Field Notes: Opinion – ‘Natural’ Does Not Equal Eco-Friendly

So you’ve done your research, read all the ingredients – everything is USDA organic, GMO free, and plant based in your diet, beauty routine, cleaning closet – whatever. Your life style is totally green, right? Not exactly.

Yes – it’s true that in general your environmental impact is somewhat reduced by purchasing products that are natural rather than synthetic. You’re not contributing harmful chemicals or impossible to filter out micro plastics to the ecosystem you live in. Congratulations – you’re off to a good start, but you can’t pat yourself on the back just yet.

Let’s take a look at a food – almonds.  They’re a great source of protein, fiber, and manganese – and incorporating them into your diet may even decrease your risk of heart disease! Plus, they’re just a nut – totally compatible with even raw food diets. They are considered one of the healthiest foods to eat. However, with the enormous amount of water they consume, they are hardly healthy for the earth. Like quinoa, another highly prized ‘super-food’ they are major contributors to drought. Yikes. And it doesn’t end there – avocados, cashews – the list goes on.

Okay, that’s overwhelming – let’s take a step away from diet and focus on beauty products. Palm oil is a prevalent ingredient in things like soaps, shampoos, even lipstick. It can be found in half of all packaged consumer products. It’s cheap, and readily available. It’s plant based, and so meets the standards of “all natural” and “plant based” cosmetics. It’s also the cheapest oil in the world – and as a result, when not intentionally sourced, an devastating incentive for deforestation. And even if your paraben, fragrance, and synthetic chemical free beauty routine is green, the plastic and un-recycled paper packaging it came in almost certainly isn’t.

Now it’s not reasonable to expect the average person to live a zero impact lifestyle – in modern society, this is virtually impossible.  We’re all going to make mistakes. With so many companies cashing in on buzzwords like “green” and “natural” reading the package for ingredients is more important than ever. After you’re done with those ingredients, they are absorbed into your ecosystem, one way or the other.

Now more than ever, we need to be conscientious consumers. Sure, you may love avocado toast and almond butter – but maybe hold off on those every once and a while in favor of other more sustainable snack. Try to buy products in recyclable bottles – or better yet, glass ones.  When being a responsible and informed citizen of earth it’s not only important to consider what effect what you’re buying will have on you, but what effect it will have on the planet. It’s the only one we’ve got.

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