Environmentally friendly purchasing means taking into account the lifecycle impacts of an item. The environmental and social footprint of purchasing decisions impact your household, the community and our world at large. The best way to improve your impact is to target consumption at the source – reduce what we buy in the first place. When products or services are needed, look for eco-labeling and practices you know to be socially responsible.
Remember lifecycle impacts: Products have costs well beyond the up-front financial cost. Resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal all carry environmental, social and financial impacts that can often be mitigated.
The Four "R"s
- Rethink – Creativity can help you find alternatives to buying. Challenge your buying habits!
- Reduce – We can significantly reduce the waste we generate by planning ahead and buying only what we need. By choosing options with less packaging and lower environmental impacts we can reduce our contribution to the waste stream.
- Reuse – We can rent, repair, share and reuse things to maximize a products utility while minimizing its footprint. This can include joining a car share program, using reusable bags when shopping or making craft projects out of unwanted items.
- Recycle – Recycling allows us to divert much of the waste we have already produced. As much as 90 per cent of household waste can be recycled, composted, or otherwise renewed for a new purpose.
There are a number of reputable organizations that do the research for you – look for the following labels on items you buy:
- EcoLogo & UL Environment certify products and services proven to have a lower environmental impact. Certification is stringent and is based on research into lifecycle impacts. The EcoLogo (UL Environment) website offers purchasing guidelines for over 100 categories of products and services.
- Green Seal certifies environmentally responsible consumer products. The “Green Seal of Approval” is given to products that are less environmentally harmful than other similar products.
- Energy Star certifies electronic devices, appliances, lighting and other products that exceed US energy efficiency standards.
Making Your Decision
The number of options available can easily be overwhelming. When making a purchasing decision, save your energy – make a plan and know your criteria.
- Assess Demand
- You know the tools for the job. Use your judgment and think proactively: reducing consumption is the easiest way to lower your impact.
- What use does the product/service provide?
- What could reduce the purchasing need?
- Could the asset be shared with other users?
- Could it be fixed, upgraded or consolidated?
- Think Outside the Box
- Often, the best solution isn’t advertised. For instance, painting can be avoided by using naturally resistant cedar. Carpooling to sites can lower fuel usage. Even specialized tools like snow blowers can be replaced by a local service.
- Take Stock of Options
- Look for environmentally and socially responsible choices. Consider areas where changes might have the greatest impact.
- How is it grown, manufactured, delivered, or provided?
- What are the product’s contents/impacts?
- How much performance and functionality do you expect over time?
- Is it CSA-approved or eco-certified?
- Assess Costs
- Today’s buying decisions can create long-term impacts. The asset may consume resources, have disposal costs, and impact the public’s well-being.
- What are the direct costs to you?
- What are the external costs to society?
- What are the environmental costs?