First, there were the hotels with their “Please reuse your towels so we can save water” cards. They were one of the first industries to get on board with greenwashing about a decade ago. I admit, at first, I was happy to see this, and reused my towels. Yet, it was really just a ploy to save money for if they really cared about the environment, they would have also had recycling boxes in every room and offered non-disposable plates and cutlery in the restaurants.
I’m starting to see this same kind of green superficiality making its way into our society. With its guise of being positive (and I’m not saying it’s 100% not) it’s not challenging us to question our daily habits and make changes that will really make a difference. I constantly hear “Oh I’m green because I recycle” or “I’m green because I buy energy-efficient lightbulbs” and “Oh cool, my X brand coffee cup is compostable”. As if it took just a purchase to be green.
You are not green simply because:
- You recycle
- You use energy-efficient light-bulbs
- You eat organic meat
- You use a low-flow toilet
- You own a Mac book
- You buy recycled paper
- You own a hybrid vehicle
- You buy fair-trade coffee
- You donated to Greenpeace
- Your “X” packaging is recyclable or made of X% post-consumed products
Although these are good habits, this isn’t what I consider “green-living”, this is just common sense. For example, if you use a low-flow toilet, that’s great, but consider that you’ll save more water by not eating a pound of meat, then by not showering for 6 months. Do you see where I’m going? We’re not going to change the environmental problems we face by continuing in our current (destructive) ways and adding green purchases on top. We need to consciously rethink our consumption and waste habits. We will, however, make a difference if we add these green purchases to a change in our habits.
You are green if:
- You’ve consciously rethought your consumption habits
- You’ve rethought your wants vs. needs (Do I really need to upgrade my iPhone every year?)
- You’ve taken dramatic steps to reduce your waste
- You’ve watched and understood The Story of Stuff
- You’ve stopped eating meat or at least, eat lower on the food chain and implement Meatless Monday’s into your diet
Being green is a conscious lifestyle change. It takes effort, but then, becomes routine. In my opinion, there are 2 key areas that are intertwined to being green; our consumption habits (what we buy) and our waste habits (what we throw out).
For everything we buy, you have to consider what happened in order to produce the products; from the mining of natural resources, to the production of the products (air and water pollution, energy consumption and waste) to the transportation of them to stores (think Tar Sands to produce the oil needed for fuel then air pollution from the transport). Consider this, 99% of all products bought are disposed of 6 months after. So all the pollution that was created to get you the product in the first place, was for something you threw out 6 months later, and now we have to deal with overflowing landfills, air and water pollution…
To reduce our waste, let’s start at the roots of the famous waste reduction mantra, Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Unfortunately, most people skip the first three steps then just recycle the waste.
- Disposable coffee cups made with recycled paper are good, but a reusable coffee cup is better
- Organic cotton tampons are good, but reducing waste by using a Diva cup is better
- Recycling your shower gel bottle is better than throwing it out, but using a bar of soap is better as there is no packaging waste
- Energy-efficient light bulbs are good, but turning the lights off at night is better
The moral of this story is recycling is good if there’s no other alternative, but trying to reduce the need for creating the waste in the first place, is better.
Quick facts on consumerism from Story of Stuff:
- The single biggest contributor of Greenhouse gas emissions (GhG) is consumption of meat (more than all transport combined)
- If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.
- For every one garbage can of waste put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make the garbage you just put out.
- In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed.
- The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago despite the fact US happiness peaked in the 1950’s.
- The U.S.has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources and creates 30% of the world’s waste.
- Forty percent of waterways in the US have become undrinkable.
- Six months after goods have been purchased, 99% have already been disposed.
Quick facts on meat production from PETA
- According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the runoff from factory farms pollutes US waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
- According to Oregon State University agriculture professor Peter Cheeke, factory farming constitutes “a frontal assault on the environment, with massive groundwater and air pollution problems.”
- It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, while growing 1 pound of wheat only requires 25 gallons. You save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you do by not showering for six months!
- According to the Smithsonian Institution, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed worldwide every minute to create more room for farmed animals.
- It takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie from animal protein as it does to make one calorie from plant protein.
- More than 70 percent of the grain and cereals that we grow in this country are fed to farmed animals, not humans.