How sustainable is that purchase?

Regina Hauser, The Natural Step Network


Like many of you, I was glued to my TV set, watching the BCS championship game earlier this month. And while the game was riveting, there was a particular commercial I still can't get out of my head.

A snack food producer was touting its product made with "natural ingredients," and then to hammer that home, we saw images of mouth-watering, primary-colored vegetables being sliced and a young woman wandering carefree through a corn field.

I can't help but wonder, do people really think sustainability can be bought? Does putting a "natural" product into a grocery sack somehow ease consciences across the country?

There are many products that are currently advertised as sustainable or green. One recent study found that 95 percent of green or sustainability claims are unsubstantiated, meaningless or false. Compounding confusion: There are more than 350 certifications, some by third parties, some are not. It is difficult to know how rigorous each certification is without research.

Can you buy more sustainably without investing the time needed to become an expert on the life cycle and chemical makeup of every product you purchase? The answer is yes. Without sounding too cliché, let common sense be your compass. The first question to ask isn't "how sustainable is it?"

Instead ask:

• Do I really need it?

• Do I have something that already serves the same function?

• If I only need this once or twice a year, can I borrow or rent it?

For most people, the key criteria for purchasing are quality and price. When looking at quality, does the item perform only one function, or can it be used for multiple things? Can it be repaired? Remember if an item breaks and it is more expensive to fix it than repair it, it will need to be replaced, and you’ll be asking yourself these same questions all over again. If an item cannot be repaired, can it be recycled?

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Regina Hauser is the executive director of The Natural Step Network, which earlier this month joined the Cascadia Green Building Council family.


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