Colette Brooks, who runs a green ad agency called Big Imagination Group in Culver City, ought to know. She eco-audits clients, asking questions to determine a company’s shade of green. Are they authentically offering products and services that are sustainable? How are the products manufactured? Is the entire life cycle of the product sustainable? “Companies need to seriously look at their business practices in a holistic manner,” Brooks said. But achieving ideal greenness – zero waste and zero energy consumption – is nearly impossible, according to Business for Social Responsibility, a San Francisco-based firm that has helped Genentech Inc., Sony Corp. and The Walt Disney Co. consider their social and environmental impacts. “We have greener products,” president and CEO Aron Cramer . “I’m not sure we ever have perfectly green products.” Everybody is hugging trees these days. At the Academy Awards, Leonardo DiCaprio and former Vice President Al Gore boasted that the celebrity gawk-fest purchased “carbon credits” to offset the show’s negative environmental impact. Jakks Pacific in Malibu debuted a line of recycled doggie toys, and a Calabasas realty firm promises to switch to 30percent recycled paper. But as pressure mounts to combat climate change and businesses realize consumers are often willing to pay a premium for environmentally kind products, “green” abuse is exploding. The trend has even spawned the term “greenwashing,” when brands claim to be more eco-friendly than they actually are. “A lot of companies are seeing it as an opportunity to reposition themselves,” said Daniel Hinerfeld, a spokesman at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It’s very confusing for consumers. Not all of these claims are bona fide.” Instead, BSR focuses on products and services that have the lowest impact on the environment. That’s much easier now that clients come to the table already convinced it is important to consider Mother Nature. For consumers, sorting out who is green and how meaningful eco-friendly claims are can be frustrating. Product labels are not always what they seem. A `cage-free’ stamp on a carton of eggs “doesn’t mean \ were outside with sun on their backs,” said Urvashi Rangan, a spokeswoman at Consumers Union, which posts reviews of dozens of labels at eco-labels.org. “It could mean they were all crammed onto a barn floor, stepping in each others’ poop.” The terms “natural,” and “biodegradable” are also suspect and not as clear-cut as consumers may think. Evaluating businesses can be even more trying. The Web site www.greenbizleaders.com reviews the business practices of U.S. and foreign companies and claims to be the only one of its kind. Every company on the list has won “credible” awards for making significant progress on its environmental record, said Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz. Firms are searchable by sector and initiative type. One item cites the Palmdale facility of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. for its commitment to reduce hazardous waste and for its plans to work with local groups for land and habitat conservation. But there is no indication how meaningful the steps are and how much they reduce waste. The site only reviews about 1,000 companies, leaving a lot of guesswork for consumers. As for the Oscars, does purchasing “carbon credits” really make a difference, as DiCaprio and Gore bragged, or is it just a way for rich folks to enjoy guilt-free creature comforts? At Jakks Pacific, is the new recycled line merely a gesture tied to Earth Day, or a sign the company has turned over a green leaf? Will Sotheby’s International Realty save trees by switching to 30 percent recycled paper, or will printing new policy manuals overshadow any gains? With no official criteria for being a green business, it’s hard to tell. “What’s exciting,” Makower said, “is how many companies are doing something.” said email@example.com (818) 713-3735 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!