March. I love this month. It's filled with birthdays, the first warm sunshine of the year, birdsong all day long, and fresh green shoots. The 20th is the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox this year, the official beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. At last! This is a month of change, and a perfect time to make and break some habits.
In light of this, (and because this is my first post and I want you to get to know me better!) I thought I'd let you into my mind a little today. Being a maker and trying to be green don't really go hand in hand - after all, the things I make are luxuries. Frivolous. Unnecessary. So I try to use the greenest materials I can and create the greenest product I can, but where do I begin? There's so much conflicting information -- have you heard, for example, that bamboo fabrics are not all that green? That's not to say all bamboo products are bad, it just has to be used in the right way to be earth friendly.
It's so important to question the 'evidence' we're presented with, and to keep researching - this time six months ago I'd have been happy to tell you that bamboo fabric is a perfectly acceptable eco-product!
So I thought I would share with you the process I go through when picking my materials. It's simply a list of questions that I try to answer to help me determine "green" from "green-wash". (I'm sure this will be nothing new to many of you, but a refresher never hurts, does it? :) This can be applied to any product. It's not comprehensive, or in any kind of order. And these definitely aren't rules. This is merely a guide to keep me thinking, questioning and making better decisions. I hope it can do the same for you!
Who made it?
More of an ethical issue than an environmental one, but it's important to consider, particuarly as so many companies use cheap foreign labour for their products. Often they don't know enough about their own manufacturers, who could be employing children, providing unsafe work environments, and underpaying their workers. Fair trade is great - it means that the "little people" behind the product are given a living wage (i.e. enough to provide food and shelter for their family), given a safe working environment and helps make sure the vulnerable aren't being exploited.
Where was it made?
The country of origin can help you answer the previous question, but there are other things to consider. Some countries can legally produce items with substances which are illegal (for good reason) in your country. (Remember those big toy recalls a couple of years ago?) That doesn't make these manufacturers evil, as essentially they're just doing what they're told! Then you need to consider air miles -- how far has this product had to travel to get into your hands? Transport uses fuel, which causes pollution, which causes all kinds of hell for Mother Nature. This can have a huge environmental impact. The more local, the better.
What is it made from?
Sustainability is key. True sustainability means the product fits within nature's cycle - no harm is done to the environment when it is made, used or disposed of. Most 'sustainable' products fit into a grey area, where they fit some of the criteria but not all. Classic examples of sustainable materials include hemp and bamboo - they grow fast and organically (without use of pesticides), and are versatile and durable. Often, though, that's the extent of it. Substances used in processing these materials sometimes means that they can't safely biodegrade - but they can still be better than many alternatives!
When will it reach the end of its life?
We all know that disposal is a big issue. But to an extent, as consumers, we can control how much we send to landfill or throw in the recycling bin. Avoid anything over-packaged (i.e. anything that has more packaging than necessary to get it into your hands undamaged). Buy things to last. Save up your pennies and buy the best: quality over quantity. Then look after what you've got! Your jeans have a hole in the knee? Patch it. Broke your favourite mug? Mend it. Be inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi, find the beauty in old things and treasure them!
How do you use and care for it?
Most of a products environmental impact lies in how it is treated by the consumer. Clothes are a particularly good example. How often you wash your clothes, at what setting and using which detergent are all factors that determine the size of an individual item's environmental impact. Try to choose products which don't need too much of this kind of care.
Why do you want it?
This is probably the most important question! If you can talk yourself out of an unnecessary purchase, you're doing good for the environment. Ask yourself if you need it, if you'll really use it, how and where you will store it, could you buy a second hand version instead, what else could you spend the money on? Think thrifty. Learn to value old over new, you'll be surprised how satisfying it can be. But most importantly: value what you already have. Don't replace anything with a 'greener' option if all you're doing is creating more waste!
So, what are your tips for sussing out green from greenwash?
P.S. apologies for the terrible title pun ;)