You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
-Inigo Montoya, in The Princess Bride
As we have become more concerned about our impact on the environment and the chemicals we put in – and on – our bodies, companies all over the world have responded by creating products and services designed to cash in on our concerns. From cars to clothes to cleaning supplies, “green” has become the latest marketing catch-word.
But what does “green” mean?
Unfortunately there’s no single accepted definition for what constitutes a green product or service. In practice, many of the products labeled “green” that you can find in your local grocery or home improvement store are far from eco-friendly. Others prominently display the recycle symbol on their label, but in fine print you’ll discover that the packaging does not contain recycled materials. The only thing these products have in common with the natural environment is the color of the money their cynical manufacturers hope to extract from your wallet .
So when you decide to go green it’s up to you to decide what “green” means to you, so you can seek out products and services that match your own definition of safe and eco-friendly. Here are a few guidelines to consider:
- If it doesn’t work, it isn’t green.
- Just because it’s natural, doesn’t make it safe.
- Balance common sense with critical thinking.
- Don’t beat yourself up.
The Internet is filled with natural “solutions” purporting to do everything from repelling mosquitos to curing diabetes. If they don’t do the job, you’re wasting time, money and resources – and are still stuck with the problem you were trying to solve.
“I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, ‘… I drank what?’”
– Chris Knight in Real Genius
Hemlock is green, but hopefully you wouldn’t use it to brew tea. The same is true of many “bio-degradable” products sold as natural cleaning agents. While they may be friendly to the environment they can be hazardous to your family and your pets. Read labels carefully before using any product that you or loved ones will be exposed to.
Common sense might tell you that paperless billing is eco-friendly. But ask yourself if the electronic technology that is replacing paper-based commerce is actually more sustainable. What uses more water – hand-washing or a dishwasher? (The answer is: It depends. Collin Dunn has written a great article exploring the question at treehugger.com.)
Even our Cro-Magnon ancestors occasionally lit a cook fire that released volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere and invented landfills by tossing fish bones and sea shells into a pile after their meals. You don’t live in a perfect world, so don’t wait for a perfect solution to begin living a more sustainable life.
If we wait for perfection before we take our first steps we’re never going to get anywhere.