Put your money where your future is
by Carolyn Chase
"Sustaining the Earth: Choosing Products that are Safe for You,
Your Family, and the Earth"
n the past few years, "preserving the environment"
has begun to be translated into business and consumer products. But with
so many new "green" items on the market and numerous buzzwords
used to describe them, how can you get past the jargon and make the right
choices? In Sustaining the Earth: Choosing Products that are Safe for
You, Your Family, and the Earth, author Debra Dadd-Redalia provides
the information needed to assess environmental pros and cons of everyday
products, from food to cleaning products and more.
Ms. Dadd-Redalia delves deeper than just listing environmentally
safe products. This book is a tool that consumers can use to evaluate products
now and in the future. She seeks to empower consumers with the knowledge
necessary to distinguish products with true environmental benefits from
those that are misleading or nothing more than green hype:
"In my work as a consumer advocate, one of the things that
has troubled me over the last few years is that while many companies have
been claiming their products are 'good for the earth,' there has been little
definition of what exactly 'good for the earth' means."
Ms. Dadd-Redalia presents a new yardstick for choosing
the products you use on a day-to-day basis: sustainability. This means acting
in such a way that life on earth endures, providing for the needs of all
while maintaining the natural functions, resources, and beauty of the planet:
"Without a sustainable base of resources from which we
and future generations can continuously draw, we cannot survive. Everything
we have, indeed our very lives, begin and end with the earth. There is no
greater priority that to sustain that which sustains us.
Sustaining the Earth teaches you how to make
choices that result in real environmental and social benefits without deprivation;
how to move past hype and really make a difference.
"All product choices have trade-offs. The most important thing is that
we begin to move in the direction of environmental sustainability and support
those products that have made real environmental improvements to move the
marketplace in that direction. Just take this a product at a time, and soon
looking at the environmental attributes will become second nature."
As a practical matter, the book contains useful answers
to environmental questions. How do you compare "energy efficient"
and "energy saving?" Which is better, "organic" or "organically
grown?" What do "CFC Free," "ozone friendly" and
"ozone safe" mean? What are trade-offs between reduced, reusable,
refillable, recycled and recyclable? What about biodegradable, degradable,
photo degradable, compostable? And my favorite: Dadd-Redalia answers, in
gory detail, that shopping question for the 90s, paper or plastic?
Part One provides an introduction to all the environmental
concepts and the status of green product evaluation and labeling. Part Two
is a product glossary from "air-conditioners" to "yogurt."
Each product category summarizes the issues and makes brand name suggestions
where appropriate. Up-arrows indicate products described as moving toward
sustainability; down-arrows mark particular products that are exceptionally
unsustainable. One example of such a "downer" is charcoal lighter
fluid and briquettes. They are made from toxic petroleum distillates, and
when used produce air pollutants that create smog. Alternatives now exist,
such as Barbecubes Natural Fruitwood Briquettes made from prunings that
were previously burned in the fields. The prunings are now collected and
processed in such a way so as to improve the environmental equation for
I found Sustaining the Earth to be an exciting
and practical guide - so much so that I have six sticky-tabs inserted so
that I can find my favorite sections. Of prime importance is the need to
use our power as consumers. This book show you how do that in order to promote
an ever-increasing movement towards sustainability. According to Dadd-Redalia,
"Instead of just looking for reasons to reject products, look for reasons
they are better. The nature of our free-market system is to respond to consumer
demand - let's lead the market in the direction we want it to go."
If you take this book to heart you can both feel better
and do better. (ISBN: 0-688-12335-X published by William Morrow & Company
CHOOSING PRODUCTS FOR SUSTAINABILITY
Here are Debra Dadd-Redalia's ten questions you can
use while shopping to help you make a choice about a product based on the
information available on the label:
- Do I really need the product? I always ask myself this first, because
every product I don't buy saves resources and eliminates waste. When appropriate
and possible, I buy a secondhand product over a new one (such as antique
furniture or used books).
- Is the product safe to use? Being health conscious and aware of the
dangers of toxins in products is vital. Because there are so many nontoxic
alternatives available, this is one area in which I personally will not
make a compromise, unless there is absolutely no other choice.
- Is the product practical, durable, well made, of good quality, with
a timeless design? Considering the environmental cost to make every product,
I want a product to last. So I avoid the latest trendy fashions or designs
and cheap imitations and buy better-quality goods.
- Is the product made from renewable or recycled materials 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? Are
the product's raw materials renewable (plant, animal, earth) or nonrenewable
(metals and petrochemicals)? Look for recycled content.
- Is there any information about the manufacturing practices that tells
the environmental improvements?
- How will I dispose of the product, and what environmental impact will
that have? I look for products that are biodegradable, and if I can't put
it in my compost pile or let it safely run down the drain, I want it to
be recyclable in the area where I live.
- What kind of package does the product have? I prefer products that
can be purchased in bulk or that have no packaging. Try to avoid plastic
- How far has the product been shipped to reach the retail outlet? I
try to find products that are made as close to my home as possible. Given
the choice between two products with equal environmental merit, I'll choose
the locally made one to cut down on resource use and pollution from transportation,
and to support my local economy.
- Is the product a good value for the money? While I believe that the
protection of the environment is worth any price, there are some products
that are a waste of money, or don't warrant the added cost.
- Is there some environmental, health, personal, or economic benefit
that outweighs the product's environmental cost? This is really the final
question, because there may be other factors, such as necessity and economics,
that justify a compromise.
Carolyn Chase is Executive Director of San Diego Earth Day , Chairperson
of the City of San Diego Waste Management Advisory Board, and recipient
of the 1994 Spirit of San Diego award.