In recent years, businesses have caught on to the fact that “green” sells. In fact, it has been found that products that are sustainable sell better than those that are not. It’s no surprise that the number of eco-friendly products on the market has increased dramatically. However, some companies are guilty of “greenwashing,” a marketing tactic used to make a company appear environmentally friendly when in reality their practices are far from it. With all these new, green products in the marketplace, it can be difficult to know which ones are truly good for the environment. Here are a few tips on how to become an eco-friendly consumer yourself:
- Check the Contents
The easiest way to tell if a product is eco-friendly is to check its contents. Here is a list of eco-friendly materials to search for:
- Recycled or Upcycled: Many companies are turning trash into treasure by using recycled materials or upcycling old materials to make their merchandise. From shoes to backpacks, toys to yoga mats, many of the products we use every day are made from recycled materials. Even fine art is created through upcycling, like the one-of-a-kind sculptures found in the Snares to Wares: Capacity for Change exhibition at the Detroit Zoo. The Snares to Wares initiative upcycles illegal, inhumane snare traps from national parks in Uganda and turns them into sculptures of the animals that could have been trapped in the snares. The sculptures are then sold, providing much-needed income for the Ugandan artists. This is a great example of how repurposing materials can benefit not only the environment but also the lives of animals and humans.
- Organic: The non-organic agriculture industry uses pesticides and fertilizers that have negative impacts on the health of the environment, wildlife and humans. Organic products are those produced without these harmful substances. Though we typically associate the term “organic” with fruits and vegetables, it can apply to plant-based materials found in fabric and beauty products.
- Natural Over Synthetic: While some items can’t be organic, choosing ones made from natural materials instead of synthetic that take thousands of years to decompose is the better choice. Clothing and other textiles can be made using materials such as hemp, soy silk/cashmere, cotton and linen. Bamboo is another great material because the plant doesn’t need fertilizer or pesticides, is biodegradable and requires little water. Eating utensils, toothbrushes, “paper” towels, flooring, furniture and even bed sheets can be made from bamboo.
- Locally Sourced: The amount of travel it takes for most of our products to reach the shelves results in a tremendous amount of harmful emissions along the way. By choosing to purchase items that are locally sourced or made from locally sourced materials, you can significantly reduce the environmental cost of shipping.
- Read the Labels
There are many products that claim to be made from all-natural ingredients and advertise themselves as eco-friendly, but one of the only ways to really tell is to read the product’s label for yourself. Go through the ingredients and make sure that if they’re claiming to be natural that only natural components are listed or at least are the very first ingredients. Also, look for labels that certify that the product is eco-friendly such as the USDA Organic Certified label or the EPA Safer Choice label that signifies the product’s ingredients and manufacturing process have met stringent government standards for our health and the environment.
- Find the Right Company
Making sure the company you are purchasing from follows environmentally safe practices is just as important as their products being made from eco-friendly materials. Just like individual products can be green-certified, so can entire corporations. One of the most prominent certifications is the B Corps certification; Certified B Corporations are businesses that “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.” A searchable list of Certified B Corps is found on their website, making it simple to find eco-friendly shopping opportunities. Another helpful resource is the World Fair Trade Organization; WFTO members are verified fair trade enterprises. Their products adhere to the 10 Principles of Fair Trade, Principle 10 being “Respect for the Environment” which stresses the importance of a circular economy (upcycling) and organic agriculture. The WFTO website also features a search engine to help you find fair trade products and businesses.
The right, eco-friendly business may be closer than you think –in 2019, the Trading Post, a retail concession featuring all sustainable merchandise, opened at the Detroit Zoo. The store, itself made from a re-purposed shipping container, features eco-friendly and fair trade products from all around the world. Stop by the Trading Post on your next visit to the Detroit Zoo to purchase eco-friendly souvenirs!
The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is seeking inventive ideas from local students who wish to join us on our Green Journey toward a more sustainable future. K-12 classes, green teams and schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties may enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition now through March 1 and be eligible for cash prizes and a field trip to the Detroit Zoo.
Students are encouraged to research green practices – from incorporating renewable solar energy to eliminating plastic water bottles – and then create and implement ideas that lead to a better tomorrow. The winners of the 2018 competition were members of the West Bloomfield High School EARTH Club, who came together as a team to determine how much energy the science department was using and develop strategies to reduce this rate. Ultimately, they switched to LED lights and installed solar panels to completely power the department. Their project – from inception to execution – exemplified environmental stewardship.
To enter the DZS’s 2019 Green Prize competition, students are asked to complete the following:
- Identify an environmental or sustainability issue
- Propose a solution that will address the issue
- List the material and labor needed to implement the solution
- Describe the positive impact this solution would have on the environment
- Submit a video, artistic rendering of the project or any other method that portrays your green journey
Prizes will be awarded for first, second and third place. First-place winners will receive $1,000 and a class field trip to the Detroit Zoo, which includes an in-depth look at the DZS’s Greenprint initiatives that are already in action. Second-place winners will receive $600; third-place winners will receive $400. All entries will receive a certificate of participation for their efforts in making the world a greener place.
The top three entries will be selected and notified on March 15. The winners will be showcased during GreenFest, the DZS’s celebration of Earth Day on April 27 at the Detroit Zoo. Visitors will have the chance to see how these students are paving the way to a more sustainable environment.
All 2019 Green Prize entries should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Detroit Zoological Society is a leader in environmentally sustainability, with all operations guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative. As part of our Green Journey, we are working to create a healthier environment for all animals, visitors and the planet. We’re doing this through initiatives such as our waste-to-energy anaerobic digester, keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water, using permeable pavement in our new pathways and parking lot, and installing a solar panel system called the smartflower. Learn what you can do to lessen your footprint by downloading our Shades of Green Guide.
Back-to-school season is in full swing as an estimated 58 million students are preparing to hit the books this fall. Parents and kids all across the nation are shopping for clothes, shoes and supplies, looking for the best bang for their buck. However, one aspect shoppers may want to consider is how their shopping affects the environment. Buying environmentally friendly school supplies and packing eco-friendly lunches can go a long way toward conserving and protecting our planet’s resources.
Here are some tips to help guide you toward a more “green” back to school experience:
- Buy 100 percent recycled paper and notebooks – be sure kids use both sides of the sheets whenever possible
- Write with recycled pencils
- Recycle while at school – Consider which trash can be saved from a landfill
- Use refillable pens – each pen can last up to a decade
Small efforts can have big impacts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That means just one average-sized middle school creates more than 40,000 pounds of waste each year. Packing a waste-free lunch also saves an average student $250.
Here are some ways you can pack a more sustainable lunch this fall:
- Adopt reusable bag practices – send lunch in a reusable bag instead of a paper or plastic one.
- Purchase a refillable water bottle – it takes three times the amount of water that’s in a plastic water bottle to create the bottle in the first place.
- Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers – consider perhaps a waxed fabric sandwich bag.
- Compost peels and pits – some students have compost programs at their schools, but for those that don’t, encourage them to bring their apple cores and cherry pits home.
There are many other ways students – with the help of their teachers – can help reach environmental goals. If 133,000 schools switched to recycled paper, they could save about 6 million trees per year, according to The Green School Initiative. America’s schools spend more than $7.5 billion annually on energy – more than they spend on textbooks and computers, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If school districts worked to conserve 25 percent of that energy, they could save $1.5 billion per year.
Students can also make change themselves by contributing toward green goals through programs such as Michigan Green Schools, which inspires schools to adopt more sustainable practices such as recycling, installing rain gardens and planting edible or native Michigan gardens. Applying to become a Michigan Green School can be pivotal in teaching the next generation essential green practices.
Our future depends on protecting the health and well-being of our children. Educating this generation with the skills to solve the global environmental problems we face is just as important as educating them about math and history. It’s a substantial task to put on such young people, but each small step is one taken toward a more sustainable future.
Beth Wallace is the Manager of Sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.
We work hard to celebrate the Earth year-round through the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint initiative, and with Earth Day approaching, we are hoping you’ll join us on our green journey! Below is a list of actions we plan to take at the Zoo that we invite you to consider in your own lives:
Plant a tree at your home, or at a nearby park. This fun activity provides your family with a memorial and a tradition to follow for decades while giving back to the environment. Did you know that a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants a year, and produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen? That’s enough to support two people!
Spring clean with eco-friendly cleaning options both inside and out. Switch your surface cleaners to non-toxic and environmentally sensitive products that are better for the Earth and your family. For yard clean up, consider creating a compost pile or mulching leaves. And if you plan to minimize the clutter in your home, donate your products to a local organization and always try to recycle what you aren’t able to donate.
Join us for GreenFest on April 18 and 19, which is free with Zoo admission. Those who bring in an old cell phone for recycling receive a discount on admission – tickets are only $8 per person for each cell phone donated. The Zoo-wide celebration includes earth-friendly crafts, an endangered species scavenger hunt, zookeeper talks and exhibits by local conservation groups.
Follow the Detroit Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and share with us what you and your family do to celebrate Earth Day!
– Beth Wallace
Beth Wallace is the Manager of Sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.
The Detroit Zoo’s Arctic Café has earned a three star-rating from the Green Restaurant Association!
To achieve this recognition, our partners at Service Systems Associates revitalized an older building into a green paradise by incorporating more eco-friendly practices, from increasing our organic food options and managing water usage with low-flow features to using cutlery made from potato starch and soybean oil and upgrading to energy-efficient heating and cooling.
The Arctic Café is one of only a handful of zoo restaurants in the country to obtain this green certification, and we’re already well on our way to achieving the fourth and final star.
Changes we made in the Artic Café that you can make at home:
- Energy Efficiency: Change out incandescent lighting to CFL or LED to decrease your energy usage and save money on your monthly bills.
- Water Efficiency: Cut your water use in half by adding low-flow screens to your current water fixtures or, as you replace old systems, upgrade to all low-flow water fixtures.
- Reduction in Waste: Contact your local curbside collection company, or your landlord, to see what kind of recycling and compost services they offer. Sometimes companies will add additional options once they hear customers have interest.
- Sustainable Food: Consider locally grown and organic foods first. This helps the local economy and minimizes your carbon footprint.
Are there things you’ve already done in your home to lessen your environmental footprint? Tell us your experience; was it what you expected, surprisingly easy or a big money saver?
Learn more about our green journey.
– Beth Wallace