Buying green reduces negative impacts on health, the environment, and our local economy. As outlined below, there are many ways to buy green. And, by selecting durable, efficient, multipurpose products, we may find an opportunity to save money by buying less.
From resource acquisition and production to use and disposal, green products give off less pollution and save resources compared to conventionally produced items. Buying products with recycled content closes the loop, creating demand for the materials we toss in our recycling bins. When we buy green, we vote with our dollars, sending a message to manufacturers and suppliers that we want goods that do not harm our environment.
What to look for:
There are many attributes that signal a greener product. Rethink your purchasing choices, and consider the following:
- Choose secondhand first. Look for products that are refurbished, remanufactured, or pre-owned. Visit the Reuse Trail to find local secondhand stores, seek out products in classified ads, or share and trade with friends.
- Choose products with minimal or no packaging. Check if the packaging is made from recycled materials or can be recycled. Two packages of fresh peppers may be exactly the same, except one comes in a Styrofoam tray while the other comes in a paperboard tray that can be recycled. Buying fresh peppers, that you pack yourself into reusable produce bags reduces the most packaging.
- Check for quality and durability. Durable, multi-purpose products can reduce your overall purchasing needs. Buying a kitchen appliance that fulfils several functions can eliminate the need for several products – like a device that makes rice, slow cooks, and sautés all in one.
- Buy local. Check to see if the product is available from a local company, or produced within your region. Supporting local businesses also supports your local economy.
- Buy in bulk and buy only what you need. Some stores provide the option to fill your own container, promoting packaging reuse and allowing you to buy just what you need. Purchasing large quantities in bulk can also reduce packaging. Just be sure to use that you buy – consider sharing with friends or neighbors if you can’t use it all yourself.
- Make informed decisions. It is important to make your own educated decisions about which products have a smaller environmental impact. Different factors will be important for different individuals. For instance, someone with a chronic illness may focus on health impacts, whereas a farmer may be more concerned with soil quality and water supplies.
Other attributes to look for include:
- Recycled content
- Products that can be recycled or composted at end-of-life
- Efficient products that reduce energy and water use
- Products that use fewer or no hazardous chemicals
- Services or rentals for infrequently used items
- Green certifications by independent third parties
Recyclable and Recycled Content
Terms about recycling can be confusing.
- Recyclable indicates that a product can be reprocessed at end-of-life, though it is important to make sure that the item is acceptable in our local recycling program.
- Recycled Content means that an item was made from some or all recycled materials – a percentage associated with this will indicate how much of the product contains this material. This term can be used to describe the product itself, or packaging.
- While Pre-Consumer Recycled Content refers to incorporating scraps from the manufacturing process, Post-Consumer Recycled Content indicates that recyclables from commercial or residential programs were collected, processed, and used in the production of an item.
For more information about common claims on products, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s article on Eco-Friendly and Green Marketing Claims.
Unfortunately, some products that claim to be green fall short. Instead of basing decisions on unqualified claims that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-safe’, look for labels with specific information about the product and its packaging. For example, if the label says ‘recycled’, check to see what percentage of the product or packaging is recycled. For more information, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s page on Buying Green for Consumers, which includes links to additional resources for identifying greener products and understanding ecolabels and standards. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission has developed Green Guides to offer general labeling principles to avoid unclear or misleading statements about green attributes.
Buying Green at Work
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) at work can leverage organizational investments for procuring products with a lesser or reduced impact on health and the environment. Products like copy paper, pens, notebooks, sticky notes, and more can be found with recycled content. Green cleaning products are both effective and healthier for those using and working around them. Equipment rentals, like copy machine contracts, ensure that companies experience the functionality of an item without needing to manage maintenance and recycling at end-of-life.
While some businesses and organizations choose to select green products on a case-by-case basis, others adopt an EPP policy, signaling the organization’s priority of buying green. Resources like NASPO’s Green Purchasing Guide and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s page for Institutional Purchasers can provide help in getting started. Additionally, the ReBusiness Partners Program may be able to provide support – contact us with your question today.