Is the Production Process Eco Friendly?
Whether in a factory or on a farm, working conditions should be fair and protect human rights, like in the production of eco friendly jewelry. The treatment of animals is also a consideration. These days you can find differentiating product labels from hormone free beef to wild salmon.
If the product is a type of crop like produce or grains, soil pollution something to consider. The negative effects of pesticides, herbicides and insecticides are a big motivator on why we should go organic.
What Are the Negative Effects of the Production?
Think about what it takes to produce a product. Consider the amount of resources that are being used to put the item on the shelf. Is the product being produced in a big factory using a lot of electricity? Obviously handmade soaps or unprocessed foods require fewer diminishing natural resources than those being produced in a plant. That is, of course, unless the plant is being powered by renewable sources, like wind power or solar energy. Sustainable production helps to protect our diminishing natural resources.
Find out what other resources are being used to create the product. Is the company utilizing recycled materials, including recycled building materials, office supplies and production materials like compostable bioplastic? The most notable companies have zero waste facilities.
Now, think about what the production process is giving back to the environment. Does it include a lot of wasted scrap materials or pollution, like greenhouse gases or particulate matter? Are there harmful chemicals being released from factory smoke stacks into the atmosphere, like in plastic production? Consider the carbon emissions created in the shipping required for parts, packaging or distribution. Companies who support local vendors reduce their overall footprint.
How Safe Is the Product?
The product, including its parts or ingredients, should not create a health risk for you or your family. Be careful of products such as new carpet, pesticides, or air fresheners which could compromise your indoor air quality. Check the ingredients on products that come in direct contact with your skin, such as lip balm or deodorant. And be sure to keep an eye out for hazards such as VOCs and other chemicals.
The product should also be safe for the environment. Choosing products, like non-chlorine or other green cleaners, made from eco friendly or biodegradable materials will prevent harmful chemicals from getting into our drinking water or contaminating our soils.
How Efficient Is the Product?
If you decide to purchase this product, how efficiently does it work? The market is now full of more energy efficient choices, such as energy efficient appliances and LEDs that will help you to reduce your energy consumption. However, there is the tradeoff of replacement waste for energy reduction.
How Much Waste Does Your Product Create?
The first thing that you generally do when you bring home a product is remove the packaging. Is it individually packaged, like tuna meals or yogurt cups? Or is this a product that you generally keep on hand and can buy in bulk? Look for packaging that consists of recycled materials that can be recycled again to promote closed loop recycling.
Buy it once, or at least as few times as possible. Whenever you can, buy a quality product. You will reduce the number of multiple replacements that would eventually end up filling our landfills.
When the usability of the item finally wears out, consider what options it may have. Did you buy reusable rather than disposable items? Could you repurpose it, like creative folk who convert old toilets into flower pots? Is it a refillable version, like ink cartridges, that help to reduce waste? And if all else fails, is it recyclable?
Help in Finding Eco Friendly Products
It may seem like an overwhelming feat to evaluate the entire ecological impact in order to determine how eco friendly a product really is. Luckily, there are a number of ecolabeling organizations that have certifications to help us in our search.
Organizations like the Rainforest Alliance and Green Seal examine products for their overall eco friendliness. The American Humane Association (AHA) helps you find food products that were created with animal welfare in mind. The USDA Organic certification helps to quickly locate foods grown without harmful chemicals. Organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council and Ancient Forest International help you identify products that reduce deforestation. ENERGY STAR helps you identify energy efficient appliances.
These organizations send products through an evaluation to help the consumer decipher which products are truly eco friendly and which are merely utilizing greenwashing tactics.
(2008) What Is Eco-Friendly? http://extension.unh.edu/news/2008/01/what_is_ecofriendly.html Retrieved February 4, 2011.
Photo by Filomena Scalise