Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Buying local or sustainable – a necessary dilemma for now.

(Warning, the language of this post may not be appropriate for minors. This post is a continuation of the dialogue from Sara Allen’s Green.)

Help me with this riddle:

I’m at the store, looking to buy groceries. I want to buy “green” or “sustainable” or just something I feel is a better product for the planet and at a reasonable, not the lowest, but a comparable price.

What do I do?

There are “Organic” everything these days. Even “Organic” pants. Why would I want organic pants? I buy a pair of jeans when the previous one is worn to the point of embarrassment. But I wish I bought the pair that didn’t come from a sweatshop.

What if I did buy the Organic label? Is it really a better product for the environment? Just how many miles of belching fossil fuel emission did it take to get those fresh organic strawberries to my local grocery store? How were the farmers treated at that strawberry farm? Were they exploited? Sure, I can go to my local farmer’s market and solve that part of the problem, but I haven’t seen one farmer’s market that carries locally made, organic or not, cleaning supplies or toiletries. So even if I can avoid my food dilemma, I still have to find something to wipe my ass and clean the mess my dog regurgitated after eating part of the wall.

I think most of the times, I just give up; admit it, you feel the same way. It’s too complicated to figure out how to buy sustainably. You’d almost need a PhD in math to just figure out the balance sheet of which product is more “green” or more “sustainable” than the others. Aside from the fact that the science of sustainability has not matured, we are also fighting the uphill battle of companies not willing to list the source of their supply or the method of their production. Is one Paper Company’s practice more “sustainable” than the other?

It will be a long while before we have labels on products that we can scan with our phones and see a “balance sheet” of its sustainability account and compare that with other products in the store. Many legislative battles will have to be fought, and consumers will have to demand such a requirement.

So what can we do today? What can we do now? How do we decide between buying “organic” and buying “sustainably?” Or do we even need toilet papers at all?

Are the companies that make our products responsible for our sustainability decisions in consumption? Or should they at least lend us a hand to make more sensible shopping and lifestyle decisions for our planet? Don't get me wrong, I wipe my ass and I hope you do as well. But I sure would like to cut certain things out of my shopping and see certain necessities for what they really are. 


  1. "Carbon emissions" (CO2 emission per kilogram) labelling is being placed on certain products: fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat. I believe it is a Belgian/European initiative.
    CO2 factors taken into account for fruit and vegetable production include: transport, production in heated greenhouses, conservation, use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, farm machinery for production, and packaging.

    As consumers we can't expect most companies to be responsible for our sustainability decisions because all they care about is selling their products. Until the consumer is educated about the environmental impact and demands a more sustainable product, these companies will not change.

  2. Most companies have the cradle to the grave mentality, disposable packages adds value i guess. I have seen some companies follow a cradle to cradle thinking: how to reduce their product to zero impact.

    The riddle is just as you pointed out: consumers have to be educated about the environmental impact, but the best positioned to conduct that education are companies who has to label these products; but then you run into the problem of having "green-washed" labels that means very little to the consumers. even if the govt regulates this types of labeling to prevent "green-washing" you'd still end up with corporate interest lobbying for the label to be "friendly" to their way of production... no easy answers i guess