What is Green?
Being environmentally friendly, eco-friendly, or green has become a rather commonplace occurrence in today’s society. This has been largely brought about by environmental and/or economic factors that have caused the public to take a closer look at their own impact, as well as the impact of the products and services that they utilize. In particular, a product’s “greenness” is decided by the environmental impact of its use and eventual disposal as well as its manufacturing, material sourcing, and distribution. National Geographic defines the term “Eco-friendly” as “earth-friendly or not harmful to the environment.” From their conclusion, it can be inferred that for a product to be green, you have to consider its overall impact from the raw material stage all the way to its eventual disposal.
Raw materials can be considered green for a number of reasons, but ultimately, a green material does not adversely affect the environment as a result of its production or use. Materials harvested from common and fast-growing plants such as bamboo or hemp range from basic fabric products to flooring and other hardwood alternatives. These products hold an eco-advantage because they can be grown easily and will decompose easily when they are eventually disposed of. For example, this gives them an advantage over common standard materials like standard hardwoods, which take much longer to renew, and synthetic textiles, which do not decompose as efficiently and can often be produced under circumstances that sacrifice eco-friendliness for economy and accessibility.
The manufacturing stage of a product’s life is also important to take into consideration, as the byproducts of manufacturing can often leave a negative impact that is not immediately recognized by the average consumer. A manufacturer can reduce their environmental impact in a multitude of ways. Utilizing renewable energy can be a great way to reduce the impact of the manufacturing process, as manufacturing often deals with the utilization of a great deal of specialized machinery that requires a great deal of power to operate. In addition, the use of renewable and/or recycled materials reduces the amount of waste associated with the manufacturing process. Also, reducing the emissions produced in many common manufacturing processes (we’ve all seen a stereotypical factory with billowing smoke stacks) is a practice that can greatly reduce a manufacturer’s footprint. To put the impact of manufacturing into perspective, it is estimated that 10-20% of a car’s lifetime emissions are produced in solely the manufacturing stage. “Cradle-to-cradle” manufacturing is a system that many green manufacturers utilize that aims to decrease their impact. This system involves taking care in minimizing or eliminating resource use, waste, and pollution in manufacturing, and addresses every aspect of a product’s life, from product design to eventual disposal or possible reuse.
Product use can have both seen and unseen environmental detriments. Air pollution in the atmosphere as a whole or in the household is a well-documented issue. Automotive emissions, although still quite prevalent, have been reduced dramatically as the result of the utilization of cleaner engines and catalytic converters installed in exhaust systems to filter the gasses produced in fuel combustion. Many vehicles, including common standard models such as the Honda Accord, are designated as LEV’s, or low-emission vehicles. Smoking cigarettes inside the home or in the car are also a heavy pollutant due to the smoke being trapped in a confined space. Aerosol use, which affects the ozone, can be easily substituted with spray bottles that don’t compress gas. Products such as cooking spray and hairspray have many easily obtainable alternatives available. Leaving electrical appliances on, such as TV’s and coffee pots, can increase their environmental impact accidentally, but many modern versions of these appliances have features that shut the appliance off automatically when not in use. Outlet timers are also available and can be used to automatically moderate lighting and reduce power usage overall, including those times when you forget to shut the light off or hit the lights before going to bed. Utilizing any of these alternative products or methods can be a great deal of help if you’re looking to reduce the footprint of the products you use in your daily life.
When the lifespan of a product ends, it is important to consider how it will impact the environment. Taking steps in the material sourcing and manufacturing process can have possibly the greatest impact on where a product ends up. If a manufacturer takes the time to source materials that will biodegrade efficiently or be reused, the result will be quicker, easier, and cleaner disposal. Recycling is also a highly effective method of reducing impact, as it decreases our use of landfills and reduces the need to utilize resources that are more time consuming and/or polluting to replenish. Being mindful of all the aspects of the products we use allows us to make educated choices concerning our personal environmental impact. If a product is created with cognizance to all of the ways it can affect the environment and addresses each issue accordingly, it can be considered a green product. It is simply not enough to focus on one aspect of a product’s lifespan and not consider its overall lifetime impact.
“What Does Eco-Friendly Mean?” http://greenliving.nationalgeographic.com/ecofriendly-mean-2415.html, Daniel Holzer, Demand Media, National Geographic, 2 April 2013
“A HANDY REFERENCE GUIDE TO THE 20 GREENEST MATERIALS” Luanne Bradley, ecosalon.com, 29 June 2009, 2 April 2013
“Renewable Energy & Clean Technology: Keys to a Revitalization of US Manufacturing & Job Creation” http://cleantechnica.com/2012/04/15/green-manufacturing/#oYAFXtfsUGOb9ABR.99 , Andrew Proteus, cleantechnica.com, 15 April 2012, 2 April 2013
“Ways to Reduce Air Pollution” http://www.epa.gov/oar/oaqps/peg_caa/reduce.html, EPA, epa.gov, 6 March 2012, 2 April 2013