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When Green Isn't Quite What it Seems

Going "green" can be challenging. Certainly it typically involves more effort or attention than for the less-conscientious citizen. Consider adhering diligently to recycling systems, or making use of bicycles in cities predominantly engineered with the automobile in mind. It's not so easy.

It's sobering to find out, then, that some products and services we assume are environmentally-friendly are actually not as green as they appear. "Common Sense" it not always the best guide. Below we introduce some examples that might surprise.

Some Alternative Fuel Sources

Purchasing renewable fuel sources, such as biodiesel or ethanol-based blends, may seem better than ordinary petroleum sourced from fossil fuel deposits. These crops, however, often displace arable land that could otherwise be used for food crops - or, indeed, be rehabilitated to something akin to the original, natural environment. Furthermore, the conversion process typically uses a lot of energy, weakening its environmental credentials.

Buying Some Organic Products

Organic products help to support a growing sector that takes better care of the land and often animals as well. One complicating factor is that organics that are sourced a large distance from your location (say, the other side of the country or, indeed, of the world) has a relatively large carbon footprint attached due to the transport systems involved. Local sourcing is arguably better; local organic products are the best of both worlds.

Relying on Headline Branding

Unfortunately, it takes a discerning shopper to separate the "wheat from the chaff" (faux vs legitimate) when it comes to all manner of products. Broadly speaking, very little regulation exists pertaining to terms such as natural, green, environmentally friendly etc. In some locations, even the term “organic” has little or no regulatory protection. Not only may the product not adhere to any third-party verification, it may incorporate genetically-modified ingredients or use pesticides at some stage during the growing or production process. Similar problems exist around generic claims of "sustainability".

Green Companies & Reality

Corporations are notorious for their attention on managing public perception, sometimes at the cost of actual green principles and production methods. Instances of "greenwashing" are documented far and wide. One example often cited is "The Body Shop", with bonafide fundamental and comprehensive green practices in its early years - only to be largely overturned when the company went public. Interested readers are encouraged to check out the experiences of the founder: Dame Anita Lucia Roddick, DBE (Deceased 2007).

The Vegetarian Diet

While a vegetarian diet is far superior, environmentally-speaking, than a meat rich diet the incorporation of dairy means that a surprisingly large carbon footprint is still incurred (let alone issues of animal welfare).

Hybrid & Electric Vehicles

Although undoubtedly the way forward, one often overlooked aspect of these cars is that current battery technology requires the incorporation of a vast array of hazardous metal pollutants. The use of rare metals mean that (a) the environmental "payback" period is longer than some might expect and (b) environmental contamination is a potentially serious problem. Clearly, manufacturers must be compelled to take these components back at the end of their useful life for disassembly and reuse. (Considering the contribution of fossil fuels to climate change, odious impact on geopolitics and pollution -- in the form of spills, and air quality degradation impacting on human health -- electrics are simply better overall.)

Bamboo-based Fabrics

Often touted as a preferable solution to traditional fabrics, the massive increase in bamboo textiles has resulted in deforestation in order to cope with demand. Furthermore, widespread pesticide and copious pesticide use in these plantations (particularly in China) mitigates some of the benefits of this fibre.

Power-Saving Mode - Appliances and electronics with power-saving modes -- often coupled with an eye-pleasing green symbol -- are appealing, but nevertheless draw energy from the network unnecessarily. This is known as "phantom power" and, with the proliferation of devices can add up to a notable cost over a year. It really is best to employ the less high-tech method and switch products off at the wall (or powerstrip/powerstrip) when not in use.

Notwithstanding these issues and drawbacks, there is actual and symbolic value in going for the "green" option where practical and affordable. Your wallet/purse as well as body (in terms of health benefits) will thank you for it. And so will the planet.

To be continued ...


1 Comment

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Rebecca D. Thomas
Rebecca D. Thomas
Jun 06, 2018

Great post! We’ve been thinking about purchasing a hybrid vehicle, but yes, there needs to be an easy way for people to return the battery to the manufacturer, for reuse.

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