Carbon-friendly sourcing does take some time and effort and a little bit extra money to get the least carbon-producing materials. In saying carbon-producing, I am including production and transportation of the final material. (For more information on carbon emissions, check out: http://www.thecarbonaccount.com/carbonexplained/.) Growing what you can at home and buying in bulk from companies that strive to reduce their carbon footprints are the best-case scenarios. With a little effort, you can create useful and beautiful products from raw materials you grow, or purchase locally or in bulk what you cannot produce yourself. Be practical in what you can and can’t do, as it is often a little more expensive to go the greener route. It does not have to be an all-or-nothing effort, though, so consider factoring into your budget at least one greener source for your household needs at a time. Here are a few ideas to start, with the general theme of staying local:
Try out a dairy in your area from which you can order milk to be delivered in reusable glass bottles. Who doesn’t love getting milk delivered to their front door in a glass bottle? In the DC Metro area, I recommend South Mountain Creamery (southmountaincreamery.com) for fresh milk, eggs, butter, and other locally sourced foodstuffs. Farms like these are usually more conscious and careful of their animals’ impact on the environment, as well. If you aren’t able to sign up for deliveries with a dairy, purchase your milk in reusable glass bottles from a grocery. Whole Foods participates in this practice and gives you $2 back per bottle you return to their Customer Service.
In the fall, rake your own leaves, or if you are unable, consider hiring your neighbor’s teenager to help out with raking. If that is not a possibility, look for a company who, at the very least, uses electric blowers instead of gas-powered.
If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, don’t purchase wood from a store, which is often treated wood from another state. Instead, check Craigslist for local listings under “farm + garden” or “free” of either people who have had to cut down a hardwood tree or local harvesters who sell by the cord (frequently they will sell firewood by as little as ¼ of a cord, if you are only a recreational pyro and don’t rely on fire for heat).
When you’re in the market for furniture, look up estate sales in your area and antique or consignment stores instead of only looking at Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn. You can frequently find treasures with a little patina that are a fraction of the price that you’d pay for something new. I do, however, know the thrill of getting something shiny and new that you can give your own story to, but do try to limit those pieces in your household. If you just have to have a gorgeous new green velvet couch, check out Room & Board (http://www.roomandboard.com/). They pride themselves on the fact that 90% of their furniture is American-made, reducing their carbon footprint. Even Ikea has greatly increased their value in recent years by upping their environmental standards and focus on sustainability practices.
Buy locally grown produce, which usually means seasonal produce. During the summer, get as local as you can and grow your own tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, herbs, etc. at home (in pots if you don’t have the ground space). Grapes, blueberries, mangos, and other such fruits and veggies that you get in the middle of winter are usually from South America, which takes a lot more carbon-production to get them to you in January than if you can wait until a local farmer can grow them for you to buy at a farmers’ market. In Falls Church, VA, The Local Market (http://thelocalmarketva.com/) on Hwy 7 offers local produce when it’s in season, touting the fact that almost everything they sell is either harvested or made within 100 miles of the store. But it’s not the end of the world if you’ve got a craving for some fresh raspberries in the dead of winter. Just keep in mind that sticking to regionally seasonal produce is a greener way to go.
A less obvious greener source is to look for companies with strong buying power. This enables them to cut out the middleman, further reducing expenses and going more directly to the source for goods. For crafting projects, Save On Crafts (save-on-crafts.com) is an excellent source. Do a little digging and find other companies with similar business models. If they are “green” companies, they’ll usually toot their own horn about it so that you’ll know. Also consider buying in bulk from places like Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s. This reduces the packaging for the amount of goods you buy, and also means you’ll have to make fewer trips to the store (ie: use less gas, save more time!).
While it has gotten easier and easier in the modern day to purchase cheap things that are sourced from around the world, it is important to remember that just because they are cheap, does not mean they are good for our earth. Do what you can and buy carefully sourced items when and where you can.
P.S. You can check your carbon footprint at http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/