Archive for September, 2013

Responsible Consumerism at Your Fingertips

By Maren Hunsberger

In a world where most of the messages about the environment are negative, it’s difficult to stay optimistic. At times it may feel like there’s nothing we can do, that the outlook is entirely gloomy, that we’re completely unprepared to handle the challenges left to us by past generations. As young citizens of the world just coming into our own, we are discovering that what we do as adults will actually have an effect on the world, though environmental issues sometimes feel completely out of our control. Reports of natural disasters in distant places and issues–like global warming–that exist on such a huge scale that we often don’t feel connected to them on a day-to-day basis, much less that we can do something to change their course. While the media is trying to turn the ‘green’ movement into a more positive, reward-based system, it can still be difficult to understand what we can do to help. Well, a tool I’ve recently discovered has convinced me that combatting climate change and deforestation is not just up the biologists and the politicians. It has, more than ever, assured me that the seemingly small choices we make in our everyday lives can have a huge effect on shaping not only the environment, but the economy and society to which it is inextricably connected (more on this later).

This ‘something’ I have recently discovered has been an invaluable tool in helping me understand how empowered we really are: an organization called Good Guide.  Brought to life by a Professor at UC Berkeley, Good Guide employs an interdisciplinary team of toxicologists, environmental scientists, economists, sociologists, chemists, nutritionists, and related experts who have put together one of the most vital databases out there: unbiased, thoroughly researched information about all the facets and ramifications of the products we buy. Look up any product and Good Guide will give a rating of how it scores in the realms of Health (yours), the Environment, and Society. Each of these categories can then be expanded into subcategories. Under health, the ratings include Human Health Impacts, Level of Health Concern of IngredientsData Adequacy, and Ingredient Disclosure. In the realm of the environment, areas of concern include Transparency, Environmental Management, Resource Use, Environmental Impacts. In terms of social responsibility, the information available includes Transparency, Community, Consumers, Management, and Workers. Even these subcategories can be broken down into more detailed information if you so choose, and you can compare a product’s ratings against similar choices to make the most conscientious selection. In addition to comparing these facets of a product, you can also look at how it compares financially, especially relative to its other scores. In their online advertisement they call themselves “A PhD in your pocket”: you can download their app, take your phone to the store with you, and when you scan a barcode you can have all this information at your fingertips.

I’m not trying to sell anything here (I can’t even really do that: Good Guide’s services are free and available to anyone with internet). I’m simply trying to make a point. The feeling that we can do nothing against the slow decline of our environment stems from a lack of tools that are available to us. We need access to tools that are not huge sweeping gestures of change that come to seem insurmountable, but that instead let us take a few small steps every day to feel like we’ve done something important for an issue that we believe in.

Though sustainability can be described in many ways across cultures and disciplines, the most commonly quoted definition come from the Brundtland Report, and is here repeated by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD):

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

What we see here is an inclusion of three interconnected dimensions: society, the economy, and the environment. The three are linked in innumerable ways, and if we are to make a difference in one, we can make a difference in all three. It is telling that Good Guide includes these three spheres, pointing to the fact that consumption needs to evaluate the intersection of these  sectors of life in order to be truly sustainable—both in terms of the environment and in the sense of being ‘self-sustaining’. So try it out–take your consumption into your own hands and see how it feels to change the world around you a little bit every day.

P.S. If you’d like, let me know in the comments to what you think–of the blog, of Good Guides, of Sustainability, anything you like!



September 28th, 2013


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