Buying green -- the flipside of waste reduction
Businesses can make great strides by actively seeking ways to use fewer resources and by recycling extensively, but if they don't choose products with minimal environmental impact and maximum recycled content, something vital is missing. Buying green products isn't just about feeling good about your purchasing choices; it's also a key step in moving to a sustainable economy.
If your business / organization has the resources, you could consider carrying out life cycle analyses on the products you wish to buy. Life cycle analysis (LCA) takes into account the environmental impact of a product from resource extraction to manufacturing to distribution, transport, sale and end-of-life. Some corporations have begin to do this.
LCA is complicated, time-consuming and expensive. If you don't have the resources to commission LCAs for all the products you need, there are certification organizations that you can look to for some assurance about the environmental performance of particular product types:
- Computers: www.epeat.net. Run by the Green Electronics Council, EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) is a program that evaluates computer desktops, laptops, and monitors according to 23 baseline environmental criteria. Compared to traditional computer equipment, all EPEAT-registered computers have reduced levels of toxic elements like cadmium, lead, and mercury. They are more energy efficient and are also easier to upgrade and recycle. Registered products are rated Gold, Silver or Bronze depending on the percentage of 28 optional criteria they meet above the baseline criteria. Companies who want to buy green could create a policy that a certain percentage (ideally 100 percent) of computers they buy will meet EPEAT gold standard.
- Paper and paper products: Many office product retailers carry paper with recycled content. Look for 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper if you can. This is the best at closing the recycling loop as it ensures that the paper is made completely from paper collected in recycling programs (with no trees involved). Check out "Step Forward Paper", made from 80% wheat straw, and available at Staples in Canada.
- Several programs certify paper and wood. One of these is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - the FSC has standards for forest management and certifies companies that manage forest resources in a sustainable manner. The FSC is a rigorous program that looks at 'chain of custody' on a product and ensures that all the companies involved in the production of a product are operating sustainably - from the forestry company, to the paper mill, to the paper distributor. The FSC also certifies some recycled paper and paper made from non-wood sources. You can look for FSC-certified lumber as well. See fsc.org for a listing of suppliers of FSC certified wood and paper.
- EcoLogo: Established by Environment Canada and now managed by TerraChoice, the EcoLogo program sets eco-standards for various products. Products that carry the logo have been independently tested. The standards are a 'moving target' and are set so that the top 20 percent of products in a category (environmentally speaking) will be able to meet the standard.
The EcoLogo program website has a section for professional purchasers. Thousands of products and services are certified in a wide variety of categories, from cleaning products to electricity, from renewable sources to area rugs. The program also certifies consumer products. Look for the logo on items in grocery, office supply and hardware stores.
(Source: August 2009 WasteWatch)
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