Many companies are calling their goods “green” despite their decidedly un-environmental qualities. When you shop, these 5 steps can help you distinguish what is truly green from what is not.

Read the label

Look for meaningful claims, not words like “natural” or “planet friendly” that aren’t backed up by standards or third-party verification. When it comes to cleansers and other household goods, avoid products labeled “caution”, “warning”, “danger”, and “poison”, all of which indicate the item is hazardous to you and the environment. Ignore products that are inherently contradictory, like “organic cigarettes”, or “most energy-efficient Hummer”. Leave goods boasting irrelevant claims - like something is “CFC-free”, true but misleading since CFCs have been banned since the 1980s.

Look for third-party verification

In the absence of universal sustainable standards, if a company says its product is good for the earth, your first question should be, “Who else says so”? Reliable eco claims are backed up by an independent institution or nonprofit organization that has investigated the manufacturer’s claim so you don’t have to. Look for labels from groups like Forest Stewardship Council and ENERGY STAR®.

Choose fewer ingredients

A long list of ingredients often indicates the presence of questionable chemicals that may be harmful to you or the environment. This is especially true for personal care products, food, and cleansers. Simplify what you buy; needless to say, buying less is the greenest option of all.

Pick less packaging

Choose goods that come wrapped as simply as possible. For starters, buy in bulk and pick products in containers you can easily recycle (glass, cans, paper and cardboard are more easily recycled than plastic). Carting home your packages in your own bags helps reduce packaging too. Products made with at least some recycled material require fewer raw materials for their manufacture.

Buy local

Locally sourced materials use less energy, cause less pollution in transport and bolster local economies.