Being environmentally sensitive has become so culturally popular that manufacturers are pasting kind-to-the-Earth labels on whole landfills worth of products.
These days, everything from disposable diapers to garbage bags is being marketed as if it had been created just to be nice to the planet.
But beware the hype.
"People are confused -- it's hard to sort out what's really green and what's not," said Susan Alexander, a spokeswoman for Green Seal, a non-profit group preparing to issue verifications of such claims.
Green Seal intends -- maybe by next year -- for its marks of approval to become the environmental equivalent of the UL imprint that now signifies a safety review by Underwriters Laboratories, Ms. Alexander said.
In the meantime, people weighing the veracity of environmentally oriented ad campaigns are on their own. "Those clever marketers are just slapping on those labels," Ms. Alexander said in a phone interview from her Palo Alto, Calif., office.
The blossoming of green marketing -- real and artificial -- isn't all bad, she said, if it leads to products that are more environmentally responsible.
If green gifts are on your Christmas buying list, environmental activists recommend that you check out the companies selling the goods.
And if you intend to buy products whose manufacturers promise to send a portion of your cash to save-the-Earth groups, find out how much of your money is pledged.
For people intent on proving their ecological passion by buying things, there is a wide range of eco-goods available this season.
Entrepreneurs chasing Earth-friendly profits are selling such things as flyswatters made from recycled plastic. For more information, call Signs & Symbols in Lewiston, Maine, at (800) 654-7934.
And a water-saving shower head could be the perfect environmentally friendly present, recommend the Environs Club and the Recycling Task Force of the University of Kansas.
"The New Green Christmas -- How to Make This Holiday an Ecological Celebration" is a primer limiting the environmental damage Christmas greed can cause. Live trees are better than cut ones, the book says, and recycled Sunday comics are better gift wrap than new paper. The $5.95 book by the Evergreen Alliance is available through Halo Books in San Francisco at (415) 981-5144.
"Shopping for a Better Environment," by Laurence Tasaday, stamps the author's seal of planetary approval on items ranging from non-toxic household cleaners to organically grown fruit. The $9.95 book is available from Meadowbrook Press in Deephaven, Minn., at (800) 338-2232.
"Suggestions for Green Living," in the current issue of the Audubon Activist, suggests that a Christmas pie baked with organic fruits would be a sweet present. To subscribe to the environmental newsletter, call the National Audubon Society at (202) 547-9009.
This year's crop of environmentally oriented calendars could fill a landfill all by themselves.
"Stepping Lightly on the Earth" comes from Greenpeace, the activist ecologists whose famous stunts include scaling smokestacks and attempting to block nuclear bomb tests. The full-color wall calendar features photos of whales, seals and cactuses along with discussions of toxic waste, the health of the ocean and oil drilling in Alaska. Proceeds go to Greenpeace. The calendar is distributed by Workman Publishing in New York City PTC at (212) 254-5900. A desk calendar filled with similar images and information is wrapped in a fold-out map of the world.
Workman Publishing has also produced illustrated environment-minded calendars for children. "The 1992 Green Kids Calendar," in association with P3 Magazine, offers 365 days of information on deforestation, endangered species and recycling tips.
Dutton Children's Books has produced its own "Green Calendar for Kids," and the illustrated book of days is available from the publisher in New York City at (212) 366-2000. A portion of the profits is pledged to the United Nations Environment Programme.
For grown-ups who want to play at being romantic and green, there is the Environmental Fireplace.
A 30-minute videocassette of burning logs that become glowing embers, the fireplace alternative sells for $9.95 and is available at (800) 272-2553.
The wrapper announces: "Save a tree. Turn on your TV."