecological environment, it’ll end up being good for you. Generally, this mission has remained the same since the beginning.
We’ve felt for a while that it’s important to recognize this truth – as when more people realize that their intimately connected with the environment, it could catalyze beneficial environmental reform.
Why is it important to research products? What is the value-added for the consumer?
Researching and looking into the products that you buy – and brands that you buy from – is not only an important activity for the consumer to engage in, but other companies. On the consumer side, it’s important because you get to learn about what’s actually in that thing you’re buying, and where your money is actually going; for example, is it going to an unethical brand, or a company that gives to good efforts and initiatives? The value in doing a little research is getting that extra information that you wouldn’t otherwise get if you simply bought it right away – you get a sense of, “Great, that was actually a good purchase”. Simply, you just feel better in the end.
It’s also important for companies to research products from others in their network. It may help bring about innovation. A little bit of learning is always good!
There are a few similar rating and review sites that assess products and brands on their environmental and social responsibility – how are you guys different from them?
We make it easier. We don’t show quantitative ratings to the consumer based on a sliding scale, which is often rather hard to understand. Products either get a badge from one of the five principles on our rating system, or they don’t. We use the simplicity of a certification, and give just the right amount of appropriate information.
I also like to think we make it easier through the design and format of our reviews. Everything is organized nicely right on the page. Hopefully, our new feature, where we craft curated collections of products for a certain activity or lifestyle, will make the process of looking for what you want/need quicker and easier as well.
Have you heard of ‘greenwashing’? What is your opinion on it? Have you comes across brands or products that greenwash?
Yes, I have. I think the first time I came across the term was in one of my environmental economic courses. For those that aren’t familiar with greenwashing, it’s generally defined by an action done by a company whereby they will promote that they’re ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’, in some way, in order to augment their reputation – when in reality they’re not doing anything of the sort. It’s basically an underhanded marketing tactic. I feel companies know when they’re providing misinformation, but do it anyways because being ‘green’ is right and valuable.
We’ve come across some, but honestly not as many as you’d expect. I think the community of green businesses and organizations generally do a pretty good job weeding out those that should not be part of the community.
What are your hopes for Greener Square? What are your hopes for the field of conscious consumption?
We hope more people will find the platform and revisit it. Perhaps show their friends! We hope people will go on Greener Square and like what they say. We would also love to hear any feedback people have.
We’ll definitely keep researching and uploading products. I feel it’s only a matter of time until people catch on to the importance of conscious consumption. It’s so intimately tied with our personal health, social equity, and ecological sustainability. I hope only good things for the conscious consumption movement!
Do you have any questions about Greener Square? Let us know in the comments.