I am often asked, “Why are you promoting products and not lifestyle changes if you’re an environmentalist? Aren’t those products just green-washing?”
This is my opinion
Yes, lifestyle changes are important and essential. I eat a lot less meat and drive less now than I did ten years ago. I try not to waste anything, and I’m a fan of re-useable bags and containers. But I don’t believe it’s enough just to reduce, reuse and recycle. I think we need to change how we get our energy as well as the materials we use. Everything has an impact on the environment. We need sustainable innovation to solve these problems. Here’s why.
My Morning Coffee
I drink a cup of coffee first thing each morning. The beans were grown in Guatemala, then shipped to the United States. Growing and shipping that coffee has an impact on the environment. The packaging is not recycle-able and will never decompose. So before I even feed my children breakfast, I’m a hypocrite if I’m preaching only lifestyle changes.
Am I willing to give up my coffee? No, I am not. Even if I do give up my coffee, there are billions of people all over the world who will keep drinking theirs. So instead of giving up coffee, how about we make it and ship it more efficiently? And wrap it in recycle-able or biodegradable packaging? That’s why I’m for sustainable innovation and not just lifestyle changes. The rest of my day holds similar dilemmas I don’t think can be solved by lifestyle changes alone.
After breakfast, I walk my son to school and drive my daughter to preschool. Neither she nor I am the least bit interested in riding our bikes there. My husband drives an electric car, and I drive a Honda Odyssey. As much as I want to be a two electric car family, giving up those sliding doors and eight seats made just right for carpooling is simply not practical. Instead of giving up my minivan, how about if Honda makes a more fuel-efficient one? Just an idea.
When my children get to school, they use paper and pencils to do their school-work. I hate to state the obvious, but that paper comes from trees, the pencils do too. I know I sound like the Lorax, but deforestation is still a major environmental problem and the materials we use every day are contributing to it. Instead of giving up paper and pencils, I believe buying Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper is a better choice. It’s not a perfect solution, but we have to start somewhere.
Then there’s work. I write on a computer. I host my website on a server powered by fossil fuels. The computers and iPhones we all use are energy and resource intensive to manufacture, power and ship. I’m not willing to give up the tools I need to work. Are you?
At home, I take my appliances for granted. I need my dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and stove. My refrigerator is cooled by HFC’s that are terrible greenhouse gases, but you won’t see me give it up. Instead, I’d like my next refrigerator to be cooled by an HFC alternative like propane or ammonium. But refrigerators cooled by HFC alternatives need to become more commercially viable and mass produced. These are the products I’m interested in because I don’t know anyone interested in giving up their fridge. If you are, there are plenty of people in developing countries who would be thrilled to take it off your hands.
Then there are the omnipresent dishes. I could wash them by hand, but that wastes more water than a water efficient dishwasher. So what’s the better choice? Wash dishes by hand and waste water, or wash dishes in the dishwasher and waste energy? How about if we use renewable energy to power efficient dishwashers? Or maybe make dishes so smart that we don’t need dishwashers at all?
My appliances need energy to keep them humming along, and I have solar panels for that. But solar panels don’t generate energy at night, so should I turn off all the lights and go to bed early? No, I use energy efficient lights, and my hubby and I are looking into energy storage. My kids need to read and do homework after the sun goes down. I need to watch This Is Us. I’m not giving any of that up to save energy, even if it contributes to climate change. The United Nations says modern energy is a human right, and it’s not going away any time soon.
After school, I bring my kids to soccer and baseball practice. Those balls and nets and grass have environmental consequences too. The soccer ball is made of PVC (polyvinyl carbonate) or PU (polyurethane). That’s plastic. Plastic comes from fossil fuels and takes thousands of years to break down in a landfill. The net is most likely manufactured in China and shipped to the United States. That’s fossil fuel intensive.
What About Fun?
The grassy soccer field my kids play on has been sprayed with pesticides that are not only harming their health, but also the bee’s we need to pollinate the fruits and veggies I beg my kids to eat. Still, I don’t want to give up the soccer games or the grassy fields.
I want it all to be done better instead. If we must spray herbicides and pesticides (I don’t think we do, but I digress), then let’s use chemicals that won’t harm the good bugs and our children’s health. If we are going to continue playing ball, then let’s find a way to make that ball out of materials that will one day decompose.
We’re All In This Together
To put this all into perspective, we have to look at population growth. The world population has gone from less than two billion people around the time my grandparents were born in the early 1900’s to 7.6 billion people today. There will be 10 billion people on earth by 2055. My son will be 46 then, and I will be 76. It’s not that long from now.
All those people have to eat. Their children need clothes and houses and pens and paper and light. The answer to population growth lies in universal access to contraception and education. But today we have to feed the people that are already here. Tomorrow we will need to feed their children.
Every person on earth is entitled to basic human rights according to the United Nations. Those rights include access to food, basic health care, and modern energy. All that affects the environment. Changing our lifestyle won’t feed 7.6 billion people, nor will it give every child access to the light they need to do their homework at night. It won’t give their parents the energy they need to power their stoves, so they don’t have to cut down trees to cook over an open flame. Deforestation, remember?
I Like My Lifestyle
I care about the environment, but I also choose to live in a society that requires transportation, clothes, and electronics. I could become a homesteader or move into the forest to reduce my carbon footprint, but I don’t want to.
Instead, let’s buy products that don’t pollute the environment (or at least pollute the environment less.) Let’s buy fuel-efficient cars at a reasonable price and clothes that don’t harm the Amazon. There is no perfect path for any of this, but we have to believe in the possibilities.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So let’s innovate and buy products that are better than the toxic crap we’ve been buying the last 100 years. I write about sustainable products, methods, and leaders because innovation is essential for ending climate change, pollution, and poverty. It’s also important for American businesses. We need companies to incorporate sustainable solutions into the core of what they create. We don’t need them to stop creating.
This is my opinion.
I’m not against lifestyle changes. I believe in reducing waste. I believe in spending money on experiences and financial security, not things. But if you’re on a journey seeking experiences rather than things, I ask that you take a look at the shoes you’re wearing and the backpack you’re carrying and the phone in your pocket. Which materials went into it? How did those things get to you? Where does it go when you’re done with it? Just some things to think about.
Those are my reasons for promoting sustainable products and not just lifestyle changes. I see the need for both, but there are already plenty of people out there who are more than willing to tell you how to live. If you like the way you live, then I might have some products for you.