Becoming an Eco-Friendly Consumer – How to Spend Your Green on What’s Truly Green

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:

  1. 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.

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  • 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.
  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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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!

Greenprint: Lessons from the Storm

Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

One year ago this month, the metro Detroit area went through some of the worst flooding in recent history when a sudden storm dumped more than 4.5 inches of rain on the region, overwhelming sewer systems and causing an estimated $1.1 billion worth of damage.

Heavy rains like this record-breaking event can have serious impacts on infrastructure – sewer overflows, pollution runoff and flooding. The Detroit Zoo experienced major flood damage during this storm, which forced us to close for a day as we evaluated systems and began cleanup efforts and repairs. It became apparent that we needed to find a better way to manage large rain events, so we started to incorporate a form of green infrastructure, called porous pavement, into major projects.

Pervious paving

Porous pavement is a material that encourages water to percolate through the surface into the ground for natural absorption. By incorporating this surface throughout the Zoo, we’re encouraging more natural absorption of water into the environment, which lessens our need for irrigation. It also prevents excess water from entering the Detroit sewer system. In addition, we have chosen a permeable surface that is light in color to reduce our urban heat island effect – a phenomenon whereby a warmer envelope of air exists over urbanized areas due to human activity – which will decrease ambient temperature to improve air quality and the health of nearby plants.Pervious pavement

Porous pavement can be in the form of brick pavers, gravel, porous concrete or even recycled rubber or glass. When you visit the new Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness, notice the colorful pathways of porous pavement. In addition, once the Polk Penguin Conservation Center opens in early 2016, the nearby parking lot will be made with porous material.

Join us on this green journey – next time you consider resurfacing your driveway or pathways, consider this application to help lessen your impact on the environment.

– Beth Wallace