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Throwing the Light Bulb Out With the Bath Water

There are hidden costs to “going green.” While many companies are manufacturing products made from plant or corn-based polymers, others are quick to point out that the corn industry may use as much–if not more–petroleum. And There are other perceived hypocrisies.

There are hidden costs to “going green.” While many companies are manufacturing products made from plant or corn-based polymers, others are quick to point out that the corn industry may use as much–if not more–petroleum in the process of growing, watering, harvesting, and shipping the corn as they would if petroleum-based plastics were used in the first place. There are other perceived hypocrisies, such as electric cars which run off a coal burning grid or Compact Florescent Light bulbs (CFL) and solar panels which are manufactured without environmental regulations in China or other countries on the other side of the planet.

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In response, I am reminded of the Voltaire quote oftentimes used around environmentalism, “Don’t make better the enemy of the good.” Is it too easy right now to become gridlocked on decision makes because we are worried about what move is the best? Most companies are undergoing the process of determining the life cycle analysis (LCA) of the products they manufacture and the services they provide–so they can actually attach a unit of energy or water to a specific product or service. If a true LCA is conducted, they will look at the entire life of the product right back to where they sourced the raws materials for production. In this case, you would include all aspects of impact. In doing so, we can reveal the best solutions, such as corn over petroleum, CFL’s from china over incandescent light bulbs running on a coal burning grid–or my personal favorite–should I dry my hands with the hand dryer (using electricity) or the paper towel (using wood and creating waste which could go to landfill)?

My opinion is that we continue to shift to more environmentally-friendly business practices and push forward to gather all of the information on environmental footprint. Full disclosure from manufacturers will eventually reveal the best possible answer. In the meantime, my concern is that if we do not begin to change our behaviors and reduce our impact with what we can do, we will be “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Progress and innovation comes from moving forward. Sometimes those decisions are not the best ultimate answers, but they move us forward. Even our mistakes are part of the process. As long as we push companies to continue mapping their footprint–including the entire supply chain–we will ultimately move the needle forward much faster than if we sit still out of fear of making the wrong decision.

What do you think? Post your comments below:

  1. Should we incorporate green practices when we can, or wait until we 100% know the impact of those decisions?
  2. Are green products such as CFL’s and Corn Plastics just a way for companies to make more money or do they help reduce our environmental impact?
  3. Should we use green products mades on the other side of the planet (such as China) or does the impact of shipping them outweigh the benefits?
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