More and more parents with children and babies are going green – and we're not talking about broccoli. Since 2002, sales of organic products, from strawberries to clothing and shampoo, have nearly tripled, according to a 2010 survey done by the Organic Trade Association. "I see lots of families asking questions about everything from organic infant formula to sleep positioners," says Paul Horowitz, MD, a pediatrician at Discovery Pediatrics in Valencia, Calif.
But before jumping on the green bandwagon, parents need to consider a variety of terms and factors before choosing what works best for them, their baby, and the environment.
Is it Organic, Natural, or Green?
What is organic? When it comes to food, the government defines what products can be labeled "organic". Products carrying the USDA Organic seal labeled "100% organic" must contain all organically produced ingredients. In other words, produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and processing without most synthetic pesticides, genetic engineering, antibiotics, irradiation, or hormones.
Food can have two different types of organic designations. Food labeled "Organic," means the product is at least 95% organic. Food labeled "Made with organic ingredients," means the product contains at least 70% organic ingredients. Fiber products, such as clothing, bed and bath linens, tablecloths, and napkins, can also be certified organic if it has a minimum of 95% organic fiber content. Personal care products such as baby soaps, lotions, and shampoos can also be labeled organic if they contain organic agricultural ingredients, and meet USDA's standards of organic production, handling, processing, and labeling.
Meat, poultry, and eggs bearing the word natural contain no artificial ingredients or colors and are minimally processed, as regulated by the USDA.
Outside the agricultural realm, things get murkier. Some organic products can be voluntarily certified organic by independent, private certification programs. But the USDA doesn't oversee these claims.
For environment-conscious parents, there's no dictionary when it comes to terminology. In some cases, people use the word "green" to mean nontoxic. For example, a used dresser for a baby's nursery would be better for the environment than buying new, but when someone talks about finding a "green" dresser, they are most likely hoping to find one that uses sustainably grown wood and nontoxic paint, says Rebecca Kelley, co-author of The Eco-nomical Baby Guide. Parents may also describe something as "natural" if it uses no artificial ingredients or chemicals. The terms "eco-friendly" or "earth-friendly" usually means a product is less harmful or intrusive on the environment.
Making Green Decisions
So now that you're armed with some basic knowledge, you might be thinking, "Does it all really matter?" As with most parenting questions, there's no right or wrong answer for raising children in an earth-friendly manner. The USDA says that science has not yet provided conclusive answers. For some parents, the choice rests on individual health issues such as their baby's sensitivity to specific pesticide residues or food additives. Parent choices can also come from an overall concern for using baby and child products and methods they feel will have less impact on the environment.