When late Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1970, his primary objective was to demonstrate to political leaders the “broad and deep support” people had for the environment. Nelson knew the day would be a success, with peaceful demonstrations catching on from coast-to-coast — but he never could have imagined the actual response.
“Two thousand colleges and universities, 10,000 high schools and grade schools, and several thousand communities in all, more than 20 million Americans participated in one of the most exciting and significant grassroots efforts in the history of this country,” Nelson wrote in an article published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1980. “Earth Day 1970 made it clear that we could summon the public support, the energy, and commitment to save our environment.”
So this year, on Earth Day’s 45th anniversary, the Earth Day Network hopes to remind people there’s strength in numbers. The network proposes 2015 could be an environmental game changer, “the year in which economic growth and sustainability join hands,” if everyone can rally for change.
The thing is, for those of us not already subscribed to a sustainable, “green” lifestyle, it's overwhelming to think of where to start. And if you don’t go big, go home, right?
Not necessarily. The big issues, like global warming and toxic waste, certainly warrant attention, but it’s possible to go green on a small, equally impactful scale. Enter: grocery shopping.
"A consumer's simple act of buying products that help preserve natural resources and contribute to responsible and sustainable growth is extremely powerful,” Betsy Foster, Whole Foods Market global vice president of growth and business development, said in a press release. “When consumers choose environmentally-friendly alternatives with their dollars, it sends a clear message to companies.”
Everything, from a food’s packaging materials to the unwrapped product, can have an impact on the planet. QSR Magazine reported companies have started to use renewable fiber, post-consumer waste (recycled trash), and/or plant-based coatings to “integrate sustainability into every step of the packaging development process.” Many also use recycled paperboard (which we’ll get a bit more into later).
Companies are also going through the process of getting their food products certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Fair Trade USA. According to the USDA, organic agriculture “produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.” Organic farms and processors themselves preserve natural resources and biodiversity and support animal health and welfare, among other things. Not to mention supporting local farmers keeps them in business.
For Fair Trade Certified products, shoppers are required to “pay a small premium for high-quality foods produced on the principles of equity and sustainability,” Fair Trade USA reported. In addition, Fair Trade farmers “earn higher prices and achieve the capability to compete in the global marketplace through direct, long-term relationships with international buyers.”
We’re not always thinking of the farmer, or the type of packaging a food comes in, especially when a busy scheduled only allows for a power trip to the store. But choosing to be more aware of the efforts companies are making, and acknowledging them by buying one or two of their products each time you’re in the store, can make a difference. The bottom line is, small choices add up to big change.
To get you started (for real this time), we’ve rounded up five of the more environmentally responsible companies we’ve recently come across to serve as inspiration.
Based in San Francisco, Alter Eco’s very mission is “global transformation through ethical relationships with small-scale farmers, an integral sustainability orientation at every point on the supply chain.” Their products are USDA Organic, Fair Trade, and gluten-free certified, respectively, and their packaging process is equally impressive. Their chocolate truffles, for example, arrive in a recycled box, while the inner bag and individual wrappers can both be entirely composted.
TRY: Salted Caramel Truffles
Lundberg Farms has been producing quality rice and rice products since 1937. According to their website, the third and fourth generations are continuing their family’s commitment to eco-positive farming methods, as well as wholesome, healthful products. Their products are also USDA Organic, Fair Trade, plus Vegan and Non-GMO Project certified. What’s more is their boxes are printed on 100 percent recycled paperboard.
As the Recycled Paperboard Alliance explains, paperboard “is made from recovered paper that has been diverted from the solid waste stream and later collected, separated, cleaned and recycled for use.”
TRY: Toasted Almond Pilaf
Numi Organic Tea
Numi Tea is “reportedly the largest, premium, organic, Fair Trade certified tea companies” — even their tea bags are biodegradable. Using the Environmental Paper Network calculator, Numi calculated their choices conserves 9, 037 trees; 581,216 pounds of landfill; over four million gallons of water; and over 800,000 greenhouse emissions. It’s CEO and co-founder Ahmed Rahim’s goal to be of service to those focused on caring for their community and creating positive change for our environment. Their actual tea flavors, too, are quality.
TRY: Indulgent Tea: Chocolate Earl Grey and Turmeric Tea: Amber Sun
Happy people, happy planet, and happy place are the cornerstones at Earthbound Farm. What began as a 2.5 acres labor of organic love has grown to 50,000 acres. EB Farm products range from smoothie starter kits to pre-packaged, powerhouse meals — and they’re are all USDA Organic certified. This means their produce is all grown without any toxic chemicals, GMOs, or irradiation. And in 2015, EB Farm predicts they’ll keep 16.1 million pounds of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides out of the environment. Plus, the plastic their meals come is 100 percent post-consumer recycled PET plastic.
TRY: Kale Caesar salad
Mary’s Gone Crackers
Mary Waldner first started baking gluten-free crackers and pretzels shortly after she learned she had Celiac disease. By using “very cool ingredients,” like rice, quinoa, red palm oil, and turmeric, Waldner told Medical Daily she could cook (and provide) whole, real gluten-free food (also certified organic and vegan) that tasted great too. "That's number one to me," she said. "Why eat something if it doesn’t taste good?”
These ingredients have a positive impact on the Earth; it all folds into Waldner's idea of "conscious eating." To her, "being conscious about what you eat means you're conscious about where it’s from, the impact it's having on your body, and the impact it’s having on the environment."
"Wake up and pay attention," Waldner said. "You can have really good-tasting food that nourishes body[and the environment]."
TRY: Ancient Spice with Turmeric THINS crackers