The Term Is Relative; Let The Buyer Decide

You hear a lot of talk about the "sin of the hidden trade-offs." I've got news for you, folks. Greening -- like life itself -- is all about the trade-offs! No product is 100% "green." So, considering that all products use energy and create waste, green is a relative term. One product is green-er for someone at some time in some place.

Green is Relative
For instance, cloth diapers might not cause any trees to be chopped down, but they do use a lot of hot water. Disposable diapers don't use water but they do clog landfills and with a lot of hazardous waste at that.

So, what is the greener (est?) solution for any one consumer? The answer is usually: "It depends." For example -- and I'm likely oversimplifying here -- cloth diapers might be better in New York, where we have lots of water and no landfill. But they might be environmental disasters in the Southwest, where diverting water from other regions might be even more environmentally hazardous than digging a hole in the ground and burying them.

Identify the Trade-Offs
Regional, climatic and other differences cannot be underestimated. I've been told that if you live in New York, as I do, it may actually be better for the environment to buy conventional strawberries grown in New Jersey rather than shipping in USDA organic strawberries from California.

Consumers dropped the noisy Sun Chips bag like a hot potato; for the vast majority of them, composting was likely irrelevant or misunderstood. I think the Frito-Lay folks would have been better off if they had introduced their corn-based bags regionally in cities like Seattle and San Francisco that have access to municipal collection of compostables.

Consumers intuitively understand these trade-offs. Who said, "Life is one big trade-off?" So, let's empower them with the information they need to choose among the various products, materials, technologies, and designs that serve their needs better, and greener.

1 comment about "The Term Is Relative; Let The Buyer Decide ".
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  1. Jason w Anderson from Capital Impact Partners, July 13, 2011 at 11:27 a.m.

    Bravo! This is one of those things that I struggled with as an environmental communicator for 10 years. Where it became really difficult was when the environmental groups would have public disagreements over whether something was really green or which eco label was right. That only served to confuse the consumer an ultimately make our job harder.

    Asking people to make smarter choices (while tying in economics and health) and supporting companies who are doing the right thing both on the shelves and in their supply chain is really the direction we need to go.

    As for Frito Lay, they made a few mistakes but have repackaged and re-released their bags. To not be tied to such an environmental message is actually a good thing. In the long run, this line of thinking should simply be part of the manufacturing process.

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