Monday, January 14, 2008

How to Buy Sustainable Products


Here's a handy list of questions that give general clues as to the environmental sustainability of a product. While a scientific product lifecycle analysis is much more complex than this, reading labels with these questions in mind will be helpful when choosing products.

1. Do I really want the product?
Ask this question first. When you take a good look at what you are buying, you may find that you are buying a lot of things you don't really need or even want (even if they are "green"). When appropriate, buy an already existing second-hand product over a new one (such as antique furniture and used books).

2. Is this product made from renewable or recycled resources, and taken in a sustainable way?

  • Are the ingredients/materials listed?
  • What are the ingredients/ materials used that are not listed?
  • Any warning labels or environmental claims?
  • In looking at the lifecycle of the product itself, are the raw materials renewable (plant, animal, earth) or nonrenewable (metals and petrochemicals).
  • If a product is made from paper, plastic, glass, metal or rubber, does it contain recycled content?
  • Does the label indicate the materials used are organically grown, sustainably harvested, or have other explanations that describe sustainability?

    3. Is this product safe for me and the environment?
    There are now many safe, healthy, nontoxic alternatives available.

    4. Is this product practical and durable, well made, of good quality, with a timeless design?
    Considering environmental costs, there is less impact from quality products that last. Superior goods more than pay for themselves in long-term durability and satisfaction.

    5. Is there any information about the manufacturing practices that tells of environmental improvements?
    This is the area where there is the greatest environmental impact and the least information given. If no information is available, we can make assumptions based on our general knowledge such as recycled paper using less water and energy in the manufacturing process than virgin paper.

    6. How will the product be disposed of and what will be the environmental impact?
    Is it biodegradable? If it cannot be used up, cannot be added to your compost pile or be safely run down the drain, take it to local recyclers for safe disposability.

    7. What kind of packaging does the product have?
    Purchasing in bulk using recyclable containers is best. Glass, metal, paper, and some plastic packaging is also readily recyclable.

    Some choices are fairly obvious, such as choosing between a toxic drain cleaner with lye that eats through skin, or one that’s nontoxic. Other choices are more difficult because of the complex web of both our needs and environmental concerns.

    Each choice we make affects the world around us and being wiser about them makes our world a better place for all of us.

  • For more information read the wiseguide at

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