Our Approach and Why it Matters
The Leaf Score site was founded in 2019, having started in 2018 as a directory at MyGeneFood.com. It quickly became apparent that there is real demand for seriously scrutinized, thoroughly investigated, eco-friendly product recommendations instead of the breezy, greenwashed top ten lists that abound elsewhere on the Internet. Leigh Matthews (BA Hons, FdSc) heads the Leaf Score research team and prides herself on following rigorous journalistic standards and ethics, and maintaining editorial independence – put simply, our recommendations are made without input from the business side of, well, the business. If readers choose to buy a product through links on the Leaf Score site, this may support our work through an affiliate commission in some cases. Should the reader be dissatisfied and return the product, any commission is cancelled. This means there is no incentive for us to pad product recommendations, pick lesser quality goods with higher commissions, or cave to pressure from companies and manufacturers. We want to highlight the very best eco-friendly products out there and we want to build and maintain trust with our readers. We’re in this for the long haul, and we hope you are too. That means we often spend dozens, or even hundreds of hours researching products and industry practices. We’ll let Leigh explain how she goes about gathering products for the Leaf Score Directory.
How it works
When researching eco-friendly products in a particular category, I typically begin by examining scientific literature to see if there are known safety concerns over the composition and function of the products in question. I will also look for gaps in our knowledge – the unknown unknowns – to see if products are being made using potentially problematic chemicals, components, and processes that simply haven’t been properly assessed for their environmental and health impacts. The kinds of things I look at include:
- Safety data from government agencies – the U.S., Canada, and Europe mainly, including RoHS and REACH. I also look at reports from the World Health Organization and similar credible agencies.
- Industry reports and documents – annual financial statements (are there line items that suggest compensation paid to workers or customers, or payouts and donations to governments?), present and past litigation (often a clue to unsafe practices), and evidence of legitimate steps being taken by industry as a whole to reduce environmental impact and address known safety concerns.
- Third-party reports – such as from the Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth, Worldwatch Institute, Fair Trade, Corporate Watch and many others. I will also check Consumer Reports for performance data and general information.
As part of the initial research, I also look at how and where products are typically made. I examine the impact that manufacture of these products has on the local community and environment, the global environment, and the workers who make them. This is where things like B Corporation status come in, as well as Fair Trade. From there, I look for sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives to any problematic processes and raw materials used in the typical manufacture of the products. When I find a good alternative, I add that to a checklist for use later when I scrutinize individual products themselves.
Why this process?
Why all the laborious research? Why not just look for the first product that screams ‘I’m Green!’ and go with that? Well, because this method makes it much easier to spot greenwashing and spurious claims. Instead of getting wrapped up in hype over a so-called ‘green’ materials and processes that aren’t actually any greener than what they have replaced, I can focus instead on the companies and products that are legitimately eco-friendly or at least more environmentally sound, healthy, and sustainable than conventional products. This is also the point in the process where I contact manufacturers and ask questions about how they source their raw materials, what processes are used from start to finish in making their products, and, often, why they don’t have certain green certifications that are becoming standard in their industry. You can tell a lot by how (or if!) companies respond to such queries, and this all goes into my reckoning when deciding if a product makes the cut for the Leaf Score Directory. Asking these questions also encourages companies to deepen their commitment to environmental responsibility while acknowledging and supporting those already doing the work. Of course, some products do meet a whole swath of the eco-criteria on my list but do not make it into the Leaf Score Directory. Why? Because I want to have a reasonable level of confidence that the company will also offer excellent customer service and demonstrate a commitment to their wider community and the environment.
The wider mission
In some categories, pickings are slim for eco-friendly housewares. This might mean that some of the eco-friendly products listed are made by companies who don’t have an overall commitment to environmental stewardship or sustainability. Where relevant, I include information like this in a product review, so you can make a more informed choice. My hope is that by highlighting and promoting the ‘greener’ versions of, say, a corporate giant’s inventory, this will create an economic incentive for them to transition their whole inventory to sustainable goods. And, on the flip side, by putting the ‘little guy’ – the eco-friendly start-up you’ve never heard of – right up against larger companies and well-known brands, you can make a more robust comparison and choose the right product for you, your family, your budget, and your comfort level. Hopefully, by now, you’ll have picked up the sense that I genuinely care about the recommendations I make, and that I’m also practical. As much as we might want to lead a minimalist lifestyle, some home products, toiletries, and so forth, are hard to live without. If there’s a greener alternative to what you’re currently using, one that is healthier and safer for your family, the families of those making the goods, and for the wider environment, I want you to know about it. Sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives exist for pretty much everything we use in our daily lives. I want you to know how and where to find these products and which ones might be right for you and your family. In closing, whether you’re replacing your old yoga mat, buying a new mattress for a guest room, or simply picking up shaving cream at the store, I want you to feel confident that the legwork has been done for you and that the products listed in Leaf Score are worthy of your attention and your dollars. By exposing the problems with conventional manufacturing, highlighting truly eco-friendly goods, and giving you a simple way to switch out toxic products for greener alternatives, we at Leaf Score hope to do our bit to make meaningful changes that support a happier, healthier environment for all of us. Listen to Leigh speak on Leaf Score and the kinds of subjects that inspired us to start this project down below on the Gene Food Podcast: