Some of the things us tree huggers do to live by our principles can be strange and potentially contradictory. My own experience this morning is a fine example.
Currently I am working on a set of stairs and fencing for a walk up from my driveway to the backyard. I want a stain/sealer for the new cedar that is durable, maintains the natural look of the wood, and is easy to re-coat. After doing the research, the best option for buying it from a local business was to drive down to Portsmouth (8 miles) and pick up a gallon of the chosen sealer (Penofin). I waited until I had multiple reasons to put the car on the road and drove the 8 miles south to Portsmouth, instead of driving that distance when it was convenient just to pick up a gallon of stain.
After running those errands and returning to York with my gallon of stain/sealer I discovered (via the web) that Penofin had come out with a “zero VOC” version of the product I just bought. Damn, I cursed myself, I wish I had know about that. Reflexively, I considered returning the gallon to the store I bought it from in Portsmouth and picking up the green version at a different store (that stocked it) in a different town nearby. Why? To be true to my green principles, of course! But after a little thought, I decided to stick with the low VOC product. After all, would using the zero voc product provide enough environmental benefit to outweigh the carbon emission created by driving to Portsmouth to return the product and later driving to another town to get the “green” stuff? Certainly not; but this type of flawed decision-making happens among us tree huggers, now and then. Our hearts are in the right place, but sometimes not our minds.
This type of decision-making is very similar to the decision made when people drive 10 miles out-of-the-way just to save $4 on a given product. It occurs among consumers and manufacturers. It is an effort that focus on the ends far more than the means. Customers of mine will drive 35 miles to pick-up AFM Safecoat paint. Safecoat is a great product. I think it’s the best. And I love the business. But if there is a good quality zero VOC paint at a shop in your home town, wouldn’t buying that be a more sustainable choice?
My point is simple. Good green choices are the result of looking at the big picture. Supporting truly green manufacturers supports a more sustainable future and helps the growth of an eco-friendly economy and an eco-friendly world. But sometimes the ends don’t justify the means. Picking up one gallon of paint (no matter how much it benefits my business) because it is the “greenest” paint doesn’t justify the means (traveling 30 miles in a car) to getting it, unless you need it for health issues and there is no option where you live. It’s important to see the big picture and not get caught up in the green-do-gooder arms race that focuses solely on the green merits of a product and ignores your means of accessing the product. Good balanced decision-making – a combination of planning, patience and a little research – will very easily lead you to a sustainable lifestyle.