How Are We Doing With Saving the Planet? Surprising Facts about Eco-Friendly Consumer Practices


We are all on-board with working towards a cleaner, healthier earth, but is it working?

In the last thirty years, society has seen a seismic shift in consciousness when it comes to caring for the planet. We all buy the green products, recycle, and conserve water in this new era of climate change, but is it actually helping?

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the messages we receive about what is good for us and what is good for the planet. On the one hand, all this relatively new information makes us feel a little more in control, and having options is great, but it’s hard to know if any of this is having an impact. Here are some telling facts about the shifts in consumer behavior around the environment.

Fact: Consumers are more likely to pay more for eco-friendly products. Though green products represent a small slice of the market (around 3% in 2014), bigger retailers have taken on leading green brands like Seventh Generation and Method, pushing brands like Clorox to develop competing environmentally safe offerings [1].

Fact: Recycling has dramatically reduced waste. Between 1960 and 2013, Americans went from recycling 6% of their waste to 34.5% [2].

The moral: keep up the good work.

Fact: Organic matter makes up a huge component of our garbage. “In 2013, America recovered about 67 percent (5.7 million tons) of newspaper/mechanical paper and about 60 percent of yard trimmings. Organic materials continue to be the largest component of MSW,” according to the EPA. That amounted to 87.2 million tons of material ending up as landfill [3].

The moral: separating compost, recycling, and yard trimmings is an easy way to reduce waste.

Fact: Not all green products are actually green. A study in March of 2015 conducted by the Journal of Air Quality, Atmosphere, and Health concluded that of the 37 items analyzed, 17 of which were “green,” the study found 42 different chemicals determined to be toxic by the EPA. 100% of the products labeled “green,” “organic,” and non-toxic had at least one toxic chemical.

The moral: look up your trusted brand and make sure it is worthy of your trust.

Fact: Cell phones are a serious problem when it comes to disposal. The boom in device use over the last 10 years has had a dramatic impact on waste management. Because the lifecycle of a typical cell phone is somewhere around two to three years, e-waste is now a huge concern. A test simulating the deterioration of a cell phone in a landfill illustrated the leaching of lead at levels 17x more than the acceptable federal threshold[4].

The moral: recycle your old phone!
Fact: Electric Cars are the most solid choice in terms of carbon reduction. There is plenty of back and forth on the electric car model: it is after all, not technically zero emissions because it relies on electricity to charge its battery, so depending on where you are, your Tesla could be powered primarily by coal. However, a survey of studies conducted at various universities found with all the energy considerations, that electric vehicles still perform better than hybrid, and exponentially better than combustion engine vehicles[5].

The moral: plan for your next car to be an electric vehicle; it’s the wave of the future.

Fact: Slow is the new green. The slow food movement that has emerged globally emphasizes the health benefits to consumers and the environment by sourcing food from local farms, cooking at home, and dining at local restaurants versus big chains or eating processed fast food. As a result, you are seeing “slow fashion” where in-house designers deal directly with their shoppers, and while the price tag is higher, the quality of the merchandise is built to last. Eco or slow tourism hopes to reduce the impact of traveling and tourism on local economies while maintaining the revenue stream.

As consumers, we need to continue to use our spending power to influence the market, by supporting companies that are acting responsibly and redefining the paradigm for buying and selling. The good news is that it is working. The even better news is that we can do better.