What does it mean to be green?

For the past few years now, we’ve been asked to “green” everything, from our cars to our  dish soap.  My stance of environmentalism is that the planet will live on, in some form, no matter what we do to it.  But we need to make sure that we take care of our natural resources and don’t push the environment to an extreme where our race can’t survive.  There is a delicate balance, and we’re a pretty voracious consumer of resources, so some care is necessary.  But I’ve been very skeptical of all the “green” claims in advertising, since I just assume that most companies are jumping on the bandwagon to improve sales.  After all, the true impact of materials and manufacturing is complicated.

Science is our best weapon of defense against global warming and environmental harm.  Only knowledge will help us to inform our decisions and take the right steps to minimize our impact.  Those who pursue that knowledge are studying Life Cycle Assessment, as highlighted in a recent article on SciAm.com.  Physicists, engineers, and ecologists, such as Greg Norris, explore every step of the manufacturing process of an item and determine all of the ways in which it releases toxins or uses natural resources.  By completing a complicated LCA for products, companies can better determine what products are truly “greener” than others.  Norris describes part of the lifecycle of a glass bottle, which seems hugely overblown, but the impact is indeed minimized by using recycled glass, even when taking into account all of the environmental costs of that process.  It’s a really fascinating article, so do take time to read it.

I’m excited to see that scientists are thinking about environmentalism in a systematic, robust way.  I’d rather pay attention to the latest Life Cycle Analysis of a product than screaming green billboards.  In fact, I’d love to see, for example, LCAs of regular cleaning products side-by-side with so-called “green” cleaning products, and see how well they live up to their advertising.  We need to accept the whole process of greening, as the author points out, not just jump on the latest fad.

2 comments for “What does it mean to be green?

  1. May 3, 2009 at 02:16

    This is such an excellent point. The root of so many problems is irrationality. You don’t go wrong with more skeptical thinking!

  2. Megan Thoms
    July 24, 2009 at 07:56

    That’s why Stonyfield Yogurt is awesome! 🙂 They did a Life Cycle Assessment of their containers. You can see it at this link, http://www.stonyfield.com/EarthActions/Environmental%20Practices/EnvironmentalPackaging.cfm.

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