Shop sustainable: How to know which products are environmentally friendly

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, March 14, 2012

(ARA) – When you shop for new products, you think about quality and value, right? Do you also consider where the product was made and how long it will last? If you change your habits to start shopping sustainably, you’ll bring new energy to your life and also benefit the environment.

What does sustainable mean? It has many definitions but as a consumer, you should know that sustainable products attempt to limit the impact to the environment and its resources. Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have the water, materials and resources to protect human health and our environment.

More simply, when assessing a product, sustainability relates to the source and type of materials that go into the product, the origin of where it is made, cost of manufacturing and transportation, life span, and reusability or recycling capability. The Art Institute of Portland Industrial Design Instructor Jim Arnold says that some of the key items consumers can consider for sustainability are electronics, vehicles, clothing and toys.

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When shopping, look for certifications to help identify if a product is sustainable. According to The Art Institute of Seattle Industrial Design Instructor Therese Kunzi-Clark, one of the best approvals is from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The FSC label ensures that the forest products used are from responsibly harvested and verified sources. Another symbol to look for is the recycling symbol and numeric coding, which consumers can use for personal recycling.

Arnold also recommends considering whether a product is pre- or post-recycled. Pre-recycled is scrap that is generated during the normal manufacturing process that is recycled back into its raw material state. Post-recycled is an item that was used after production of the product and then recycled, such as plastic water bottles.

Industrial Design Instructor Joe Stefanile from The Art Institute of Seattle adds that one of the best approaches a consumer can implement is to purchase locally produced products, which means a lower carbon footprint. Also, when selecting furniture, consumers should consider the lifespan of the style or appearance, as well as the overall expected lifespan of the product.

Kunzi-Clark warns that many companies promote the appearance of sustainability, so read up on a brand’s practices and review product labels carefully. For example, the trend right now is to use bamboo but she says there are drawbacks. “The increased demand for bamboo has caused the elimination of some natural forests, which has a negative impact on the local environment in terms of plant variety and animal life,” adds Kunzi-Clark. “Another factor is that most bamboo is imported from Asia at a high carbon footprint cost.” Do not just follow the fads.

When shopping, remember these tips to follow a sustainable or “green” practice:

1. Check where a product is made and remember that local is best.

2. Consider what the product is made from and if the materials are reusable. Will this product end up in a landfill?

3. Buy higher quality, longer lasting products. Ask yourself if you really need the product and how long you will keep it.