Imports at What Cost? Environment

What is the cost of imports to the environment

Products made in Canada or the U.S. are produced in compliance with strict regulations. When you buy imports, you have few assurances that making the products did not cause local harm through air or water pollution. Damage to environment and to health through the environment are part of the real cost of imports. We pay now, or we pay later, but we will pay.

Give It to Me Quick

When we buy products made somewhere without tight environmental regulations, the price we pay doesn’t cover the costs of environmental damage. Those costs are paid by the state of origin, the local community, and the workers.


Having a child means environmental impact. There is no way around that fact. It’s just math. Every human being has an environmental impact, some have more impact than others, and the collective impact of all of us together is not sustainable.

Part of our personal impact includes the real environmental costs of the seemingly benign products we let into our lives. Making stuff has an impact, and sometimes that impact is far greater than it needs to be.

Implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994 meant a de-industrialization of Canada and the U.S. while factories and jobs moved to Mexico. Despite a Commission for Environmental Cooperation between the North American countries, pollution in Mexico was immediate and overwhelming near maquiladoras—factories in Mexico near the U.S. border producing goods for export.

Mexico, though, was an issue of the 1990s; in the past decade, industry and concern has shifted to China. Environmental impacts of moving industry to Mexico pale in comparison with impacts of massive growth in China.

Pollution in China is epic. Severe pollution not only creates an economic burden for the Chinese people, it threatens political stability.

“Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.” ~ “As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes,” Choking on Growth, part 1, New York Times, August 26, 2007.

Pollution is only part of the problem. Biodiversity loss, deforestation, and desertification over 30% of China’s land signal long-term problems. It isn’t just that growth is unsustainable; Chinese growth is sending them careening toward collapse. Chinese citizens certainly aren’t unaware of the impacts of these factories, and some protest. Especially since the 2008 Olympics, the Chinese government has turned to environmental regulations and adjusted growth philosophies to lessen the impact of massive growth on their people.

It costs to make extraction and production processes cleaner. When those of us who live in places with tight environmental regulations take production to a place that doesn’t impose those regulatory costs, that means the price of the final product won’t have to cover the cost of environmental damage.

That doesn’t mean there is no cost to that environmental damage. Costs are simply externalized. Externality is a common concept in economics whereby the producer does not directly incur the inevitable cost. A business maximizes profits by forcing the problem onto someone else. In the case of pollution, the state might pay for clean up or for other consequences, the local community might pay through lower quality of life, and the workers might pay with their health.

Look at the tags on your baby’s clothing and the boxes for toys and car seats. Where are your baby’s products made? High environmental costs in exchange for low product costs will happen everywhere you don’t find tight regulation. And, sometimes, even where there is tight regulation, you end up with the high cost of environmental accidents.

Diaper Plant Explosion

When a Japanese chemical factory exploded in September, it became global news because of the chemical they make and how much they make of it. Nippon Shokubai Co makes 20% of the super-absorbent polymers used in disposable diapers globally. The focus of news stories was an anticipation of disposable diaper shortages around the world, but the rest of the story was the local environmental impact of an explosion and fire so big that local people thought it was another earthquake.

In addition to the everyday environmental impact of throwing 16 billion plastic diapers into landfill in the U.S. alone, accidents and the environmental impact of extraction and production have to be calculated into overall impact of diapers or of any product.

Clean Diapers

Some choices leave a child’s environmental impact higher than others. Using cloth diapers means avoiding the 8,000 disposable diapers you would have used and the waste they generate both as 3% of all municipal solid waste in the landfill [Lehrburger] and in production overseas where lax or non-existent environmental regulation allows companies to shave their costs through pollution.

Use any reusable diaper, even a cloth diaper made from oil or gas (polyester, PUL, microfiber, and so on), and you will lower your baby’s environmental impact. Make smart laundry choices, and you will lower the impact more. If you buy organic cotton prefold diapers with diaper covers made here in Canada by Bummis, you lower your impact even more. You don’t avoid all environmental impact of a child by choosing cloth diapers, but you lower that impact significantly.

The Institute for Sustainable Communities

For 20 years the Institute for Sustainable Communities has been helping communities around the world address environmental, economic, and social challenges to make their own community more sustainable. They train and inspire local people to improve quality of life.

Through the Environmental Health and Safety Academies in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu where most Chinese manufacturing takes place, they are training thousands of factory managers every year in best practices to lower environmental impacts and boost efficiency through safety.

They want donations. The work they do isn’t simple. “We are not interested in quick fixes. When you give to ISC, you invest in lasting solutions to the climate change crisis.”

What You Can Do

Only buy imports if you know something about their manufacture. Favor products and brands that aren’t externalizing environmental costs by outsourcing to countries with loose environmental regulation.

Lower your overall impact with a focus on the three areas that account for 70-80% of the global total of environmental impact: transportation, food, and home energy.


More in this series

Environmental Education for Kids: Facing the Future

Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions

I want my children to act in eco-friendly ways because they care about sustainability. Caring isn’t inherited, though, and, if I teach them well, they will think for themselves, so they won’t necessarily come to the same conclusions I have about appropriate responses to the state of the world.

Even if we were all to arrive at the same conclusions, we wouldn’t necessarily get there at the same pace.

And, you know we won’t all arrive at the same conclusions.

The only hope if you want your kids to be eco friendly is to teach them the underlying principles and set them free to come to their own conclusions. When they are very young, they will probably lift their opinions from yours, but that will end soon enough. While they still think you have the answers, make sure you help them understand why you care about your environmental footprint and how that influences the choices your family makes.

Sustainability Curriculum

I found that it wasn’t enough to just tell my children what we are doing as a family. I have years of influence that brought me to any given moment’s decisions. I wanted teaching tools to help me integrate environmental education into our homeschooling.

After looking at a variety of resources, we chose Facing the Future as our environmental education curriculum. I like that they don’t take environmental issues out of context. Connections are complex, but they provide curriculum from elementary to post-secondary levels.

The global issues addressed through Facing the Future are:

  • Nature and Natural Resources
  • Human Health and Wellbeing
  • Impacts on the Planet
  • Government and Economy

The subject areas addressed through Facing the Future are:

  • Literacy
  • Language Arts
  • Math
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Their approach to global sustainability is multi-diciplinary, and their lessons always encourage students to take action. They emphasize service learning, media literacy, and understanding how worldview and culture shape our perceptions of the world.

Sometimes I look at curriculum and think, “I could have done a better job with this.” That’s inevitable for a PhD who has spent a lot of years teaching. I don’t say that with this curriculum. Not even close. This curriculum is far beyond the level that any individual could put together alone. Facing the Future is a team—a BIG team—and I am constantly grateful for their work in developing this valuable tool.

We have used Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions (grades 6-8). We’ve also downloaded some of their free environmental education lessons. I’m looking forward to Buy, Use, Toss? A Closer Look at the Things We Buy (grades 9-12), but I’m trying not to get ahead of myself. We have more middle school resources to get through before we need to face high school

How have you taught your children about sustainability and green living?
What tools and resources have you found helpful?

Blog to Inspire: I Choose Cloth. I am Saving the Planet.

Can You Inspire banner

This following post was an entry in our Blog to Inspire contest. The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and not necessarily those of Eco Baby Steps or Parenting By Nature.

Muskoka Bear Bums profileBlog to Inspire entrant from Muskoka Bear Bums is AmyLynn Duffield, who blogs about her story of how her family tries to keep ‘natural’ parenting an attainable reality.

Why are so many parents today choosing cloth diapers?

Well, can you reuse a disposable diaper? Can that same diaper fit from birth to potty training? Can you then take that diaper, and start again with your next child? Or can you donate that diaper to another family who is in need?

The clear answer to those questions is a big NO. With cloth all those options and more are made possible. Cloth can be a realistic, cheaper option to disposable diapers. Yes, more money goes out in the initial purchasing, but the savings of this choice can be in the thousands. Allowing that large amount of money to go a long way when raising a child.

Parents are choosing a proven system that has been used for thousands of years. A safe choice for the environment and a healthier choice for their babies.

What are my options?

I am not talking about big flat pieces of fabric, held onto your baby with pins, then covered with bulky rubber pants… minds tends to go back to the 1950′s. I am here to tell you that there are tons of well thought-out, designer choices. From traditional pre-folds and covers, to the ultimate top-of-the-line style in diapers; an all-in-one with a custom, fun outside print, that is virtually no fuss or work in changing. With hundreds of other options in between these two sides of the scale, there is sure to be a system that will work for every parent, and every budget.

Where do I buy my cloth diapers?

My personal favorite place to buy my diapers is from fellow parents who work from home. They produce high-quality diapers that they would, and have, used in their cloth diapering experience. Hyena Cart for me is a great place to browse and find awesome custom handmade excellent quality diapers.

That said there are also many online stores offering great name brand cloth diapers. These stores have many other products available as well; toys, clothes, laundry, babywearing, and home items that make the shopping experience easy and natural parenting to seem attainable. I have found so many awesome products by cruising online and realizing “Hey, I am not alone on my quest, and other parents have great ideas!”

How do I spread the good word?

Isn’t it fun to show your fluff off? To pack a fun, color-filled diaper bag? Show another parent how easy and simple cloth diapers can be. Taking multiple snap shots of my happy baby in a great diaper. Sending those pictures off to family members on Christmas cards or uploading to Facebook lets my community of fellow parents know, “Hey, I use cloth, its fun!”

Show your gorgeous baby off in that chunky, funky cloth bottom. Be willing to share your cloth diapering experience, your favorites, likes and dislikes, opinions and reasons behind your choice to anyone and everyone. Even the most strong-willed parents have a natural side that needs to be awakened. I am sure of it! Tell the messy, dirty truth about disposable diapers, and bring everyone over to the fluff side.

Who cares?

Our children. We are leaving behind this world, the mess and the destruction. Our parents and grandparents have made choices, and along with our own quest of convenience, we have had a strong, horrible impact on the planet. We are saying, “Stop! Enough is enough,” by choosing to cloth diaper our babies. Each parent has the ability to save thousands of diapers from entering our landfills for each child they choose to cloth diaper. Together we have the ability to reduce the use of harmful chemicals, the extra carbon output, and water waste that is produced when manufacturing disposable diapers, by choosing cloth diapers.

We can teach our children from day one how important our planet is, how we as their parents are making life changes and choices to do our part in leaving a healthy, natural, environment for generations of cloth diaperers to come.

Read about the Blog to Inspire contest and read posts by the finalists and by the rest of the entrants. Forty-four bloggers reached out to inspire on the topics of cloth diapers, babywearing, breastfeeding, and natural parenting.

Nurturing Empathy for Nature

Child walkingMy friend has multiple chemical sensitivities. Neither her ex-husband nor her parents seem able to grasp how the environments they create effect her. When someone tells her she is imagining health issues, I see her give up a little every time.

My friend blogs about environmental impact. Despite his ability to grasp environmental issues and science, he doesn’t seem able to grasp the genuine efforts of those working to change policies and practices that could have a real impact on impact. He is frustrated, and he has blamed politicians.

I’ve been wondering lately why it is that some people seem able to put themselves in the place of others—understanding why they do what they do, understanding how they feel or why they are in pain—and others can’t seem to step outside their own experience to see another view.

To see a situation through the eyes of another is a profound step. Is it a skill? Can it be learned—and taught?

Specifically, I wonder what I as a parent can do to make sure that my children have the quality of empathy, understanding and sharing the feelings of another, particularly when they are adults making decisions that will have long-term consequences for the world in which they and their own children will live.

Research on Children and Empathy

There is plenty of research available on children and empathy. The pathways to empathic children and adults are fairly clear. A child learns to recognize the feelings of others by learning to recognize her or his own feelings.

When the New York Times published an article last week about nurturing empathy in children, a Psychology Today writer who has recently co-authored a book on empathy made a very important point: children learn empathy when their own needs are met not when they suffer. This is important because the emphasis is on the need for security in order for the child to be able to extend awareness to others. I child doesn’t learn empathy by making it through hard times but by feeling safe enough to think beyond self.

The Practical Keys to Teaching Environmental Empathy

Empathy can be learned and taught in some way at any age. Keep in mind as a parent of young children, though, that from 3-7 years old is the key time to help children make connections that encourage their empathy.

The Baby Center offers practical advice on teaching empathy.

  • Help the child name her feelings.
  • Encourage the child to talk about his own and others’ feelings.
  • Teach the child to recognize nonverbal cues.
  • And my suggestion: use nonviolent communication and positive discipline.

Make a conscious effort to engage your child in global issues of sustainability in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Help them to understand not only the feelings of those people they know face to face but the feelings and experiences of children and others around the world. The more they connect with the global consequences experienced by others, the more likely they will continue to develop that skill of empathy as a policy-making, action-taking adult.


Image © Anke Van Wyk |

No Impact Experiment

Do you worry about your environmental impact?

As an exercise in awareness and a check-in with his own values, Colin Beavan (the No Impact Man) attempted to have no environmental impact for a full year—and he dragged his somewhat reluctant wife and daughter along for a year of no impact. If you have seen the No Impact Man film or read the No Impact Man book, you can see a lot of the choices that this family of a young child made to accommodate their daughter (how to keep milk cold for a toddler without a refrigerator?) and to lower some of the impacts a child has on the environment (switch to cloth diapers , of course).

Despite the firmness of the title, it becomes apparent through the project that Colin is a self-deprecating guy who appreciates the irony of his quest. His experiment isn’t about perfection by about making changes in his life to determine what makes the difference. Isolated changes are drops in the bucket—not bad at all but not enough. In the end, he asks that those moved by the experiment become active in their own communities to be catalysts for bigger change.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t become aware of your own impact as an individual or your family’s impact as a whole.

No Impact Week

Starting October 18th (tomorrow), the No Impact Project, a nonprofit that grew out of No Impact Man, guides thousands of average people through their own no impact experiments, though a one-week carbon cleanse. With a push and a nudge from the Huffington Post to reach out to a broader audience, there will be a lot of discussion of impact in the coming week. Each day will focus on a different topic.

  • Sunday – Consumption
  • Monday – Trash
  • Tuesday – Transportation
  • Wednesday – Food
  • Thursday – Energy
  • Friday – Water
  • Saturday – Giving Back
  • Sunday – Rest from it all

Colin and Graham Hill, founder of, will be having live video conversations about the experiment every night in the coming week.

If you join the No Impact Experiment, tell us. Tell everyone! Make sure your own efforts to lower impact have a ripple effect.