Green Home of Buying Green
“Buying Green” means purchasing products or services which reduce environmental impact. Executive Order 13423 – Strengthening Federal Environmental, energy, and Transportation management was signed by President Bush in 2007. The executive order sets goals in the areas of acquisition, toxic's reductions, recycling, fleet management and water conservation.
What is Green Power?
The term "green power" generally refers to electricity supplied in whole or in part from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, geothermal, hydropower, and various forms of biomass. Increasingly, electricity customers are being given electricity supply options, either as retail power markets open to competition or when their regulated utilities develop green pricing programs. More than 50% of retail customers in the U.S. now have an option of purchasing a green power product directly from their electricity company.
In addition, consumers can support BuyingGreen and source of renewable energy development thru the support of and purchase of green energy certificates.
Why Buy Green Power?
By choosing to purchase a green power product, you can support increased development of renewable sources of energy which can reduce the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Greater reliance on renewable sources also provides economic benefits and can impact our national energy security.
How Do I Buy Green Power?
If retail electricity competition is allowed in your state, you may be able to purchase a green power product from an alternative electricity supplier. Some states have already implemented electricity competition.
Even if your state is not implementing electricity market competition, you may still be able to purchase green power through your regulated utility. More than 600 regulated utilities spanning more than 30 states offer "green pricing" programs. The term green pricing refers to an optional utility service that allows customers to support a greater level of utility investment in renewable energy by paying a premium on their electric bill to cover any above-market costs of acquiring renewable energy resources.
Finally, whether or not you have access to green power through your utility or a competitive electricity marketer, you can purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs). RECs (also known as green tags, green energy certificates, or tradable renewable certificates) represent the environmental attributes of power generated from renewable electric energy plants. A variety of organizations offer RECs separate from electricity service, that is, you need not switch from your current electricity supplier in order to purchase these certificates.
Green Power Evaluation and Certification
How can you be sure that your green power purchase will benefit the environment?
Green-e is a voluntary certification and verification program for wholesale, retail, and commercial electricity products, tradable renewable certificates (TRCs) and utility green pricing programs in the U.S. Green-e certifies about 100 retail and wholesale green power marketers across the country.
The Environmental Resources Trust certifies renewable energy certificates (RECs) through its EcoPower certification program. Under EcoPower certification, RECs convey only the renewable energy attributes of renewable electricity and do not convey environmental benefits.
The Power Scorecard is a web-based information tool created by a coalition of environmental groups that lets consumers compare the environmental impacts of green power and conventional power products.
Selected Green Power Customers
Businesses and other non-residential customers such as municipalities and government agencies are increasingly recognizing that green power purchasing can help meet corporate or institutional goals related to environmental improvement and sustainability. The U.S. EPA Green Power Partnership has additional information on organizations purchasing green power.
A number of programs or initiatives have been developed in the U.S. to help address green power product credibility, such as certification programs and advertising and marketing guidelines. These programs help to verify buying green power marketer claims as well as to educate and inform customers about environmentally preferable competitive market choices.
Interesting Facts about recycling
- One recycled aluminum can saves the energy needed to power a TV or computer for 3-hours or a 100-watt light bulb for 20-hours.
- Six recycled aluminum cans saves enough energy to drive an average car 5-miles.
- Recycling just 1 glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for up to 4-hours.
- Recycling a one-gallon plastic milk jug will save enough energy to supply a 100-watt light bulb for 11-hrs.
- Recycling a foot high pile of newspapers saves enough electricity to heat a home for as long as 17-hrs.
- For every 5 mph you go over 60, you will use roughly an extra 7% more gasoline!
How to shop smart and green . . . How can we shop more sustainably?
We need to:
- understand the environmental impact of what we buy
- consider other options before purchasing
- make the best choice for the environment and ourselves
- understand the environmental impact of what we buy
Most of the time we don't consciously make the link between our everyday lives and the environment. The fact is that everything we eat, buy, wear and use has come from the natural environment, including manufactured goods, such as TV's, cars, appliances and the microwave oven.
Even though we may live very sophisticated lifestyles, seemingly far from "nature", we rely on the environment to provide clean air, water, food and shelter, or in other words, the fundamental life support systems we need to survive and prosper.
The environment can be affected at all stages in the life cycle of a product through the materials it's made from; the way it's manufactured, packaged and transported; how we use it in our homes; and the way it's recycled or disposed of.
While we may not always be able to find out all the impacts of certain products, it's important to be familiar with the link between our consumption and the environment. This allows us to make a difference through shopping smarter and buying greener.
Remember that it makes sense, financially and environmentally, to buy products designed to have low environmental impacts. Some companies now make these products and with increased consumer demand more companies will follow.
Life cycle of a product . . . Every product goes through a series of stages, known as its life cycle. These stages typically include material extraction and processing, manufacturing, packaging and distribution, product use, and disposal of the product.
Why is the life cycle concept relevant to the environment? Essentially, all environmental impacts of a given product can be traced back to the resources that go into the product (energy, raw materials, water and land) and the waste generated (emissions to air, water and land) at each stage in the life cycle.
Why is the life cycle concept relevant to consumers? Understanding where a product's environmental impacts are most likely to occur allows us to see where we can make a difference.
As consumers, the stages where we are most able to directly reduce environmental impacts are use (by purchasing resource-efficient products) and end-of-life (by carefully considering how to dispose of the product). However, we can also encourage companies to improve the environmental performance of the other stages of a product's life cycle.
How was the product produced? The manufacturing process itself can cause environmental impacts. However, simple changes to processes can often reduce these impacts significantly. We can ask whether the manufacturer has tried to improve the production process to use less energy, materials and water, or create less waste. We can ask whether the producer has tried to minimize the variety of materials, reduced the number of components, or simplified assemblies. These measures, as well as reducing the product's weight will all have an environmental benefit. Improving environmental performance also usually means lower costs for the producer, so it's a win-win situation.
Even if direct information about manufacturing processes is not available, there are programs that companies can join to assist them in reducing their overall impacts. Some companies include ISO certification on product labels this means they have set goals to improve their environmental performance and have a system in place to meet these goals. Other companies may have public environment reports available with details of their programs for environmental improvement. These reports often contain data about a company's environmental performance, targets and useful contextual information.
How is the product packaged? Packaging, particularly for smaller products, is a major cause of household waste. Increasingly manufacturers and retailers are getting the message that we want only essential packaging. By choosing the product with the least packaging we can reinforce that message.
We can also ask manufacturers or retailers about returning some packaging for example, retailers will often take back large cartons and bubble wrap which they can reuse. We need to ask about this before having the product delivered.
Cutting back on packaging the product . . . There are a number of initiatives which are working to cut back on packaging. The National Packaging Covenant is a partnership between industry and government. It aims to minimize the environmental impacts of packaging waste throughout the entire life cycle by encouraging packaging reduction and developing systems to collect waste for reuse and recycling.
Manufacturers are involved in the Covenant through voluntary agreements that encourage:
- reducing the amount of packaging
- packaging take-back schemes
- greater recylability of packaging
Which plastic packaging can be recycled? Many plastic containers have a circular recycling symbol and a number. However, just because a plastic has a recycling symbol doesn't always mean there are recycling programs for it.
The numbers 1-7 are a code to identify the plastic polymer type. Plastics numbered 1, 2 and sometimes 3 are usually recycled by local councils. Plastics numbered 4-7 are often not recycled. Check with your local recycling company to see which are recyclable.
Where was the product produced? Transporting a product has an environmental impact too. The further a product is transported, the more fuel used. This contributes to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Products made locally will usually have the lowest transport impact, while imported products will generally have the highest impact. Where possible we should choose locally made products.
How efficiently does it work? It's now possible to check how efficiently a wide variety of products use electricity, gas, water, petrol and diesel. Remember a more efficient product will cost less to run and have lower environmental impacts at this stage of its life cycle.
Different environmental rating systems are used for white goods, appliances that use gas and water, and cars. These labels allow us to easily compare environmental performance and to choose the most efficient product. If there isn't a rating system on a product, ask the retailer or manufacturer for more information on the product's efficiency.
How much energy can we save? By choosing products wisely, you can save money on running costs and reduce the environmental impacts.
- installing an AAA-rated energy-smart shower head will save an average household up to $100 annually on water and energy bills, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to one ton per year
- installing just one energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulb will save around $50 on energy bills and half a ton of greenhouse gas over the bulb's lifetime
- if you buy only efficient white goods with top star ratings, you can save up to $1400 and 14 ton of greenhouse gas over a product's life of 10 years
- a large refrigerator (540 gallons) can release up to 11 tons of greenhouse gas over its lifetime and cost $1100 to run but if the fridge has one of the top star ratings available, it will save you up to $450 and 4.5 tons of greenhouse gas over its lifetime
How much water does a household use per day? Many people think it's only a few gallons, but the average household uses between 100 gallons per day. Saving water not only saves money, but if we all use less water, public funds need not be diverted to new essential infrastructure such as dams and sewerage treatment systems.
There are many ways that water can be saved in the home, for example, low flush toilets have a low average flush volume, about one quarter of the average single flush. They can reduce the water usage of a family of four by as much as 10,000 gallons a year. You may also consider getting a new paperless toilet which will help the environment by requiring the use of less paper!
Rating systems - Energy rating labels
It's now compulsory for manufacturers to put energy rating labels on dishwashers, air conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines and clothes dryers. The label has a number showing the kilowatt hours the appliance uses per year and a star rating. The more stars (up to six), the more energy-efficient the appliance.
Be aware that the star rating only compares appliances of similar sizes. A large appliance with a high number of stars will be energy-efficient for its size. However, it may still use more energy than a smaller appliance. So decide first on the size of appliance you need and then compare star ratings and the kilowatt hours of energy used each year.
There is a gas energy rating label that shows gas efficiency for room heaters, ducted heating systems and water heaters. This label also displays a star rating (up to six) and a figure showing the average gas consumption.
Water conservation labels . . . There is also a voluntary rating scheme to show the water efficiency of products such as shower-heads, toilets, dish-washers and washing machines. Products that have been tested to the relevant standards can display a Water Conservation Rating labels with up to 3-stars. The more stars, the more efficiently the product uses water.
Fuel consumption labels . . . The new fuel consumption label is required to be displayed on the windscreen of all new vehicles including passenger vehicles, four wheel drives and light commercials. This label includes a number which represents the average number of MPG, which allows for the comparison between makes and models.
Can it be repaired? Choose long-lasting and easy-to-repair products. Find out if the product can be easily and cheaply maintained and repaired and how long it is likely to last. Does it come with a guarantee? The length of the guarantee is often an indication of the durability of the product, how easy it is to repair, and the company's commitment to environmental improvement.
How will it be disposed of? Before buying a product, we need to think about how it will eventually be disposed of. This is where we come back to the familiar three R's reduce, reuse, recycle.
Products thrown away add to the amount of waste going to the tip. Some products can take many years to break down and can cause toxic substances to escape. Throwing them out can also be a huge waste of valuable materials and resources.
Is the product really at the end of its life? Could someone else use it? Could it be sold or given to a charity?
Can the product be remanufactured? Some companies take products back and recondition them so they can be used again. This information should be available at the point of sale.
If it can't be reused, can it be recycled? Some products can be taken apart and components recycled for other uses. Look for products that are recyclable they tend to have fewer materials and may be stamped or embossed with recycling information, such as the numbered recycling symbols found on different plastics.
Reduce Reuse Recycle
Steps in cutting out waste are:
- Reduce if we generate less waste in the first place, there are fewer problems to deal with later.
- Reuse a product several times finding new ways to use it can significantly reduce waste.
- Recycle as much as possible an important way of limiting the amount of waste going to rubbish tips.
Seeking information how to contact industry - Don't be afraid to ask companies for information about their products or to tell them what you'd like to see changed or improved, about their products. After all, they need to make products we want, or they won't stay in business.
The things we buy and the comments we make to companies play a major role in their decisions about what products to make and sell.
If we can't find products with low environmental impacts, we can start requesting them from manufacturers. Directly contacting companies can be a powerful way of moving towards a better quality of life for us and reducing our impacts on the environment.
We can phone, email or write to companies with questions, praise or complaints. Marketing and corporate communications executives are now realizing the value of going green by buying green. Some companies consider one phone call or email representing the views of hundreds of clients and corporate customers, with a postal mail letter represents the views of significantly more corporate customers!
Environmental claims in advertising
Environmental information on labels can be useful to us as consumers, as long as claims are specific, accurate, substantiated, relevant to the product, easy to interpret and true for the whole product, taking all relevant aspects of its life cycle into account. It's not always easy for us to judge environmental claims, however we can question the company when claims are not clear. We can ask for more information when vague claims such as the following are presented on labels:
- Environmentally safe
- Earth friendly
- Ozone friendly
- "… free" when it's unlikely that material would be used in the product anyway
Moving towards a more sustainable future
Many companies are actively working to improve their products and their overall environmental performance. They realize that this makes economic as well as environmental sense. Others are seeing these changes and thinking about what they can do.
As consumers, we have a dual role in the move to sustainability:
- by reducing our consumption through awareness and behavioral change
- by seeking products with high environmental standards, we can encourage companies to improve products now and in the future
- Using the checklist and shopping smart and green, we can all do our bit towards achieving sustainability
Purchasing checklist . . . This checklist has been designed to allow us to quickly evaluate and compare the environmental performance between two or more similar products over their entire life cycle materials, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, use and disposal. It can be used to assess a wide variety of products, from simple items like toothbrushes to more complex products like washing machines and refrigerators.
How to use the checklist . . . The checklist is designed to help you include environmental criteria into your purchasing decisions by answering a series of simple questions for each life cycle stage. Depending on the complexity of the product, the availability of information, and the detail you wish to go into, the checklist should take you between five and 10 minutes to complete.
There are three steps to completing the checklist.
Step One - Work out the product's environmental rating for each life cycle stage
For example, starting with "what is it made from", answer as many questions on the list as you can. If you tick "yes" for all questions, you might give the product a rating of "+", or even "++" if you think the product is outstanding. Conversely, products ticked mainly as "no" will probably score as "-" or worse. You can also tailor the checklist to reflect your individual environmental concerns by weighting the score for the questions you feel are most important. It may not be possible to answer all the questions, indeed some of them may not be relevant to the product you are assessing, but do the best you can.
Step Two - Summa rise the environmental ratings
Once you have worked out your environmental rating for each life cycle stage, transfer these scores to the summary table. Then draw these ratings together to give each product an overall environmental rating for its whole life cycle.
Step Three - Complete the comparative table
The final step of the checklist allows you to work out the financial savings, or in some cases the costs, of your purchasing decisions. This stage is particularly applicable for products which use electricity, non-rechargeable batteries or gas. It is possible to utilize the table to compare products that use different sources of energy for example a gas hot water heater versus an electric one.
The up front cost of a green product does not include the ongoing operating costs. Sometimes what appears to be the least expensive product, may not be the most energy efficient and it may actually cost more over its life. The comparative cost table helps concerned consumers make informed purchasing decisions.