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Ian Lifshitz

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A "Green Label" Doesn't Mean a Sustainable Product

Posted: 10/30/2012 5:35 pm

One of the hottest topics today for business and consumers is environmental sustainability...but what does that really mean? Consumers want to know the companies they give their business to are acting responsibly and are not making products that come from questionable or non‐environmentally friendly sources.

In recent years, there's been a growing demand for sustainable and recyclable packaging, for example. Large industry players and brands are leading the charge by demanding recycled content and responsible packaging guidelines for their products.

For a time, green arrows and leaf logos were the signal to customers that they were getting a sustainable product. But it wasn't long before customers got more sophisticated and began to recognize that "green" logos alone do not guarantee an environmentally sound, responsible and sustainable global sourcing model.

Today, more customers demand products that are not coming to them at the cost of finite natural resources or to the detriment of the environment.

Part of the challenge for a business looking to demonstrate their commitment to an environmentally friendly and sustainable production process is helping customers understand that "sustainable" means different things to different people and products.

For example, paper, unlike many other natural resources, is renewable. While often labelled "environmentally-unfriendly," when sourced from sustainably managed forests, paper is a rapidly renewable resource. The plantation trees from these managed forests mature within six to eight years in countries such as Indonesia and China. They are harvested and the fields are replanted to create a renewable resource.

In contrast, much of the fibre from North American trees is harvested from natural, boreal forest areas that mature every 60 to 80 years in northern climates and are not easily replenished. When we look at this one product, we can see two very different pictures of sustainability.

But the true picture of sustainability needs to look beyond the individual product, to the long-term impact of that product on the globe. Sustainability isn't just about the tangible goods, but the intangible social impact as well.

The manufacturing of a product has the potential to contribute to a country's GDP, taking a developing nation and giving it a base of self-reliance. The true measure of sustainability reaches even further still. Past the impact in production and the impact in standards of living comes that of the life span of a product.

If a product is manufactured through a "sustainable" process, and perhaps even provides jobs and improved quality of life to a developing nation, consumers should still be asking what does the life span of that product look like? What is the true sustainability measure of a product that is produced through "green" means but ends up in a landfill after the next innovation supersedes its use?

The true measure of sustainability isn't in the product. It's in the life cycle of the product and all that it touches -- before, during and after its manufacture and use. Only when we get past the perceptions of logos as a measure of sustainability and start considering the full spectrum will we truly begin to make a positive impact on our environment.

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  • Number 10: Potatoes

    At 2.9 kg of greenhouse gases produced for ever kg eaten, potatoes are the most environmentally unfriendly vegetable out there. The bulk of its gases aren't in the production, though -- it's what happens to potatoes after they leave the farm (cooking, processing, travelling and waste disposal) that rack up emissions. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 9: Eggs

    For every kilogram of eggs consumed, 4.8 kg of greenhouse gases are produced. If that doesn't seem too bad, try factoring in the notion that Canada alone produces about 6 billion eggs a year. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 8: Canned Tuna

    With 6.1 kg of greenhouse gases produced for every kg of canned tuna, this item makes the list because two-thirds of its carbon footprint comes from product emissions. This means that the bulk of the gases created by canned tuna come from raising the fish and not the actual canning process. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 7: Chicken

    From McNuggets to a cordon bleu, chicken in all of its parts make up roughly one-third of the world's meat intake. Coupled with 6.9 kg of greenhouse gases for every kg of chicken consumed, and this bird's impact on the environment starts adding up. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 6: Turkey

    Sure it's great for holiday meals, but it might be harder to give thanks this Thanksgiving after learning that one kilogram of turkey contributes to 10.9 kg of greenhouse gases. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 5: Farmed Salmon

    Fans of seafood are in a tough position. Eating wild salmon is frowned upon due to overfishing, but farmed salmon, which is designed to help wild salmon repopulate, comes with a carbon footprint of 11.9kg /kg of salmon. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/havbrukssenter/" target="_hplink">(Photo courtesy of Norsk Havbrukssenter)</a> -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 4: Pork

    It's the <a href="http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/themes/en/meat/backgr_sources.html" target="_hplink">most popular type of meat consumed by the world</a>, according to the United Nations. But with 36 per cent of the world's population pigging out on pork, its impact on the environment is tough to dismiss -- especially when you factor in pork's carbon footprint of 12.1 kg of gas/ kilogram. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 3: Cheese

    It may surprise you that the third highest producer of greenhouse gases isn't an animal or vegetable, it's cheese. But remember, cheese is something made, not grown or raised and because of that, cheese's carbon footprint works out to 13.5 kg/ kg consumed. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 2: Beef

    With 27 kg of carbon dioxide and methane produced for every kilogram eaten, beef would be the runner up if there ever was a largest carbon footprint pageant. Its poor environmental friendliness is due mostly to the large amount of energy it takes to feed, milk and butcher cattle. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

  • Number 1: Lamb

    Lambs are cute. The 39.2 kg of greenhouse gases it takes to eat one kilogram? Not as cute. On the bright side, since lamb isn't consumed in as high volumes as pork, beef or poultry, the overall contribution to global warming is lessened. -<a href="http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/a-meat-eaters-guide-to-climate-change-health-what-you-eat-matters/climate-and-environmental-impacts/" target="_hplink">statistics via Environmental Working Group</a>

 
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