Are environmental products healthy?

| 17th December 2018
It's estimated that 70% of food products in US supermarkets contain GMO ingredients. With TTIP, things could soon go the same way in the UK and other European countries. Photo:  Jaro Larnos via Flickr (CC BY).
It's estimated that 70% of food products in US supermarkets contain GMO ingredients. With TTIP, things could soon go the same way in the UK and other European countries. Photo: Jaro Larnos via Flickr (CC BY).
We come into contact with dozens of products in our everyday life, so we must consider their environmental impacts and whether they can they harm health.

Sometimes, when a company says a product is green, they are only referring to its useful life.

Using eco-friendly products can help you to reduce your impact on the environment. Many of these green products are also purported to be healthier. But how do you know which products are truly green? Exploring how environmentally friendly products are made can help. Consider the following six factors when looking for products that are truly eco-friendly and healthy.

1. Reduce

One way to reduce your environmental impact is to look at how you purchase and use products. The best way to minimise your impact is to reduce your consumption. Consider whether you actually need a new appliance or try using less of a cleaning product. Only running the dishwasher when it's full, for example, will help save you detergent and water. You can also make many cleaning products using ordinary household substances.

If you're looking for a new appliance or another type of item, you could also choose to purchase a used or recycled item rather than a new one. Older machines often, however, use more energy than newer ones. You'll need to determine whether energy use or the resources used to make the new product will have a more significant environmental impact.

2. Lifecycle Approach

The greenest manufacturers use a lifecycle approach when determining how to produce items sustainably. Sometimes, when a company says a product is green, they are only referring to its useful life. While this is important, goods also have environmental impacts throughout manufacturing, shipping and disposal. Genuinely green products will minimize these impacts through every stage of the product's life.

Some companies may be able to provide you with information from environmental lifecycle assessments. For others, you may have to estimate. Consider, for example, whether the company used electricity from renewables or from fossil fuels to manufacture it. Also, think about whether you can recycle the item when you're done with it.

​​​​​​​3. Product Contents 

So, what makes a product environmentally friendly throughout its lifecycle? Many different factors come into play. Attributes that make an item eco-friendly include:

  • Minimal presence of potentially harmful substances, such as known or likely human carcinogens, corrosive substances, ozone-depleting compounds and regulate hazardous materials
  • Minimal emissions of volatile organic compounds and other pollutants
  • Durability, long life and minimal maintenance
  • The use of recycled or salvaged materials
  • The use of materials obtained locally
  • The use of biodegradable materials

You may not be able to find all of these qualities in one product. A product may be made with recycled materials but also contain a corrosive chemical, while a similar product has the opposite attributes. You'll need to weigh the importance and severity of each quality when choosing between products.

4. Packaging and Shipping

The way in which a product is packaged and shipped is another critical factor influencing its environmental impact. Green shipping practices include minimizing the number of materials used for packaging and packing, as well as using recyclable packaging made with recycled materials. Purchasing products in bulk also reduces the number of shipments required, which decreases the emissions associated with shipping.

Any potentially hazardous substances should also be shipped with the appropriate packing and handling safeguards in place. The packaging for these kinds of items should be clearly labeled.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​5. Environmental Performance

Even if you can't get information about a particular product, looking at the environmental performance of an organization as a whole can help you to estimate how green their products are. See what information a company has on their website about sustainability and make sure they have details to back up their claims. They may use renewable energy for a certain percentage of their operations, for example, or donate to environmental charities.

Check whether the organization has any certifications, such as ISO-14001, which focuses on having an environmental management system, and ISO-9001, which ensures they have a quality management system in place to ensure consistent product quality.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​6. Certifications and Greenwashing

ISO certifications are reputable and internationally recognized. Many other environmental certifications for specific products can also help to back up a company's claims. Some of these certifications include:

  • ENERGY STAR: Administered by the U.S. EPA and DOE, ENERGY STAR is a rating system for the energy efficiency of products.
  • Safer Choice: The Safer Choice logo verifies that a product is made with safer chemicals.
  • WaterSense: Managed by the EPA, this program verifies products as water-efficient.
  • Forest Stewardship Council: A certification from the Forest Stewardship Council verifies that a product came from a sustainably managed forest.
  • Green Seal: The Green Seal evaluates whether a product is safe for people and the environment.
  • Cradle to Cradle: This program evaluates products based on their impact on people and the environment and helps companies improve them.

 

The way a product is made determines how environmentally friendly it is. A truly green product minimizes the negative impacts it has on people and the environment and may even have positive effects. To determine whether a product is eco-friendly, look at its entire lifecycle and consider the aspects listed above.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer and the editor of Conservation Folks.

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