Considerations in Making Purchasing Decisions

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What makes a product “green?” And, how does one evaluate the relative greenness of these different products? Finding green products has become relatively easier in recent years. While there are several directories of green building materials, standards are still being developed for determining what makes a product green. Are we left to conclude then that, “what makes a product green” is a complex question with perceptibly open-ended answers? No. A selection criteria is continually being developed to aid one in making informed selections.

Directories: Where to Find Information About Specific Products
There are many directories available on the internet that provide information about green products. Two of these directories are listed below.

1. The US Environmental Protection Agency has a Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) directory that includes a database with information about green products and a way to evaluate the costs and benefits of different purchasing options. The EPA recommends five guiding principles when choosing a product [1]:

  • Environment + Price + Performance = Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
  • Pollution Prevention
  • Life Cycle Perspective / Multiple Attributes
  • Comparison of Environmental Impacts
  • Environmental Performance Information

2. The GreenSpec Directory is a comprehensive source that utilizes the following five categories in developing a criteria :

Other characteristics to consider when purchasing materials:

  • Alternatives to ozone-depleting substances
  • Products with low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions
  • Products that do not release significant pollutants into the building
  • Products that reduce pollution or waste from operations
  • Products that block the introduction, development, or spread of indoor contaminants (Duct mastic blocks the entry of mold-laden air or insulation fibers into a duct system)
  • Building components that reduce heating and cooling loads (Insulation, building forms and windows)
  • Equipment that conserves energy and manages loads (Energy Star)
  • Renewable energy and fuel cell equipment
  • “Track-off” systems for entryways help to remove pollutants from the shoes of people entering.
  • Linoleum helps to control microbial growth because of the ongoing process of linoleic acid oxidation.
  • Products that warn occupants of health hazards in the building (Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, lead paint test kits, and other indoor air quality (IAQ) test kits.)
  • Reusable shipping crates such as those manufactured by Turtle Box

Product Specific Considerations: Plastic
Often polyethylene bags are used for inner packing boxes. Currently some (?) are investigating use of starch-based plastic bags for shipping as they will bio-degrade after use. Another approach is rather than using the usual 2ml polyethylene bags for packing, shifting to using 6ml polyethylene film that can be kept with the inner packing box and re-used every time the box is used which reduces the amount of waste we generate. Along with the use of film, shifting to a lower tack tape that can be re-used and doesn’t tear the film will also reduce waste.5

Product Specific Considerations: Paper
Buy paper products that have not been chlorine bleached. Although this eco-paper chart does not include artist- or conservation-quality papers, it may help you choose more sustainable office paper. [2]

Unfortunately, as conservators, we demand high standards in our paper products, and many have to be as pure as possible. Even though there are many products we cannot buy recycled, we can make sure that all the scraps of high quality fibers we use are saved for recycling. Paper fibers get damaged each time they are used, but many can be used 5-7 times. Since the fibers have already been processed, they require 40-70% less energy (sources disagree on the exact amount) and 55% less water. Paper is the largest component of solid waste, making up about 40% of the poundage in landfills. The EPA estimates that at least ¼ of this could have been recycled. Paper products that do not need to be of high quality in our working lives, such as calendars or notepads, can be made of recycled paper.

Buy paper products that have not been chlorine bleached. Don’t print unless absolutely necessary and when you do print do it on both sides of the paper if you can. Save paper that has been printed on one side to print on the other. Use the blank side of waste paper to take to meetings for notes. Use rechargeable batteries whenever possible. Reusable bags whenever possible.

This wiki was created and is maintained by the Sustainability Committee (formerly the Committee on Sustainability in Conservation Practice). It is intended to provide information for AIC members and other interested parties. Any treatment should be carried out by a qualified conservator(find a conservator [3]). Please send comments and suggestions for sustainable practices to sustainability(a)