I’ve been reading a lot about the American Revolution lately, so perhaps that’s why I’m in a particularly scrappy mood these days. The more I learn, however, about the different chemicals and toxins in our day-to-day products, and the more I learn about the lobbying against the banning of such substances, the more strongly I feel that the government is failing us. And what do Americans do when the government fails us? They rattle the cage. Some write letters to the media and to their representatives. Some support their own lobbying organizations. Some lead the charge (Ken Cook and the Environmental Working Group have my undying gratitude and respect on that front). Still others makes changes in their personal lives, “being the change” to borrow a phrase from Gandhi. The point is, in their own personal ways, people take a stand to say enough is enough, and maybe the government will catch up with the people.
With respect to personal consumption, perhaps the first and easiest thing people can do is to take a moment to simply think. Think not just about whether you really want or need the item, but about where it came from. Think about the materials that went into it. The hands that made it. The things you are bringing to your home, your body. Think about what will happen to the item when you are finished with it, thinking again what it is made of. Think what it will do to the environment in a landfill, in the air, in the water supply. If you don’t know, find out. Think about it being refurbished or reused. Think: is this really a good product for me, for my family, for my planet.
If the product is good, go ahead and buy it with a clear conscience. Tell your friends and family about it, maybe let them try yours. If the product is not good for the planet, tell your friends and family about that, too. Maybe they will remember your words the next time they are at the store, and make a better choice as a result.
Can we shop our way out of health and environmental catastrophes? Well, yes and no. Obviously it will take a lot more than good purchasing decisions to clean up our planet, but thinking — really thinking — about what you buy is a good starting point. One simple action empowers another, and in this way, buying a greener product does make a difference. Many people buying greener products makes a bigger difference. Not only does it lower the impact on the planet, it also sends a loud and clear message to the companies that stock our shelves and to those charged with serving the public: We care about the planet. We care about buying products that don’t hurt it. We don’t want products that harm us, our families, and our planet.
*This article was adapted from a piece published on Earth Day, 2008, on the Greener One blog.
Molly Hovorka is a co-founder and the marketing director of Greener One, an eco-ratings community that gives you the tools and information you need to make greener choices. In addition, Molly writes the Greener One blog on greenerone.com, as well as the Greener One column on The Lohasian - both providing product reviews from a green perspective as well as environmental news and commentary. To compare products or to share your product knowledge with other conscious consumers, visit GreenerOne.com.