How Environmentally Friendly Are You Really Being?

It seems that the most commonly used buzzword these days is “eco-friendly,” but are we actually being friendly to the environment? As a skeptical consumer, I always want to “see the money” before I buy into a marketing agenda. The biggest problem that I have is the lack of comprehensive research on the end-to-end impact that a product has on the environment.

Let’s start with recycled paper. Many of our clients are asking us to print on post-consumer waste paper (PCW); most are asking for 30% PCW, but a select few are asking for 100% PCW! The percentage of PCW means the percentage of paper pulp that comes from products that were previously used by a consumer and then recycled through traditional methods. While I agree that PCW recycled paper is the best form of recycled paper, many don’t realize what happens from the time the paper is recycled to the time it is formed back into a sheet of paper. This paper, or some form of it, may be trucked halfway around the world to a processing plant, where it is bleached back to white and then converted into a sheet. It’s the environmental impact of this excessive transportation and processing that is often overlooked. One should also note that the greater the recycled content in a sheet, the more poorly it performs on press. For a more comprehensive look at recycled paper, this Wikipedia entry is a great start!

A more sustainable alternative to recycled paper, in my opinion, is managed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The people at the FSC perform a comprehensive evaluation of the complete end-to-end environmental impact. They call this certification process the “Chain of Custody.” The Chain of Custody tracks FSC-certified material through the production process––from the forest to the consumer, including all successive stages of processing, transformation, manufacturing, and distribution. Final products that display the FSC badge can assure the consumer that he or she has made an environmentally responsible purchase. It’s organizations like the FSC that will enable consumers to make quick and responsible decisions when comparing products for purchase. For more information on the FSC, click here.

Lastly, let’s air a dirty little secret of a wildly successful marketing campaign.  If you are movie star in California or a politician in Washington, DC, you most likely own a Toyota Prius. You purchased a Prius because you want people to know that you care about the environment and are doing your part to protect the future of our planet. But did you do your research? The short answer is no, but let me explain. In fact, if you own a Prius, you may be doing more harm to the environment than you would if you owned a Hummer! The manufacturing process for the battery of a Prius poses an environmental nightmare for the earth. It all starts in Canada, where the nickel is mined, shipped 10,000 miles to Wales for refining, and then shipped to China to turn it into the components that that go to a battery factory in Japan. This process alone negates the savings that one might gain at the pump. The estimate in one study says that a Prius registered an energy-cost average of $3.25 per mile driven, whereas a Hummer came in at just $1.95 per mile!  For the complete study document, download it here.

So, in closing, be more cognizant of the end-to-end impact that a product can have on the environment rather than the “eco-friendly” tone of its marketing campaign. Seek out organizations like the FSC that you can trust to evaluate the total impact, and become a more educated consumer.

Have you thought about the total environmental impact of a product you just bought, and did you take that into consideration when you purchased it?


Author: John Mehl


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