Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices

I have been reading The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices (available from the Hawaii State Library system) from the Union of Concerned Scientists. It discusses what choices we as consumers can make to reduce our impact on the environment. I like that it comes from actual scientists, and that they lay out the facts and figures behind all their conclusions. Too many environmental guides just make pronouncements (“don’t use plastic bags at the supermarket!”) without backing them up.In fact the guide emphasizes the fact that there are lots of decisions that people stress about (paper or plastic?) that are either quite inconsequential in the scheme of things or are actually hard to tell if they are bad or good.Unfortunately the guide was published in 1999, so it is probably somewhat outdated by now. I also wonder how some of the conclusions would be localized for Hawaii. But it’s still good stuff.Here are their main conclusions:Biggest Consumption-Related Environmental Problems:

  • Air pollution
  • Global warming
  • Habitat alteration
  • Water pollution

Consumer activities that do the most harm:

  1. Cars and light trucks
  2. Meat and Poultry
  3. Fruit, vegetables, and grains
  4. Home heating, hot water, and air conditioning
  5. Household appliances and lighting
  6. Home construction
  7. Household water and sewage

Priority Actions for consumers:Transportation 

  1. Choose a place to live that reduces the need to drive.
  2. Think twice before purchasing another car.
  3. Choose a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car.
  4. Set concrete goals for reducing your travel.
  5. Whenever practical, walk, bicycle, or take public transportation.


  1. Eat less red meat.
  2. Buy certified organic produce.

Household operations

  1. Choose your home carefully.
  2. Reduce the environmental costs of heating and hot water.
  3. Install efficient lighting and appliances.
  4. Choose an electricity supplier offering renewable energy.

High-impact activities that should be particularly avoided:

  1. Powerboats
  2. Pesticides and fertilizers
  3. Gasoline-powered yard equipment
  4. Fireplaces and wood stoves
  5. Recreational off-road driving
  6. Hazardous cleaners and paints
  7. Products made from endangered or threatened species

Seven rules for responsible consumption:

  1. Give special attention to major purchases.
  2. Become a “weight watcher” (heavy things have more impact).
  3. Analyze your consumption quantitatively.
  4. Don’t worry or feel guilty about unimportant decisions.
  5. Look for opportunities to be a leader.
  6. Buy more of those things that help the environment.
  7. Think about nonenvironmental reasons for reducing consumption.

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