Nowadays, in the common colloquium of sustainability, buying new things – especially things that are pricey or brand-name – often points to the perpetuation of consumerism, which can be harmful to the environment in many ways. In its most basic form, consumerism perpetuates the collection of physical (and psychological!) stuff’ that we really don’t need and that will one day end up in landfill, polluting our earth unnecessarily. We purchase things that we THINK we need, and once we’re through with them, we potentially have some depreciated ‘junk’ on our hands, like an empty bottle of product or a worn-out sweater.
Hopefully we recycle and repurpose what we can, but many consumer products present the issue of messy, voluminous – and sometimes frankly painful! – packaging that is pretty much useless and more fodder for landfills (and with so much of it being plastic, it is non-biodegradable permanent fodder for landfills!).
While many high-end brands want to appear green or more socially conscious for marketing purposes, there are some companies that are more sincere in their initiatives than others. One of my personal favorites, the athletic and adventure clothing company Patagonia is a great example. For instance, a warm, moisture-wicking, plush pullover from Patagonia costs over $100, which is quite a hefty purchase, despite its performance and quality. But those dollars that you splurge for a good product, such as the Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover, are at work both while you wear the clothing and after you’re through.
That’s because Patagonia’s products are not only built to last, but are more importantly a part of their Common Threads Initiative, which is a movement to close the loop on product life cycle by reducing, repairing, reusing, and recycling the things we buy. The Common Threads Initiative is based on a partnership, where Patagonia pledges to make lasting gear (so less waste), help you repair your gear quickly and affordably, help you find a new home for your old gear, or take back your worn-out gear to repurpose and reuse the material for something new. The program in turn encourages customers to not buy what they don’t need, to fix what’s broken or worn-in rather than throw things out, to give old clothing to those who do need it, and to pledge to keep stuff out of landfills.
Through the Common Threads Initiative, customers can easily either give back, sell, or buy used materials on Patagonia’s website, so the money you spend on their products never goes to waste. And the money you spend isn’t spent blindly, either – you know that you are contributing to a sustainable cycle of consumer goods, so you can feel that much better about buying their green gear. As if we needed another reason!
Recycle and Be Rewarded
Another brand that promotes sustainability in the selling of their products is the skin care company Kiehl’s. Most of their full-sized products average around $20-$30, but the company has been promoting a Recycle and Be Rewarded! program since 2009 that encourages you to gather up your empty bottles and receive free Kiehl’s products for their return. You get a card that gets stamped as you collect empty bottles; with the collection of 3 full-sized empties, you get a free lip balm; with 5 empties, you get a free Travel Size product, and with 10 empties you get a free full-sized product, which is up to a $25 value! The Recycle and Be Rewarded! Program is designed to help encourage us to recycle, and to reward those who do; since 2009, Kiehl’s customers have returned over 500,000 bottles to be recycled, which is a great number to see! Kiehl’s also has a community-based philanthropic initiative called Kiehl’s Gives which raises money to support the company’s “three pillar causes,” which are HIV/AIDS research, children’s well-being, and of course, environmental issues! Kiehl’s Gives has already raised over $3,000,000 to donate to organizations that support their three causes and have the backing of major, high-profile celebrities like Alicia Keys and Zach Galifianakis. It’s stuff like this that we like to hear when we go out on a limb to spend our precious cash!
Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics
When it comes to electronics and consumers, some brands may be better than others because of their dedication to greening their products and manufacturing initiatives, while others are less concerned. According to the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics, HP is the highest ranked company – above Apple and Sony – with its strongest suits in sustainable operations and energy criteria. HP got a 3/3 for policy and practice for sustainable sourcing of fibres for paper, and a 3/3 for its information, disclosure, and analysis of the company’s greenhouse gas emissions. Greenpeace‘s criteria is taken from their assessment of whether an electronic company meets demands to reduce GHG emissions, eliminate hazardous waste in products, recycle products responsibly, and – much to our joy – stop the use of unsustainable materials in products AND packaging! With HP at the top of this rating, the consumer can know that his or her money is going towards a company that is striving to meet Greenpeace’s standards, which means the best for us and our planet.
So the next time you spy a heavy price tag, take a minute to look into where that money is going. You may be surprised to see that sometimes consumerism can help make the planet safer and greener!
(aka Megan McWilliams Bouchard) is the founder of The Green Divas and GDGD Radio Network (the first green and healthy living radio network on earth for the earth). She's the producer and host of the popular Green Divas Radio Show, one of the first radio shows dedicated to sharing low-stress ways to live a deeper shade of green. Green Diva Meg is a well-known green living expert and media personality.