I recently read Daniel Goleman’s uplifting book, Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts Of What We Buy Can Change Everything. Goleman tackles the problem of all of the wild inconsistencies and mixed messages we consumers are presented with daily. He believes the balance of power is shifting from seller to buyer, as we gather more ecological facts about these products. Goleman calls this, “radical transparency” and he trusts this will enable the consumer to make smarter purchasing decisions that will drive companies to rethink and reform their businesses practices by “rewarding those who merit it and penalizing the rest.”
Dwell magazine eloquently presented what questions to ask when evaluating products for your home:
1. Is it an environmentally preferable material? Think salvaged, recycled, renewable, or agricultural waste.
2. Does it reduce risks to human health or the environment compared to conventional products? Hardwood flooring that’s prefinished under factory-controlled conditions keeps floor-finishing fumes out of your home.
3. Does it reduce fossil-fuel or water consumption compared to alternative products? Laptop computers use 90 percent less electricity than desktop models.
4. When you’re done with it, can it be reused, recycled, or composted rather than landfilled or incinerated? Buying a bookshelf needn’t involve a lifetime commitment, but choosing a well-designed, high-quality product makes it more likely that you’ll hand it down rather than consign it to the garbage truck’s maw.
Are we getting closer to answering some of these questions? Project Label may just bring transparency to non-food companies. Project Label creates “social nutrition” labels for shoppers who want to track manufacturers’ social and environmental responsibility. Also, GoodGuide, Inc. is building tools that “transform how people see and interact with products and companies by delivering comprehensive and rigorous information at the point of purchase.” Check out the GoodGuide blog.
While I am buying less, I do think we’ll need to make well-meaning decisions to protect what the impact our past choices have been on our planet and how we will purchase items in the future. What do you think? Can we trace the real environmental impact of the items we buy? Can we raise our eco-IQs and demand that companies make good stuff for our homes?