With the environmental movement on the rise, services that can help consumers easily transition into more eco-friendly behaviors can be beneficial.
Online nonprofit Environmental Consumer, through enviroconsumer.org, aims to help consumers who want not just to be more environmentally responsible, but to take action.
“Often the situation is that people want to do the right thing and they need tools to help them do it,” said Lisa Frankel, board member for the Nevada City-based organization.
“As individuals, we have the best intentions about making good decisions about our purchasing practices, but don’t always know the best way to go about it. The organization is providing the kind of tools to help people have more of an impact than they might have if they are just left to their own devices.”
The program aims at people taking a more personal approach to making environmentally friendly choices, and is less passive resource-based, said founder Nick Santos.
“We try to make ourselves available,” Santos said. “On our site, people can send us questions or email, and we do our best to give them a definitive response as best as we can with the most environmentally appropriate
and beneficial way to do something.”
The idea for Environmental Consumer came after Santos continued to see people claim to want to be more environmentally friendly, but who were at a loss as to what could be done.
“When I was in school, it seemed like I kept coming across people who knew or heard all kinds of things they should do, and they ended up feeling guilty about it,” Santos said. “They wanted to do things, but didn’t know how.”
Making information about how to recycle more easily accessible is one of the focuses of Environmental Consumer.
“One of the things we developed earlier on was a simple recycling database,” Santos said. “A lot of people want to recycle, but have no idea what they can recycle, or how it changes when you’re in Nevada County or Sacramento. You can look up where you are, and if you can recycle what you’re looking for.”
There are still choices that can be made before purchasing items to be recycled, Frankel said.
“Recycling is something after you bought a thing, what to do with whatever’s left and in some ways, responsible purchasing is the thing that comes before the recycling process, making good decisions about packaging and the types of products that you choose to buy,” Frankel said.
“Really, it’s sort of another piece in our arsenal of being more responsible consumers.”
Frankel said not purchasing overly packaged items is one way to take action.
“For instance, if I go to a store that has produce that is pre-packaged, that packaging seems completely unnecessary for me,” Frankel said. “There is no need to have bananas wrapped up in packaging.”
“They are durable goods you can pick up and stick in your basket. So I don’t want to go there, and I want that store to know I’m not buying this stuff from you guys because you do this and there’s no reason for you to be doing this, and as long as you continue, I won’t be a patron.”
In order to make a store aware of such a decision, Enviroconsumer.org includes an application that sends companies a letter explaining why their product is not supported or purchased, including reasons such as that the product has too much packaging or packaging that cannot be recycled, that the product contains harmful chemicals, etc.
“You can generate a letter and we send it off,” Santos said. “It’s got a number of reasons, you can enter your own reason and customize the letter at the end. We use it to send letters to companies. Some companies have been responsive and sent letters back.”
The organization is in the process of developing an e-course called Green Living Blueprint, which will be an email providing actions people can take. The course will probably be available in late March, Santos said.
“You get an email in your inbox and it takes about five minutes to go through, and you can learn about something new,” Santos said. “Next time you encounter a specific situation like doing laundry or going to work, it asks you to do something different and that changes depending on who you are and what you’re willing to do.”
The course offers different levels of involvement, said development intern Kate Lin.
“If you’re just getting started, there’s an easy step, then a medium and a harder step,” Lin said.
Santos said the point of Environmental Consumer is to make it easier for people to change their behavior.
“In the long run, the program is designed to support people as they transition from one habit or shopping behavior to another,” Santos said. “Whether that’s going to a grocery store or using different products.”
Frankel said the organization fits well into the local and sustainable shopping movement, particularly in Nevada County.
“Thinking about our community and how much interest there is in recycling and local purchasing, I think there are a lot of people who are really concerned about being responsible consumers,” Frankel said.
“This is one of those things that can help anyone.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.