Perhaps not fully known to most average consumers in a free-market system is the subtle power they have to influence which direction an economy takes. Industry trend setters keep a watchful eye out to determine where their next “it” item will come from. They have their consumer focus groups and surveys to try and figure what that next popular trend will be and what general direction consumer buying habits are going to take.
Patterns of behavior are carefully watched by commercial interests groups to determine how consumers “select, secure, use, and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society.” If the environmentally conscientious consumer wants to send a message to the industries that seek to please us without considering their impact on the environment, then we must show them we are willing to spend our hard earned money on products and services that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and ultimately reduce the risks that increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere create.
Shopping practices that will send such a message include buying more re-cycled products that are made closer to home, are more energy efficient and manufactured with more renewable energy sources. Here are but a few examples that will indicate how the pocket book is mightier than any CEO or corporate board room.
BUY RE-CYCLED PRODUCTS
By purchasing non-edible products that have used some or most re-cycled materials to manufacturer them we can cut the use of fossil fuels it takes to produce them, be that blowing mountain tops off to acquire the coal resources there or using risky drilling practices to extract oil reserves far out of our reach. By preserving land surfaces we prevent the destruction of trees and other plants essential for exchanging CO2 for oxygen through photosynthesis. Marine habitats are safer too when we avoid the risky practices of deep-water drilling. Most re-cycled materials are recovered from what would otherwise go into landfills that are becoming scarce due to land shortages to hold them. Processing recycled materials uses less energy and water than processing virgin materials.
Of the millions of tons of garbage that Americans produce each year it is estimated that more than 70% of it could be recycled. As a consumer unit you can remove yourself as one of millions of Americans that dispose of 4.39 pounds of trash per day amounting to roughly 1600 pounds each year. Keeping many of the items that we throw away out of the landfills also insures that the toxic chemicals that many of them derive from will not leech into water supplies.
One example of this would be to convert to a water purifier at the kitchen tap rather than purchasing water in plastic bottles if you feel that your municipal water supply is unsafe. Even though these containers are recyclable what energy is used to regurgitate them back into future products is eliminated. Plus, not all plastic bottles are kept from the landfills; we throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. With news now from the FDA that the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), found in many plastic bottles, could effect brain behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children, keeping them out of our landfills seems like a practical response.
SHOP AND MAKE PURCHASES CLOSER TO HOME
Just the mere act of shopping means fossil fuels are burned by virtue of your trip to the mall or grocery store. Plan out your shopping trips and create the shortest route to expend the minimum fuel use. Find what you need from retailers and wholesalers that are the shortest driving distances. Don’t make compromises on quality but don’t spend a dollar to chase a dime or purchase brands that offer very little difference in real quality and nutritional value. With major grocery chains many get their produce and meats from the same agribusinesses.
Go on-line and locate the nearest food coop so most of your meals can be purchased from local organic producers of meat, eggs, poultry, fruit and vegetables. Buying these food products locally reduces the transportation fuel spent to move them from farm to markets and lowers demand from meat factories where tons of concentrated animal manure are exposed to water supplies as well as fouling the air.
Buying organic may cost a bit more and in these hard times many family budgets are already strained. But the costs differential is minimal, especially when you factor in eating healthier will reduce medical costs down the road. Organics reduce synthetic fertilizer and pesticide uses which contaminate water supplies and pose health risks to marine life as waste runoff pours into streams and rivers that feed into lakes and sea habitats.
Check labels and see how far away your purchases come from. Many great deals come from cheaper foreign labor markets and have to travel thousands of miles. There are many websites now that can inform you where American made products can be obtained and by ordering on line you avoid burning gas to get to the store. Having them shipped in conjunction with multiple purchases made from other people within your community means lower fuel consumption too. Buying locally keeps jobs closer to home and reduces CO2 emissions from long commutes that working Americans travel each day.
BUY ENERGY EFFICIENT PRODUCTS
When it comes time to replace that older appliance or automobile, make sure that your newer model will use less power to operate. Most appliances today have an Energy Star rating that will demonstrate how much you will save using this product in comparison to using a less energy efficient model. By reducing your energy intake from the local grid you not only reduce the power it takes to generate it but keep rates low overall that occur during peak periods. Dishwashers, clothes washers and toilets are also designed to use less water than older ones.
If your utility service has not yet converted a large percentage of the energy they supply to homeowners and business with sustainable, renewable sources like wind, solar and geothermal, get involved with others to push for such changes. Many communities are converting their older coal-fired powered generators with greener technologies as these dated sources begin to wear out but some need encouragement from consumers. You can bet the coal industry representative is making their voice heard at your local utility company.
Car manufacturers are starting to provide high mileage vehicles that have great performance. Many of these are hybrids that use a combination of gasoline and battery power while other models like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf run strictly from a battery that can meet most of your daily driving needs without a charge.
When in the market for a new home check and see if your builder subscribes to LEED’s construction standards. “LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.” (Intro- What LEED Is, U.S. Green Building Council)
BUY PRODUCTS THAT UTILIZE RENEWABLE ENERGY TO PROCESS THEM
Encompassing everything when shopping smart is the need to recognize that whatever we purchase has to use some form of energy to make it. Many companies proudly acknowledge the green technologies and practices they use to bring their product to the market. A quick Google search of the product you are interested in and the company that made it will reveal where the company’s plants are located, if they have used re-cycled materials and what new technologies they are using to keep their carbon foot print at a minimum.
Examples of this are companies that use recycled materials for packaging or offer a process by which you can recycle your purchases like many computer and cell phone companies do. Many of their manufacturing or office buildings have installed the latest heating and cooling systems that are timed to go off and on at precise times for maximum efficiency. They may be using solar heating if they are in New Mexico while their facilities in Kansas utilize the abundant wind resources there. Their roof tops may absorb the sun’s rays and better insulate the building with green roofs while they have installed a system that gathers rain water to be used for everything except drinking and washing hands, like toilet water, cooling machinery and feeding the vegetation they have planted to replace the CO2 with oxygen.
Shopping smart requires that today’s consumer utilize their purchasing power to effect a change in practices that have relied on energy sources that no longer will remain cheap or abundant. Non-renewables like coal, oil and even natural gas have lifetimes that are not likely to exceed the lives of our grandchildren. Many geologists have already determined that we have reached peak oil and attempts to keep it at current levels to meet growing needs cannot be sustained.
The overwhelming science has demonstrated significantly that our use of fossil fuels adds to the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and creating a green house effects that continues to steadily increase global temperatures. Unless we turn this condition around our planet will experience climate changes at rates that we are unaccustomed to and cannot overcome quickly enough before the next disaster strikes. The massive floods in the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys and Pakistan this year alone along with the worst fires in Russia’s history and the massive loss of polar ice in Greenland are examples of climate conditions out of balance from excessive global heating.
The combined effort of ecological sensitive decisions in a market based economy will be but one aspect of the fight to reduce the green house gas emissions like CO2 that create this threat. We can no longer subconsciously make purchases that disregard how they impact out environment. The decisions are really not all that difficult to make but in a free market system there are status quo forces that would battle any attempt to convert our supply of energy from fossil fuels to renewables in the timely manner needed to alter the dangerous path we have allowed to occur.
The next time you see an ad in the paper or on TV that raises the specter of high fuel prices because someone wants to tax them, check to see if the coal or oil industry isn’t supporting this ad campaign. They know your decision to shop environmentally smart is the beginning of the end for an industry whose resources are limited and threaten to diminish their record breaking annual profits. Environmentally smart shopping though is not a technique to attack businesses but to alert the corporate mind-set with some that we need to change direction and find those technologies that will create replacement jobs for the fossil fuel industry while insuring a healthier planet for our families.
CONSUMER BEHAVIOR: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MARKETING
Reducing, Re-Using and Recycling
Intro- What LEED is, U.S. Green Building Council