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Environmentally Preferable Purchasing

 

According to the EPA, environmentally preferable products are "...products or services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose..."

The benefits of environmentally preferable products include an improved ability to meet existing environmental goals, improved worker safety and health, reduced liabilities, and reduced health and disposal costs.

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Whatcom County Policy

In 2007, Whatcom County instituted a policy to purchase Environmentally Preferable Products whenever possible. This includes:

  • Recycled content office paper and janitorial supplies
  • Office furniture, building materials, carpeting and carpet pads made with nontoxic, sustainably harvested and/or reclaimed materials
  • Low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paints, adhesives, sealants, composite paneling and agrifiber products
  • Recycled mercury-content lighting
  • Green Seal certified cleaning products
  • Hybrid vehicles
  • Biobased fuels
  • Energy Star - certified or other highly efficient products

Environmental Purchasing at Home

How can I have the most impact with my purchases?

1. Don't buy things you don't need

The very best way to reduce your individual environmental impact as a consumer is to do without those things that you don't need. This doesn't mean you have to give up essentials and adopt an ascetic lifestyle, but it does mean exercising your judgment. Do you really need a third pair of black heels, or two televisions in the house, or a super-sized fast food meal? If you ask yourself these questions before you make a purchase, you may find many ways to reduce your impact without reducing your quality of life at all.

2. Reuse

Another important action that can be taken is to reuse items before considering buying new ones. When you buy new plastic food storage containers, oil has to be extracted from the ground, processed into plastic and then transported to the store. Instead of buying new containers, consider reusing yogurt tubs and peanut butter jars that might otherwise become waste products. Keeping those resources in rotation will reduce the demand for new ones. Thrift stores and local classified ads are also a great way to get anything from clothes to appliances to furniture to cars that have been gently used but still have a lot of life left.

3. Buy locally

If you do want to buy something new, try looking for locally produced products first. Buying food and other locally-produced items reduces a lot of environmental impacts related to transportation, and supports the local economy at the same time.

4. Consider product durability

Another important strategy for the green consumer is to buy products that are high quality and are more durable. Sometimes this means paying a little more money at the outset, but if you buy a $50 toaster that will last for 10 years instead of two $40 toasters that will only last for five years each, the environmental impact is reduced and you save a lot of money.

4. Consult consumer guides

Paying attention to the environmental and social practices of companies is is another key to being a conscientious consumer. There are numerous consumer guides, such as those mentioned above, that can show you how different products and companies measure up.

5. Focus on the big things

If you want to have the largest positive impact as a consumer, focus on the things that usually have the largest negative impact. In the book UCS's Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices (available through the Whatcom County Library System,) the Union of Concerned Scientists points out that the majority of negative consumer impacts come from just three areas: personal automobiles, consumption of meat, and the choice of homes and appliances. Driving less, using public transportation and choosing a more efficient car can lead to some of the biggest reductions in personal environmental impacts. Eating less meat, particularly red meat, cuts down on tremendous amounts of air and water pollution and land use impacts. Choosing or renovating a home that is energy efficient and uses as many renewable and non-toxic materials as possible, and furnishing that home with green appliances is the other major way to have a significant impact. Compared to these three things, questions such as "paper or plastic?" or "cloth or disposable diapers?" are fairly insignificant.