jacketThe Worldwatch Institute has just released Good Stuff, a guide for socially and environmentally responsible consumers. Please read it — if you’re like me, you’ll find a lot of information you didn’t know. You can download a .pdf of the entire guide here. Following is the essential section: What you can do to ensure you buy more Good Stuff and less Bad Stuff. Unlike the .pdf, this will fit on your refrigerator (alongside the Boycott List):

Appliances, Lighting, Electricity: When buying new appliances, look for energy and water efficiency labels and consider models that use less water, detergent, and other resources. Keep your appliances clean and in good working order, to help them run more efficiently. Check the age and condition of your major appliancesóespecially the refrigerator. Replace it with a more energy-efficient model before it dies. Use low-mercury compact flourescent light bulbs. Use local lights instead of general ceiling lighting. Switch your home to green power through your local utility or a green power marketer, or by buying Renewable Energy Credits, also known as Tradable Renewable Certificates or Green Tags — but make sure your Green Power is Certified by Green-e or TerraChoice. Turn appliances, lights and electronics completely off after use. Educate your work place, school, church to do likewise.
Baby Products: If you’re expecting a baby or planning on breastfeeding, minimize your exposure to pesticides, paints, heavy metals, and other toxins. When changing a diaper, use soaps without strong fragrances, colorings, or detergents. Avoid commercial baby wipes. Use biodegradable diapers or reusable cloth diapers. Avoid PVC and plastic baby toys (illegal in Europe because of toxins released when they’re chewed). Buy sleepers made from organic cotton, toys made from non-dyed wood, and baby soaps made without synthetic ingredients. Use organic baby food. Get your baby outdoors and exposed to pets so she builds up natural immunity.
Beverages and Foods: Refill your water bottle at the tap rather than buying a new one. Buy large size containers rather than single serving sizes. Buy refillable rather than recyclable bottles. Don’t buy non-recyclables. Recycle. Organize a recycling program at work. Lobby for mandatory refillable and deposit-return recycling in your state. Avoid low-nutrition, high-fat junk foods, and takeout foods in non-recyclable containers. Stock up on healthy snacks. Get to know local farmers who raise sustainable and organic meat and other products in your area or buy them at your local health food store or farmer’s market. Cut back on your meat consumption. Learn more about the factory farm issue. Invite friends over for a locally grown, sustainable meal. And don’t buy or eat shrimp: Shrimp fishing is the world’s main cause of discarded-catch waste (unwanted sea animals caught in shrimp nets and discarded back into the sea dead) and of deforestation for seafood farms.
Building Materials: Use ìgreenî building products, such as less-toxic and recycled paints or wood that has been reclaimed or sustainably harvested. Use materials and processes that last. When renovating or doing home maintenance, avoid exposing your family, neighbors, or pets to lead-based paint hazards. Test for lead residues, keep surfaces clean of dust and chips, and if necessary hire a person skilled in correcting lead problems. Avoid alkyds, oils, and other paints with VOCs (carcinogenous hydrocarbons).
Cars: Walk, bike, or take public transportation whenever possible. Encourage your local community to invest in bike lanes, stoplights that favor cyclists, and bike safety. Combine several trips into one. Keep your vehicle well-maintained. Fix oil leaks. Join a carpool or car-sharing club. Buy a hybrid vehicle.
Chocolate & Coffee: Most chocolate and coffee production endangers forests, exploits local farmers, and uses toxic and illegal pesticides. Full-sun coffee plantations also reduce bird biodiversity and use more chemicals. Buy only chocolate and coffee that carries a ìfair tradeî label and that is organic and, in the case of coffee, shade-grown (‘bird-friendly’). Encourage your favourite stores to carry and feature such products.
Cleaning & Health Products: Use safe, simple ingredients: Soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, borax, and a coarse scrubbing sponge can take care of most household cleaning needs. Use baking soda followed by vinegar instead of drain cleaner. Use vinegar and water to clean glass, baking soda or cornstarch to deodorize carpet, lemon juice & salt on mildew and mold, baking soda & salt paste as oven cleaner. Use only biodegradable and children-and-pet-safe cleaners, and educate friends and neighbours to do the same. Don’t buy thermometers with mercury in them.
Computers and Cell Phones: Use an earpiece to avoid holding the cellphone handset too close to your head, and limit use by children. Lobby for less toxic designs and recycling programs. Use energy-efficient computers, and upgrade instead of replacing. Donate old computers to charities or refurbishers. Boycott companies that send computer garbage to third-world countries.
Furniture: Opt for second-hand furniture to save trees and reduce landfills. Look for the FSC (certified sustainable-forest wood) label on all wood products you buy. Making your own furniture, using recycled or salvaged wood products. When buying foam-filled furniture, including mattresses, ensure only wool batting and other natural flame-retardant chemicals were used in their manufacture. Boycott teak and other endangered wood species.
Jewelry: Demand an alternative to ‘dirty gold‘ and ‘blood diamonds’ that are produced at the expense of communities, workers, and the environment. Buy recycled or vintage gold.
Music & Video: Download instead of buying. Buy used. Borrow. Share, trade, donate unwanted disks.
Paper and Plastic: Buy paper with at least 30 percent postconsumer recycled content, and encourage your school or workplace to do the same. Seek out nonwood paper alternatives made from kenaf, cotton, or other fibers. Many ìagrifibersî yield more pulp-per-acre than forests or tree farms, and they require fewer pesticides and herbicides. Lobby for legislation requiring manufacturers to take back the packaging waste from their products. Don’t print out your e-mails. Don’t use plastic bags. Avoid plastic containers and products with vinyl (they have the number ‘3’ embossed inside the recycling symbol). Don’t burn garbage or yard waste.
Personal Care Products: Buy, and ask your favourite stores to stock, products with organic contents, certified animal-freindly (leaping bunny logo pictured above). Avoid using products labeled ìantibacterial.î Choose products with the smallest numbers of listed ingredients, avoiding entirely products that contain phthalates, detergents, and antimicrobial agents like triclosan. Avoid overpackaged and non-recyclable-packaged products.
Bottom Line: Buy durable, buy local, buy used, buy reusable, buy recycled, buy certified, buy energy-efficient, buy non-toxic, and buy less.

About Labels: There are many labels that claim the products are ‘green’, ‘cruelty-free’, ‘all-organic’ etc. Use caution with these claims. Only a few, like the 5 pictured above, are actually independently certified to meaningful published standards. If you want to know more about certification, see the excellent guide to eco-labels maintained by Consumer Reports. It tells you how meaningful each claim is, and who (if anyone) independently verifies it.

(Updates to the Boycott List: I really regret having bought a Dell. Manufactured, shoddily, in Singapore, serviced from India, dreadful ‘customer care’. Add Dell to your boycott list. And we’ve switched foods for our dog Chelsea —  to a high-protein, low-fat Canadian veterinarian-certified dog food,

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4 Responses to GOOD STUFF

  1. Darryl says:

    Nice post. Ouch on the Dell. I just ordered one two days ago…

  2. Doug Alder says:

    Careful about water bottles. Plastic bottles of water that you buy in the store should neverbe refilled. The plastic starts to breakdown on reuse and releases chemicals that are not good for you. Also if you do re-use them you need to bleach them, like you would any re-useable bottle, to kill bacteria growths that form from backwash.

  3. Add in high-slag concrete to the building section. Lots is being done about rescuing industrial wastes from landfills and harmlessly encasing them in materials they can’t escape from, like concrete for buildings. Add to electrical and lighting those products like Liteolier’s 120V motion-detector light-switches, which turn off lights automatically if nobody’s in the room. Is great for kitchens and hallways. We have them everywhere, and frankly I get startled now when I walk into a room and the light *doesn’t* come on automatically! Also, consider using plants and “green walls.” Indoor air quality is increased substantially by just a few potted palms. Different plants fix different environmental toxins, but there’s lots of research available around the ‘net on what to use.

  4. Marijo says:

    Actually, there’s a Dell manufacturing plant here in Nashville, and a quick look at their website shows they are hiring people in manufacturing and tech support in Ohio and Texas as well. Maybe yours came from Singapore, but clearly all of them do not…

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