Sunday, August 22, 2010

Home Decor and the Environment

We all know that, as consumers, our money is our vote. When we choose products that are not Eco friendly, we elect to destroy our life support system. We elect to poison our water and soil, and to make our atmosphere into Swiss cheese that we cannot breathe, and that will not protect us from carcinogenic cosmic rays.

When we choose products that are produced without toxins, or are made from materials that are sustainably harvested, we elect to give our children a planet they can survive on.

This then is our challenge, in a consumer driven market, we must change the way we shop in order to change the way factories produce their products. Ultimately, we are responsible decision makers every time we pull out our wallets. We can change the way we consume Earth's resources.

It starts by becoming aware of our options. Imagine these options as a pyramid, where at the base you have the least favorable option: disposal.

Above that would be energy recovery. On the third floor, we find recycling topped by a layer of re-usage. Closer to the top comes minimization and the crown of earth-friendly tactics is prevention.

An example of prevention would be to use slip covers that protect our furniture, so that it did not wear out, and we would not need to buy new furniture, which, even in the best of circumstances, causes energy consumption and emissions for manufacture and transportation.

An example of minimization, would be to buy furniture that is made of sustainably harvested, and quick growing wood, like bamboo, so that our crucial oxygen producing forests are not depleted. Buying from local manufacturers means there is less fuel consumption required to bring it to you.

An example of reuse is to buy a piece of tropical hardwood furniture at a garage sale.

To buy tropical hardwood from the manufacturer would be to encourage the most destructive practices causing deforestation. You'd be causing the problem by creating a market demand. However, buying that same item at a garage sale would not be nearly as bad. Using reclaimed materials from old buildings when they are torn down is also a way to be sure that hardwoods are not wasted.

An example of recycling would be to buy furniture upholstery made from recycled cotton. Organic cotton is of course best, as it prevents the use of so many toxic pesticides, and prevention is at the top of the hierarchy of options.

In absence of an organic option, recycled cotton, which uses clean strips of old t-shirts to make new fabric, is still better than buying new conventionally grown cotton, as it will at least avoid creating a demand for more toxic cotton farming. Recycling does, however, generate waste in energy and emissions during the manufacturing and transportation processes, and is therefore less desirable than reuse.

An example of energy recovery would be to take the piece of furniture you think is beyond repair, and (provided that it has no toxins in it) burn it in your wood burning stove to heat your house, thereby preventing the waste of electricity and gas of operating your standard heaters. This however creates emissions, and the demand for a new product, so it is low on the hierarchy of options.

Disposal is the least desirable option because it causes damage on so many levels. It creates the demand for a replacement product, uses energy in transportation to the dump, and then creates more landfill, or emissions if burned.

Now that you are an informed shopper, teach your friends about these principles and model them for your children. Make home decor a laboratory to put these ethics in practice. You'll learn lots as you go, and be proud of your home when finished. Eco friendly decor can be every bit as beautiful and affordable as conventional decor, and is usually more so.

You may reprint this article provided that the resource box with the author info remains intact and retains all of the included links in their active form.