Why Shop Green?
Green shopping means thinking about all of the ways that a product impacts the environment throughout its lifecycle — or from the time it is created to the time it hits the waste stream. This takes into account everything from the materials used to manufacture a product to the energy used to transport it to the store, to the way you will dispose of it when you are finished with it.
Co-op America operates two websites to help shoppers go green. The National Green Pages (www.greenpages.org) provides a directory of green businesses throughout the country, while Responsible Shopper (www.greenamericatoday.org/programs/responsibleshopper) provides detailed information about the social and environmental impacts of major corporations.
In the past, it was difficult to find products that were made from eco-friendly materials or via manufacturing processes that were easy on the environment. But over the last decade, the marketplace for environmentally friendly goods has exploded so that there is now an eco-savvy alternative for just about any purchase you need to make.
Reduce Waste and Conserve Resources
Of course, the greenest items are those that you already have. Every new item you purchase at the store creates pollution, uses resources, and will eventually create waste when its life is over.
The essence of going green is to buy less stuff, and to be more discriminating about the stuff you do buy. Eco-savvy products made from recycled materials reduce the amount of virgin resources that are consumed each day and keep the old materials from wasting away in a landfill.
Every item you buy at the store created some pollution in its manufacturing and transportation to the store shelf. And products like cleaning agents, lawn and garden chemicals, appliances, and cosmetics create pollution with every use. Green products, like appliances that are Energy-Star rated or natural cleaning agents, will minimize the amount of pollution created with each use.
If you've got twenty minutes, check out the Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.com). Hosted by Annie Leonard, this fun video helps you digest some rather frightening information, like just how each product we buy impacts the Earth in its manufacture, use, and disposal.
Promote Fair Treatment of Workers
Due to intense competition in the marketplace, manufacturers are always under pressure to make cheap stuff even cheaper. But unfortunately, many fill this need through the use of sweatshop labor to produce their materials. Sweatshops exploit workers with long hours, unfair pay, and unsafe working conditions. They are most common in poorer countries where labor practices and health and safety violations often go unreported. But these factories have also popped up in the United States, as poor immigrant workers are lured with the promise of high pay and good benefits, only to essentially become indentured servants.
Just because a product is labeled Made in the USA does not mean it is sweatshop-free. According to the Department of Labor, over 50 percent of U.S. garment factories are actually sweatshops. To be sure that a product was not made in a sweatshop, look for local or secondhand items, or those that carry the Fair Trade label.
Low wages are still better than no wages, right? Wrong. Forced overtime, low wages, worker intimidation, child labor, and physical abuses for mistakes or slow work are common practices in sweatshops. These factories are also notorious for forcing workers to labor in unsafe or even downright dangerous working conditions.
It is important to remember the real costs of the stuff you see in the store. Sure that $5 T-shirt is cheap, but is it really worth the social and environmental costs that come along with it? That cheap price tag means that the people who made it weren't paid a fair wage, so they are likely being held in a cycle of poverty, it means that trees were cut down excessively and water and land was polluted without cost to the company, and it means that the materials that were used to make it are probably not going to be good for the environment or your family. By shopping green and purchasing items from trusted companies, you can rest easy that your dollars do not go to support sweatshops.