CleanA few years ago, when shopping for natural laundry detergent, all you had to do was to hit the natural food store and grab a box.

If that was not available, Borax and washing soda were a staple in most neighbourhood grocery stores, so if your health or principles required a non-fragranced approach to dirty laundry, you could proceed without too much fuss.

Nowadays things are getting complicated.

My recent search for natural detergent took almost as long as searching for a book at the library.

There are many of these detergents, all boasting amazing cleaning power, naturally derived and packaged in 70 per cent recycled-content containers.

Some are manufactured by the companies that have been (and are still) filling shelves with regular detergents that may or may not kill fish. Same for cleaning products.

So much for baking soda and vinegar reigning the natural-cleaning realm.

One could argue that having choices is a good thing. Not only that, it is remarkable to see many people surfing the green wave and making environmentally conscious choices.

Just like growing clean food, producing affordable cleaning products and detergents with the least impact on health and the environment is no easy feat. Small companies struggle to compete with giants.

As for trust, this one is up for debate, but I choose to lean toward companies that have engaged on an environmentally sound path from the get go, including some good old homegrown Canadian ones.

Just like in people, character shows from the beginning. You cannot be a cop and a robber at the same time.

Why is this a big issue, you may ask? After all, we have oil spills and mines to worry about.

That may be, but it sometimes happens that we tend to overlook the little things that we have control over versus that ones where debates are flourishing and the power of decision is not ours alone.

I always say that we are responsible for each other’s well-being. My action and choices will influence your life, and the other way around.

The actions I have full control over —choosing what food to eat, what detergents to wash my family laundry with and the products to clean our home — are directly affecting the health and well-being of my family, but indirectly affecting yours as well.

To be preservedThe suds from every household end up in our communal lakes and rivers, just like the chemicals used in conventional agriculture.

It’s a big circle, really.

With an increased number of children and people with allergies, asthma and chemical sensitivities, making the right choices becomes vital. And if “right choices” sounds too cliché, perhaps it should be changed to “our own choices.”

Green washing is still a new concept and one that can easily go unnoticed. Awareness is key.

Having big companies that respond to market trends by producing environmentally friendly products is a good start, but environmental commitment cannot be achieved overnight.

It is important for consumers to know that we have the choice to shape the offer. We still do, that is. When we buy a product, be it food or a household item, we buy the impact of the company that sells it and its footprint that may or may not hurt a fish or more.

As always, when unsure, going back to basics is often the simplest and most affordable solution, economically and environmentally speaking.

Neighbourhood grocery stores will always sell baking soda, vinegar and good old washing soda. We — the consumer — shape their offer and that is the sign of a healthy, respectful commerce.

A model that has established a good reputation and its replication will benefit us all, you’ll have to agree.

Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on September 7, 2013 under the title “When we buy a product, we buy the impact of the company that sells it”