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We know that for many people and small business owners, being green is important, but can be a daunting task, especially when there is little transparency between the products we consume and how those products were produced. Green Business Bureau not only helps small business owners take being green into their hands, but it creates a network of green companies that are encouraged to buy and sell to one another, feeding our ultimate goal of furthering sustainable business. When searching outside our green network for supplies, materials, and services, we hope to make our members aware of some of the best ways to stand by their eco-friendly values. Here are a few tips on how to be a smart and conscious consumer in the small business setting, as well as in your personal life.

Waste Prevention

One of the biggest ways to make your business and or lifestyle greener is to be aware of your waste production and the many ways to minimize it. Some ways to do so involve buying products with long lifespans, such as stainless steel, and avoiding disposable or single use items.

The biggest way to prevent waste as a consumer is to only buy what you immediately need. Surprisingly, food is the largest single source of waste in the U.S. In fact, more food ends up in landfills than plastic or paper. When purchasing food as a small business in the food services industry, as well as in your personal life, be aware of the lifespan of food and challenge yourself to not just pick the “pretty” looking produce. The main reason so much biomass accumulates in U.S. landfills is because pretty produce typically does not even make it to the shelves in our grocery stores because consumers are less likely to buy it.

Be Aware of Your Material Purchases

The number one material to avoid when purchasing is plastic. Plastic, being a material that sticks around, finds its way into our streets, oceans, and landfills. Plastic does not biodegrade, which means that nearly every piece of plastic produced since the 1950s, when the material was created – 8.1 Billion Metric Tons – still exists today. 91 percent of all plastic waste isn’t recycled. Some of the reasons are chemical, and some are economic. Virgin plastic, which makes up most plastic products and packaging, when recycled creates an inferior product that is only suitable in a handful of uses. This process, referred to as downcycling, is also often economically inefficient. That’s because the energy required to reduce this plastic to a reusable form surpasses the amount of energy required to make a new piece of plastic from scratch.

Two ways to curve plastic consumption are to buy products with minimal packaging and to purchase materials in bulk. Another means of being a green consumer is to purchases products made from recycled materials and products that are easy to recycle. These products can be easily put back into circulation and by purchasing them your business is promoting recycling companies to produce more. Win win!

Another way to prevent material waste is by going paperless. Some ways to do so involve online marketing, paying bills online, and emailing information and documents as opposed to printing them. Going paperless also saves time and money spent on the organization of files and cost of paper.

Do Your Research on the Brands and Companies You Buy From

As consumers and business owners, it is our responsibility to buy from companies that produce their products in a sustainable way. Green Business Bureau is helping to build a network of environmentally and socially responsible companies so that we are able to endorse business that shares our values of sustainability and moral righteousness. Some famous companies, such as Patagonia and Toms, have set the stage for smaller companies to practice business in a sustainable and responsible fashion.

Although many companies do not offer transparency in their means of production to their consumers, it is our responsibility to do our research and look into what practices our purchases are funding. Challenge yourself to question whether you truly need some of the products you are consuming in your personal and business life. By consuming less, we dispose of less.

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Author Bio:

Isabel Herczeg is a sophomore Design and Environmental Analysis Major in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University. Her concentration is on sustainable design with a minor in marketing. She has an invested interest in sustainable and socially responsible business practice, and strives to reduce her own ecological footprint in her day to day life.

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