The Cold, Hard Truth about Green and Sustainable Practices: 7 Surprising Facts

Your heart is in the right place if you want to reduce your personal impact on the planet– just make sure those changes actually help.

 

There is no longer a question in the scientific community that the globe is warming, storms are worsening, the polar icecaps are melting, and the sea levels are rising. The facts are in, and the situation is critical.

As first world consumers, we lead the pack in terms of influencing change; demand for certain products, for infrastructure, and our collective voting power can all impact the human relationship with the Earth. But in order to do that, we have to parse out the hype and educate ourselves on how our actions affect the whole. We need to do more than recycle; we need to revolutionize the way we live our lives. All of us have a responsibility to know the facts and be willing to modify our behaviors.

Our common household practices in the industrialized world appear to have evolved as a result of our growing understanding around climate change, but you might be surprised at some basic adjustments you can make or the actual impact of daily consumer behavior.

  1. Let’s clarify organic. The term “organic” can work for and against us. It was originally coined in the 1940s in response to monocropping and use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but since then, the Department of Agriculture has standardized appropriate practices to include livestock and even textiles like cotton1. This can work in our favor, protecting the consumer and the worker from harmful materials, but it’s also expensive to certify for small farms. What this means is that even farms that are going above and beyond organic methods are not allowed to call their food organic whereas big produce corporations are able to find loopholes in the regulations when capitalizing on the mark up associated with organic labeling.2 Another example of when organic can be misleading is the distance the food travels to get to the buyer. It matters little from an eco standpoint if the blueberries from Chile are organic; they are footprint heavy as far as carbon emissions are concerned.
  1. You are still using power even when you shut your appliances off. What many people don’t realize is that a plugged-in appliance is still using juice. Cryptically referred to as vampire power, outlets with appliances plugged in will leach power, sometimes as much as 5-10 watts per appliance. It can amount to 10% of your usage depending on how many high wattage devices you own. You can combat this by using a power strip with an on/off switch, or simply unplug the machines you aren’t using. This is especially important with high power usage things like computers, TVs, receivers, and exercise equipment. Here are some tips on reducing vampire power: http://www.greenoptions.com/a/how-to-reduce-vampire-power.
  1. Only Chemicals Disinfect. Not true! Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar are great household cleansers and disinfectants that are harmless to the water system. Other germ fighting benign options are tea tree oil, borax, and witch hazel. By contrast, chemical cleansers like chlorine bleach and Thymol can do serious damage to skin, the respiratory tract, and nervous system when ingested regularly. Putting these chemicals down the drain also harms the food chain.
  1. Don’t get greenwashed. Labels like “eco-friendly”, “green,” and “natural” are not fixed definitions; manufactures often exclude waste associated with packaging, processing, and distribution. The EWG http://www.ewg.org has a database of commonly used products and breaks things down using a point system so it’s easy to spot the danger zone.
  1. All gas cars are created equal (and evil). There are actually tons of things that drivers of internal combustion engines can do to reduce emissions. If you cannot yet afford an electric or hybrid vehicle, you can get regular maintenance, keep your tires properly inflated, and drive conservatively. All these things can have an impact over the course of time.
  1. Air purifiers are by nature non-toxic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an initial test of many different brands of air fresheners emitted ozone, which as we know, eats oxygen4. So it doesn’t take much imagination to guess what it does to your lungs. The FDA doesn’t approve them and while the levels are considered pretty low, why would you risk it? Do your research carefully if you are going to buy a purifier. The safe ones work great.
  1. The water that goes down the drain gets processed. Cities and municipalities process grey water waste from inside homes and buildings, but the motor oil and fertilizer that ends up in the storm drains goes directly in the ocean. And even that processed city water doesn’t eliminate things like pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and other hazardous materials. Never put that stuff down the drain– dispose of it properly according to your waste services supplier’s guidance3.

 

Small changes do nudge the needle and it is imperative that we continue to have the conversation about what we can do in our homes, businesses, and public spaces to help restore equilibrium to a planet badly out of balance. If we intend to leave our children with a more verdant and healthy place, we have to educate ourselves and our families – because big change starts small.

 

 

References:

  1. http://planetsave.com/2013/05/21/5-green-myths-debunked/
  2. http://facts.randomhistory.com/organic-food-facts.html
  3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/green-myths-debunked-busted_n_1644193.html?slideshow=true#gallery/236395/1
  4. http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18179/10-lies-youve-been-told-about-green-products.html

 

Additional:

http://lifethegreenway.blogspot.com/2011/01/confused-about-whats-green-and-whats.htm

About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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