Making Your Most Important Eco Purchase: Your Car!

June 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Contributed by Dr. Sarah Warren

“We vote with our wallets every day.” That’s what eco thought leader Gil Friend (@gfriend), founder of Natural Logic, Inc (natlogic.com), told me in a recent interview.

When we think about green purchases, we often think about what cleaning products we buy because we’re concerned (rightfully) about toxic chemicals. Or we look at how many miles something traveled before it got to us. Or we think about buying organic to avoid pesticides for the sake of our kids’ health.  Right?

But in fact the single biggest eco (or NON-eco) purchase we make is our cars.

Why? Because most of the emissions that pollute our atmosphere come from our smokestacks and tailpipes.

Before getting zealous, let’s get real. I’m the mother of two young boys. I’m committed to using my spheres of influence– personally as a consumer and professionally as a psychologist– to protecting the planet for the sake of my kids. But I’m also practical. I don’t have extra cash to burn. And I want a car that’s safe AND meets my family’s needs. I bet you have practical considerations as well.

We need to think about safety and our day-to-day use of our cars as we make purchases. We need cars that work for the lives that we lead. — And a word to you car manufacturers: We need and want more family-friendly environmentally car options!

So here are my top factors to weigh in making a car purchase with eco impact in mind. You might be surprised.

1. What is the manufacturer’s commitment to monitoring, reporting and reducing it’s eco impact? Yes, this is my top consideration! It’s about more than the fuel efficiency or the emissions of the car itself. It’s about the manufacturer’s policies and practices. This is where the rubber really hits the road, so to speak.

My friend Ann loves peppy cars. She announced proudly to me a few months ago that she had just bought a VW (vw.com) Jetta with a clean-burning diesel engine. In researching for this blog post, however, I learned that according to the user-friendly rankabrand.org, VW as a company has quite a bit of room for improvement in its eco commitments and transparency. (Sorry Annie!)

I took a look at Subarus (subaru.com) because they have a zero-waste plant in IN (cool), and their cars are reliable and safe. But it turns out that according to rankabrand.org, they are not doing as much as they could on emissions, either from the cars themselves or their company practices.

2. How clean does the car run? It’s not just about how many miles per gallon a car gets, but how cleanly it burns those gallons. So for instance, the Prius is more fuel-efficient than the Honda (Honda.com) Insight, but the Insight kicks out less emissions — so the Insight runs cleaner and is therefore greener. Check out this article for more: http://www.car-and-travel.com/2011/02/2011-honda-models-get-top-ratings-for-green-fuel-efficient-cars/.

3. Is the car reliable and built to last? Why does this matter? The longer a car lasts, the more use we get out of the resources it took to make the car. This why even though there are more eco-friendly cars, I’m still driving my conventional Toyota (Toyota.com) which only has 70k miles.

4. How big a car do you really need? We tend to super-size our purchases. Not just our fast food, but our houses and cars. But instead of thinking about he fact that every now and then you have to haul extra kids, how about thinking in terms of your typical use.  For me that means, I’m not going to buy a Prius because it’s too small for me and my two fast-growing young dudes. But I’m also not going to get a hybrid Mariner because that’s bigger than I need.

Based on what I learned researching this post, the MINI (minisusa.com) is looking better than I expected! At least from a fuel efficiency and clean burning engine standpoint. And it’s so appealing. Hmm….

Are you surprised by any of this? Let me know!

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