For some people the desire to go green is to benefit the broader environment: fight climate change, reduce air pollution and curtail the harm we inflict on the planet and its many species. Others are motivated by their love and concern for the health and wellbeing of humanity. No matter where you fall, you need to first ask yourself, what does it mean to go green? and why should I make the change?
Exactly What Does It Mean To Go Green?
In simple terms, to go green means finding a balance between the life you lead, the impact that life and your choices have on the planet and being mindful enough to help maintain ecological balance to preserve the planet, its ecosystems and its natural resources. Not an easy feat since our society is not set up in a way to help us succeed. We live in a linear economy rooted in the “take-make-dispose” step-by-step plan. This means natural resources (raw materials) are collected, then manufactured into the products we buy that are used and then ultimately discarded as waste.
Our planet is growing at a rate that is not sustainable, it's expected that the world's population will hit 9.8 billion people by 2050, we'd need two planets to support our current consumption, it's why the move to go green is more important than ever.
For those who resist the call to live more harmoniously with nature, remember it's more than melting ice caps and tree-hugging, it's about safeguarding the future of the human species and recognizing that we are a part of nature, not separate from it.
What Is the Difference Between Eco-Friendly, Going Green, and Sustainability?
I am sure you have seen these buzz words before, on TV commercials and shows, and on packaging from food to fashion to beauty. In fact, we see these terms so much that their meaning is at risk of being lost completely.
There is a ton of overlap between these three terms, at their core, they all promote practices that help to conserve natural resources like water but at the same time commit to the prevention of air, land and water pollution.
What is eco-friendly?
Eco-friendly is a term typically used to describe a product and how it's made. For a product to be genuinely eco-friendly it has to take both earth and human health into account. The resources used to make the item need to come from sustainable resources. For clothing that means the materials used are grown without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides. Organic wool, hemp and natural cotton are three examples.
It can also mean the product's end of life has been taken into account, is it made with materials that can be either reused or recycled like glass, wood, metal or cardboard. Or is it made from biodegradable material that can be composted, which helps to reduce the amount of waste heading to the landfill?
It also means that the company that is making the product you are buying is also taking all of the above into account. They are paying their workers a fair wage and they are transparent about where and how they source their raw materials.
Getting to know the brand you are supporting is key to avoiding greenwashing, this is when a company uses terms like "eco-friendly", "green", "natural", etc. on their packaging which makes you think you are purchasing a product that is at the very least trying to do better, but in fact, is not. The official definition is “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”.
Here are some examples: Nestle's Cocoa Plan, they claimed all their cocoa beans were sustainably sourced, but a class-action lawsuit found the opposite to be true, in fact, Nestle is responsible for massive deforestation in parts of West Africa, the lawsuit also found that 10 million children work on the cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Tide PureClean is another one. The bottle reads "a powerful, plant-based clean you can feel good about.” Um, not! Earlier this year, The National Advertising Divison told Tide to modify its "plant-based claims to avoid conveying the unsupported message that the laundry detergent is 100 percent plant-based. Tide PureClean is packed full of synthetic ingredients like petroleum-based polymers. Here is a list of the ingredients. Tide has other products that claim to be "phosphate-free" this ingredient was phased out of laundry products decades ago, so this claim means absolutely nothing.
These are just two examples, there are hundreds more and don't think it doesn't happen with brands that you probably think are "eco-friendly" like Aveeno, Burt's Bee's and even Seventh Generation.
What is going green?
Going Green typically applies to the behaviour you are taking to lessen your impact on the planet. But you can also apply it to the products you buy by referring to them as "green", in the same way as calling them "eco-friendly". Going green can be defined as "environmentally friendly decisions to "reduce, reuse and recycle." This could mean weather-stripping your home to make it more energy-efficient, or air-drying your clothes to save energy, or installing a rain barrel to save water or recycling your pillows, jeans, socks or e-waste properly. These are just some examples. Companies can also use this term to describe their behaviour, you do need to be aware of greenwashing here as well.
For example, a company might use organic cotton in some of their clothing but still manufacture the clothing in a sweatshop. An excellent example of this is H&Ms Consciousuous Collection, yes the fabrics are more sustainable but the company as a whole is still responsible for fast fashion, which we know comes with a lot of issues. So again, the best way to protect yourself from greenwashing is to talk to the maker directly and ask questions, where are my clothes made? Who is making them? have you visited the factory?
What is sustainability?
Sustainability is the connection between and how we live our lives and has its roots in a much larger, global principle. I wrote a comprehensive article on this subject called What Is Sustainable Living. I highly recommend you read it.
How going green impacts our body and mind
There are so many benefits to living a more mindful life. Studies have shown that eating a more plant-based diet can help both the planet and your health. Being more green means spending more time in nature. Hiking, walking, biking or doing QiGong. Nature has so many benefits, did you know it can even help you sleep better. Spending at least 30 mins a day in nature can be very beneficial to your mental health.
This type of lifestyle also helps to reduce toxins from common things like cleaning products and beauty products. Both of these can have harmful effects on your health. Conventional cleaners give off VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which create indoor air pollution and can cause asthma and other respiratory issues. Beauty products that contain synthetic ingredients like phthalates have also been shown to be quite harmful to our health.
What are the benefits of going green?
Global warming is a serious issue, Obvi! and one we simply cannot go on ignoring. If you are choosing to bury your head in the sand, understand that those choices are going to have far-reaching effects long after you are gone.
Our planet is a beautiful, awe-inspiring place filled with magnificent ecosystems and biodiversity that is under immediate threat, we've got rising sea ice, massive wildfires, mass animal extinction, deforestation, and plastic pollution just to name a few. Never before has it been more pressing than now for humanity to step up and make the changes needed to keep our planet (home) alive.
By choosing to go green you are helping to make the world a better place. Going green is about getting back to basics and choosing to simplify your life. It's about making new choices, ones that are healthier for you AND the planet and making sure we have a planet for generations to come. Let's take a look at some of the benefits of what it means to be green.
Benefit 1: Reduce Pollution
When you make mindful decisions based on an item's impact on the planet, you are having a direct effect on reducing soil, water and air pollution. Choosing to compost your food for example reduces methane gas produced in landfills which will, in turn, lowers greenhouse gas emissions. If you choose organic food you are helping to keep harmful pesticides out of our soil and water. Using alternative energy sources also helps to reduce the burning of fossil fuels. Recycling and reusing means less natural materials are being taken from the earth to make new ones.
Benefit 2: Preserve Wildlife
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which involved more than a thousand experts, estimated an extinction rate of up to 8,700 species a year, or 24 a day. More recently, scientists at the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity concluded that: “Every day, up to 150 species are lost.” That could be as much as 10 percent a decade.
It's hard to tell what the exact numbers are, most of this data comes from computer modelling. But what we do know is it's happening and it's happening really fast. By choosing to tread more lightly on the planet you are directly helping to preserve wildlife. You see the paper you use daily at work is responsible for massive deforestation, the same goes for your toilet paper.
By choosing recycled paper products you are aiding in slowing the rate of extinction for animals living in the forest. Not only are woodland creatures at risk, so is marine life. Our oceans anFd lakes are filled with all kinds of pollutants, one of the biggest threats being plastic.
Benefit 3: Reduce Consumption
Reducing consumption means creating less waste (especially in the kitchen) which means fewer things you have to toss in the garbage which means less of it has to go to landfill. The food we eat, the energy we burn, the things we buy are all tied to greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing consumption helps to mitigate climate change by "limiting greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of goods and services." This action also helps to save you money.
Buying less and going green does not mean spending a fortune on organic food, solar panels, or hybrid cars. At its core, green living is about moderation, efficiency and living less expensively. The more stuff you have the more you have to spend to take care of it. This leads to my final point...
Benefit 4: It Saves You Money
A lot of the time when people start a green life they think they need to throw out all their "non-green" things and replace them with more eco alternatives. This is not always the case though. If you are choosing to get rid of paper towels (I hope you are) you can either invest in un-paper towels or you can simply cut up old towels and t-shirts and use them as rags.
The same goes for napkins, why are you buying paper ones over and over again when you can use cloth? The average Canadian family spends a little over $800 on paper towels and paper napkins.
These smaller actions save you a ton of money in the long run. Turning off the light when you leave the room save you money on your electric bill. You can save a ton of money on water costs by taking small steps in the bathroom to save cash and water. Speaking of water, if you stopped buying plastic bottled water and put a filter on your tap, you'd save over $900 per year! I mean this is a no-brainer, given the impact plastic is having on the planet. Yes, there are times where bottled water is the only option, like many Indigenous communities in Canada, but for most Canaindais this is not the case.
The average Canadian spends almost $5,000 on products that are thrown away! Think of what you could do with that cash.
How to Get started: 3 BIG things you can do TODAY to go green and make a difference
1. What does it mean to go green: Bring Home Less Plastic
Around one-fifth of all households, waste comes from food packaging. Always make sure you have enough reusable bags with you when you shop. Choose foods that come unwrapped (naked) or in glass, cardboard or aluminum.
Shop at local bakeries and butchers for fresh items that come in paper bags or paper wrapping. Ditch the disposables like plastic, trays, plastic cutlery when you order take-out. Avoid plastic razors (try a safety one instead) plastic toothbrushes (go for bamboo) and cleaning products that come in plastic, instead try a DIY.
Today, more than ever before we have the option for refill and reuse. When I was young milk was delivered in glass, placed on the porch and the old bottles were picked up and reused.
Many cleaning products and cosmetics are now produced in refillable containers and greener shops are popping up all over offering refills for these types of products. Dried goods like rice, cereals and coffee can also be bought in bulk with little to zero packaging.
Rethink your beauty products. Lotion and potions we love tend to be very heavy on the packaging and because they are in liquid form, transporting them uses up a whole lot of fossil fuels, and you already know what those do! The same goes for makeup wipes, use reusable, please. Conventional wipes are made from plastic (polyester) and create fatbergs when they are flushed, which you should never, ever, ever do!
How do you clean your home? You know you don't need a million cleaners for every task right? Choose concentrated detergents with less packaging per wash and buy the biggest container you can. And choose eco-friendly cleaners that have less of a toxic load. Avoid fabric softener (add a cup of vinegar during the rinse cycle) and dry sheets, (use wool dryer balls) both are packed with nasty chemicals you don't need in your home.
When buying new clothes try to buy ones that are made from natural fibres, like hemp, organic cotton, bamboo, jute, linen, modal or lyocell. Synthetic clothing like elastane/spandex or nylon creates microplastic that breaks off in the wash and heads through the sewage system right into our lakes and oceans. It'd be great to see washing machine manufacturers put filters right inside that can do a better job at capturing those tiny bits of plastic. In the meantime, you can try reducing how often you wash or you can try the Guppy Bag, it helps capture some of that plastic.
As individuals, we can only do so much. We also need to support campaigns that call for more taxes on wasteful packaging at its source- the manufacturer. Banning plastic bags in Canada is a good step but we need big polluters to STEP UP. We need more regulations that are not just about consumer behaviour.
2. What Does It Means To be green: Make Your Home More Efficient
Our homes produce about 30 percent of the emissions that contribute to climate change. With a few simple energy-saving adjustments you can reduce your energy consumption and some cash too.
About three-quarters of the energy we use to heat and cool our homes is lost thanks to poorly insulated attics, windows and doors. Weather-stripping your home is one of the most effective things you can do. In addition, to draught-proofing your hone, insulating it properly can help to save about a quarter of the energy you lose. You can buy insulation rolls that can be added to between and across ceiling jolts.
This is pretty simple to do, any good DIYer can do this on weekend. Look for insulation made from wool, hemp or flax. For insulation that is needed inside the walls, best to call in a professional.
Opt for low carbon heating, heating your home accounts for more than half of the energy used by the average Canadian home. An easy and effective way to cut down costs is to turn done the heat. Is your heat jacked up high? Mine too! I have to get used to dropping it by one degree. Put on a sweater and some ream socks and it's all good. Adjusting your thermostat by one degree can save you about 10% on your heating bill.
Programmable thermostats are great, you can reduce the temp when you are not at home by adjusting the timer. If you are renovating your home look for low-carbon heating and hot water systems. Even if you are not renovating you might want to conder investing in a more efficient furnace, it will end up saving you lots in the long run.
Choosing the most efficient household appliances will also make a big difference. We now own way more machines than we did prior to the 19070s and as a result, the electricity consumption by the average home has shot up by 40% since then. Choose energy star-certified appliances. Newer plasma TVs are more efficient than older ones. LED TVs are better. Laptops and desktops use the same amount of energy. Best to look for devices and that have a high-energy rating and low standby power consumption. A good rule of thumb, unplug what you are not using.
Repair it instead of buying new. When I was a kid we never thought we'd throw something away simply because it needed fixing. We fixed it. It went "into the shop" and came back (most of the time) better than ever. We just don't do this anymore in our consumption-based, throw-away society.
So many things don't need to be tossed at all and can be fixed, repairing and refurbishing is one the best ways to go green. The same goes for clothing, if you have a hole in your sock, mend it!
Choose products that are designed to last longer. If you are tossing a cheap blender every year, you might want to invest in one that will cost more but save more in the long run.
Find skilled repair people in your area. Many of them will offer good value for the service. Once the best investment you can make is to purchase a sewing machine. You can repair buttons, holes, ripped pockets and pants, etc. This will help your clothes last longer.
3. What does if mean to go green: how you cook and eat
The food we eat and how it ends up on our plates takes up a lot of resources. Water use, food miles, food waste, food packaging and unsustainable farming practices all play into it.
Apples that are grown in Ontario are shipped to the USA and apples that are grown in NYC are shipped to Canada. It's pretty ridiculous if you ask me! We know that some foods simply can't grow in certain places (bananas in Winter) and many things that are imported like cocoa, coffee, spices and tea have been long distances imports for centuries.
Food waste is a MAJOR problem in Canada. 63% of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten. If you read The Eco Hub, you know talk bout this a lot. Make a list before you show. only buy what you need, shop in bulk, eat your leftovers. Seems pretty simple. Food insecurity and climate change are inextricably linked, and it's why it's important to buy food that has a lower carbon footprint and that means reducing our meat intake.
Yeah, it's a controversial subject but it's one we can't ignore. The fact is the meat production and the methane created from it makes it one of the biggest contributors to global warming. Farmed animals like cows and sheep are responsible for nearly 30 percent of the total methane from human activity.
Industrial farming of beef uses 28 times more land and 11 times more water than any other industry. Depression is having devastating effects on biodiversity and the survival of other species. Try a meat-free Monday. Try new recipes and ingredients that are plant-based. A quick Pinterest search yields hundreds of ideas.
Eating local and organic reduces food miles substantially. About 10 percent of the total carbon footprint of your food comes from the distance it has to travel. Eating seasonally helps to reduce that. In winter in Canada, that means choose root veggies instead of lettuce and local fruits where possible. Connect with local farmers either via a farmers market or a Community Shared Agriculture Program.
Try low-energy cooking. Or learn how a DIY Home Energy Audit Will Save you Money. Or make sure you reduce waste while gardening. If you are trying to green certain rooms in our home, here are 50+ ways to get you started.
Final Thoughts on What Does It Mean To Go Green
I hope you enjoyed this article. You can see that there are many ways that you can choose to go green. But I think one of the most important is to get involved. Starting a campaign for something you believe in is as simple as setting up a petition or writing to your local government. Support local businesses that align with your ethics and tell people about them.
I will leave you with this wonderful quote:
Fear thrived in the empty spaces that emerge when people separate. Hope thrives when we connect with our neighbours and with our natural world. this is how we all survive. We make connections, we seed hop. We look forward not backwards. And together we write a better future. / Caroline Lucas
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