Good Stuff?

A Behind-the-Scenes Guide to the Things We Buy

Posted: 1 April 2004

Author: Worldwatch Institute
(downloadable for free, see link below)

Paper or plastic bags? Bottled or tap water? Making environmentally responsible purchases can be a daunting goal. Fortunately, concerned consumers can now find answers to many of their questions in Good Stuff? A Behind-the-Scenes Guide to the Things We Buy, a free on-line publication by the Worldwatch Institute.

Cover of the Good Stuff guide
Cover of the Good Stuff guide

Produced as a hands-on companion to Worldwatch's annual State of the World 2004 report on consumerism, Good Stuff traces what goes into the production, use, and disposal of 25 common consumer items, from compact discs, cell phones, baby goods, to chocolate.

In addition to educating buyers about the environmental and social impacts of their purchases, the guide includes practical suggestions for a "greener," healthier life. It also contains a fun "eco-IQ" quiz and a "challenge" page where readers agree to take three actions for a better environment.

"The news is always filled with seemingly insurmountable environmental challenges like global climate change or air and water pollution," says Research Associate Lisa Mastny, who co-directed the Good Stuff project. "But as individual consumers, we have surprising power to bring about positive change through our purchases."

Mastny cites lighting as an example. Households that replace their most frequently used regular light bulbs with more efficient compact fluorescent bulbs can cut their electricity use for lighting by up to half.

"This saves people money and contributes to a healthier environment by reducing energy demand. Plus, compact fluorescent owners don't need to change their bulbs nearly as often as users of regular incandescents," Mastny says.

Good Stuff also sheds light on hidden health impacts of consumer goods. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency reports that the air inside a typical US home is on average 2-5 times more polluted than the air just outside-and in extreme cases can be 100 times more contaminated-largely because of the use of chemical cleaners and pesticides.

"Consumers often don't realize how everyday items like cleaning products, plastics, and beauty products can affect their health," Mastny says. "In most cases, people just don't know what to be concerned about, or what alternatives to look for when they go shopping."

"Our purchasing can be a double-edged sword. When we aren't aware of the impacts of our purchases on the environment and other people, we can do harm unknowingly. But when we do have the knowledge and the will to make informed choices, our purchases can be beneficial-stimulating wider markets for products that improve our health, protect the environment, and help poorer communities around the world."

The Good Stuff guide is produced in partnership with nine organizations working in fields such as renewable energy, recycling, consumer advocacy, and environmental sustainability.

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