Taking the Right Path – Solving Everyday Dilemmas

Posted on July 28, 2018

Doing the right thing for the Earth can be hard. Everyday we gain new insight into how humans are impacting the world, and we have to re-evaluate our decision-making to take new information into account. It can be overwhelming – and even if you don’t find it overwhelming for you, there is likely someone in your life who does find it overwhelming! So, how do you evaluate the tough environmental decisions? When is it better to use one thing over another? For a good example, electric vehicles use batteries whose production and disposal are both bad for the environment, so when is it better to just use a gas-powered vehicle instead? There’s almost never an easy go-to choice, but here are some tips to help you make those decisions every day!

Use Life: This term refers to the whole life of a product or tool from production to discard (and is a borrowed term from archaeology). This means, how much are you going to use the product – this can make a lot of decisions easier. Let’s say that you are comparing products – try to look at the life of the product. What did it take to make the product, how long are you going to use it, can you repair it, and how will it be disposed of? This is where we get the idea that single-use plastics are particularly bad – their use is only a few minutes long, despite the cost of production and the difficulty to dispose of them with current recycling facilities. So, even if you have a product that had a production that isn’t great for the environment, if you use it for your whole life, then you’re effectively replacing the repeated disposal of lower quality items. That’s a good use life.

Related Term: Service Life – this is a term that means how long a product is used from purchase to discard, and is usually estimated by the manufacturer. This is what you’re told when you buy a product and the sales person tells you that it will last 2-5 years. That’s its Service Life. 

Local: The next thing to look at is how local your product is. This is because a local product is likely to have needed less shipping distance to get to you (and that’s a lot of carbon saved). Even if some of the components to make the local product have come from far away, some will not have. There’s also the added benefit that local businesses spend a lot of their money locally, which really helps our local economy. It also encourages more local businesses to get started. How local something is seems particularly important if it’s something you buy a lot of, so consumables benefit more from this. Farmer’s Markets, the local section at your grocery store, and small businesses making soap or similar, these are all a good places to get local products.

Voting with your dollar: This is a concept we hear about all the time, that we can support products and services we like by putting our money towards them rather than other things, and this is true of environmental products, too. Sometimes, even if a product has a bit of a troublesome production or isn’t doing everything quite right yet, it’s still good to buy it to encourage growth of that industry. This is a risky scenario, but it can be a good tiebreaker in the case use life and local haven’t helped you make a decision. Back to electric vehicles and their batteries, for example, this is a product that has a really tricky use life scenario – how much are you going to drive and does the gas saved offset the battery’s production and disposal? That can be incredibly difficult to calculate, but getting an electric vehicle does affect sales projections and could make vehicle retailers start spending more of their research dollars on making those batteries better. This also makes you their customer, which gives your voice extra weight when you express concerns over that. The surveys many high-end product purchases come with is a great place to let company’s know what you think of their products and environmental policies.

Who made this: This question is more about sustainability in economic and ethical terms, but knowing what human labour went into your product will help you understand the total impact of your purchase. We’ll be exploring this in much more depth in next week’s blog about fast fashion and the Fashion Revolution movement. Look forward to it!

There you go, there are just a few ways that you can help figure out which product to select to limit your human impacts. It’s not easy, but if you’re thinking about it, and you tell the people you care about your thought process, too, you can start to make more informed decisions. If you’re still really not sure, you can always call our help desk at 403-230-1443 ext. 222 from 9-5 Monday through Friday year round! You can also use the same number to get a hold of our store during seasonal hours, as found here, for more help. We’d love to hear about your stories trying to select products or make the most environmental decisions: get in touch on on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram!