Save Money, Save the Environment
You, as a consumer, have an opportunity to minimize the impact on the environment by making choices carefully. This includes buying products with recycled or biobased content and that are manufactured with alternative energy and methods that preserve natural resources.
For work and home we purchase goods such as electronics, paper, lab equipment, and vehicles. Each of these products is part of a life cycle that includes material removal, manufacturing, use, and disposal. Each step in this process requires energy and natural resources and releases emissions and other pollutants that may be potentially harmful to human health.
Material Extraction and Manufacture
One way in which products impact the environment is through the extraction of raw materials. Consuming nonrenewable resources depletes our natural resources. For example, plastic products are made from petroleum, which is a limited resource on Earth. Purchasing products made from renewable resources (like biobased materials that regenerate rapidly) or with recycled content lessens the environmental impact.
In order to convert raw (or recycled) materials into a product, the elements are processed, shaped, and otherwise manipulated. These steps consume energy. Many facilities are powered through a power plant that burns coal, oil, or natural gas. The burning of these materials leads to emissions and air pollution that can impact human health.
Transportation of products (including food) using fuel burning vehicles also releases carbon emissions. Items are often transported thousands of miles by trucks or container ships, which burn large amounts of fuel and emit health-harming greenhouse gases into the environment.
Many products can impact the environment throughout their useful life. Responsible use of these items can reduce their environmental impact. Any equipment with a plug requires electricity to operate. To prevent wasting energy, turn equipment off when not in use.
Disposal of products in landfills contributes to the production of methane gas, a greenhouse gas 21 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. Increased risks of adverse health effects (low birth weight, birth defects, certain types of cancers) have been reported near landfills. At the end of a product’s useful life, consider what parts may be reused and how to dispose of the product or its components responsibly. Plastics, glass, paper, and other materials may be recycled. Many manufacturers offer to take back products at the end of their lifespan. Check with vendors in your area for specifics on disposal practices.
Green Purchasing Guidelines
Consider these characteristics:
- 30% or greater post-consumer recycled content (paper)
- Biobased content
- Environmentally preferable
- Energy efficient
- Water efficient
- Minimal life cycle costs
- Minimal risk of toxic/hazardous chemicals
- Long product life
- Product is really necessary