Several months ago I had a potential client discuss with me the need to locate a “Green” desk. No, not the color green, but one that she could feel good about being environmentally responsible. This you see was her first attempt to change her buying and thinking habits.
I begin every organizing job taking inventory to see what my clients already have, but I know that there are going to be times when I will need to purchase products. So, purchasing now comes with an array of ethical considerations when I am faced with options that address my client’s needs.
The following is my process:
I look what I call the triple bottom line.
As business owners I know you already understand the “bottom line” as dollars and cents, and we usually refer to money as the bottom line, when I look at sustainable business practices it is not the bottom line but the TRIPLE bottom line. There are three issues that I am interested in:
The Money element now is only 1/3 of what I am considering. So, looking at the desk question I look at all 3 elements, People, Profit and Planet.
When I think of planet first I think of “green or eco-friendly.” Can I get my client to buy what the earth has already paid for in the manufacturing process? If a product already exists then the object has already harvested the resources and consumed the energy to produce it. Some options are:
A. One can then look at used office furniture stores, antique stores,
B. Craig’s list or free cycle.
C. Can we recycle it from something? For instance, the desk can be reclaimed from a spare wooden door. Repurposing or finding new life from what you already have is another great way to keep it simple. Re-cycling is something that becomes itself again, like the aluminum can that gets processed and becomes a can again.
There are many examples to help you reach your desired level of eco-awareness. The following are to motivate and to inspire your thinking:
Reduce what is already in our lives – Conscious consuming citizens (people who contribute to society) vs. consumers- people who take away from society.
Buying happiness. (The promise) When we buy a product, seldom are we actually buying to meet the products intent. We buy the product to fulfill a promise of something wonderful. The new cookware is not just cookware; it’s the tool that will get the family around the dinner table building closer relationships. Becoming mindful of why and what you are purchasing is a great first step!
Understanding that when you purchase a product, any product, even the water bottle you are purchasing the cost of water to make the plastic, the ink on the label, the transportation costs and the advertisements that made you buy that brand.
Reuse or repurpose. Imagination can really kick in when we give new life to objects that have more than one life. This summer, before I trashed my wheelbarrow, I decided to use it to grow vegetables in it. What a great salad container!
Recycle. As an organizer, while working one-to-one, I have a unique opportunity to educate my clients on the benefits of a simpler and greener lifestyle.
Items that can be recycled:
Did you know that even though we have extensive recycling program in most major US cities 78% of all aluminum and plastics find there way back into the landfill? 50% of all paper and 95%of all glass is there too.
I always ask about chemicals. Does my client have chemical sensitivities? Wood is often treated with formaldehyde with is not a healthy chemical and sometimes the glues used to attach the veneers to wood are made with things that are also not healthy for people or the planet.
Is it from something that is bio-degradable? Plastic bins are not biodegradable. Look at the substance and see if it is reclaimable or recyclable. Consider that if at the end of the products use, can it be reclaimed?
Look at the wood. Was the wood harvesting managed or is it clear-cut? With issues with clear cutting we run into erosion problems. Trees are equally big under ground as they are above ground. I’ve noticed that when an area is cleared for development, all of a sudden there are more floods in the area because there is nothing holding the soil together. Trees are also the lungs of the earth and they clean the air for us. Are the trees being replaced?
Packaging. Everything we get comes with some sort of packaging. At least cardboard is recyclable, but no packaging is best. Plastic packaging is almost always trash, so I take a look not only at the object that I am purchasing, but also the packaging. Can the packaging be reusable?
Transportation. When something is moved from A to B it takes energy. It’s not just that you are bringing it home from the store; its how many miles did the object have to travel to get it to the store. Where is the distribution center, where was it manufactured? For instance, you can couple local businesses that are close together. For example, if you have printing needs, are the printer and the binder close by? When you flip something over and it says “Made in wherever” is that close to where you live?
People make things. When considering what does “green” look like in this category. I have several criteria.
- What is the condition of the workers?
- Are they exposed to chemicals?
- Is the object labeled as Fair trade? (Such items like food and handcrafted items have been paid fairly for the work done). In the US that constitutes the living wage VS the minimum wage.
As stated we all need to be profitable. I hear a lot of protest from my clients early on in the organizing process when I suggest we use Eco-paper.”It’s more expensive,” they say. I then always address the economic component to what we do.
Shop Local- economics of how business is conducted.
Small Business VS Big Chains For every $100.00 that is spent in a local business the local business will pump $45.00 back into the local community; the chain business will only put by $14.00. The rest of it is going back to chain store headquarters. That could make a huge economic impact. When chain stores move in even under the disguise of lower prices; they are not only taking profits away from the local stores, but it is also having local economic implications. Local businesses owners also care in a way that you will not find in larger chain establishments. Quality of service; small business owners know their clientele and they take care of them on multiple of levels.
When purchasing products for my clients prior to my “green” awareness, I always considered three components; the purchase price, maintenance and the storage price for the items.
Now I consider four, and that being the cost to the Earth.