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Green Consuming

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Kim Jeong-sook, a 31- year-old homemaker in Seoul, buys groceries through the Internet shopping mall with her co-workers. The Internet shopping mall is operated by a group of farmers from her hometown.

“There are many advantages to buying vegetables, rice and honey directly from a farmer and a beekeeper,” she says. “The price is somewhere between the wholesale price and the retail price because I place a large order with my colleagues. I feel I get ripped off whenever I see the retail price in a supermarket or a department store.”

The price is not the only advantage that she finds. The vegetables, rice and honey from her hometown are all organic and are grown without any pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

“As a mother of a three-year-old girl, I pay a lot of attention to the food she eats. I don’t want her to eat food covered with chemicals. She probably will eat instant food at some point, but I just don’t want her to have it at such an early age. That is why my colleagues and I always order organic food.”

As she is concerned about her carbon footprint, organic food is also a good alternative.

“I am not so sure how much I can reduce my carbon footprint by consuming organic food. I just try not to consume too much artificial seasoning and/or MSG (monosodium glutamate) for my health and, most of all, for my child. I hope she will enjoy nature as I did when I was a little girl.”

The number of people concerned with their carbon footprint just like Ms. Kim is increasing.

You may wonder what carbon footprint is. According to, a carbon footprint is a measure of the impact our activities have on the environment and, in particular, climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our daily lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation. The carbon footprint is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce and has units of tons (or kilograms) of carbon dioxide equivalent.

For example, if you fly from Seoul to Mumbai by economy class, your total footprint is 1.01 tons of carbon dioxide. If you drove 40 km to commute from home to the office with a 2004 model Daewoo Lacetti, your carbon footprint is 0.01 tons of carbon dioxide. If the car is the 2000 model Daewoo Leganza, the carbon footprint becomes twice that to 0.02 tons.

If you drive a 125cc scooter for 40 km, the carbon footprints drop to 0.004 tons. Commuting on a bus reduces the carbon footprint to 0.004 tons when you travel same 40 km. If you take a subway, it drops the emission of carbon dioxide to 0.003 tons for the same 40 km travel. Taking a taxi for 40 km produces 0.01 tons, the same as the Lacetti.

If you are a vegetarian, you can reduce the emission of the carbon dioxide. When you eat red meat everyday, your carbon footprint is 0.76 tons. If you eat a mix of red and white meat, your carbon footprint drops to 0.62 tons. However if you are a vegetarian, the carbon footprint you leave drops dramatically to 0.20 tons.

Although Ms. Kim was not sure if she could reduce her carbon footprint by consuming organic food, it does indeed help to reduce it. If you buy and grow only organic food as Ms. Kim does, your carbon footprint is only 0.02 tons, while if you don’t buy or grow any organic food at all, your carbon footprint soars to 0.26 tons.

Eating only food in season is another way to reduce carbon emissions. Seasonal food drops the carbon footprint to 0.26 tons from the 0.37-ton footprint when you don’t eat in season food.

Consuming locally produced food reduces 0.23 tons of carbon emissions compared to consuming imported food. Buying second-hand clothes also reduces 0.02 ton of the carbon footprint, compared to buying new clothes regularly.

If you buy goods with very little packaging instead of heavily packaged goods, you can cut 0.18 tons of your carbon footprint. If you use your TV set until it wears out instead of buying a new set whenever the latest version comes out, you will produce 0.02 tons less of carbon emissions. Having more than one car leaves a larger carbon footprint than you think. If you own three cars, your carbon footprint is 3 tons more than if you didn’t own any cars.

From the previously mentioned things, you can guess that walking to work instead of driving a car, buying organic food instead of imported food, and consuming in-season, locally produced food will significantly reduce your carbon footprint.

For carbon footprint reduction, there are simple things to do as an individual. According to carbonfootprint. com, when not in use, turning off lights, television, DVD player and computer helps to reduce one’s carbon footprint. When you use a 34- inch LCD TV for 6.5 hours per day, its annual carbon footprint is 215 kg of carbon dioxide. However, when you leave the TV on standby (plugged in without turning it on) it produces 5 kg of carbon dioxide per year.

Turning down the central heating just 1 to 2 degree Celsius and the water heating setting just 2 degrees will result in a significant reduction. Also, don’t forget to check the central heating timer setting – there’s no point heating the house after you have left for work. Fill your dishwasher and washing machine with full loads. This will save water, electricity and washing powder. For the kettle, fill it with only as much water as you need to save electricity.

For shopaholics this may be bad news, but if you do your weekly shopping in a single trip you can save on transportation fuel and produce a smaller carbon footprint. Many people use an electric tumble dryer, however, if you hang out the washing to dry rather than tumble drying it, you can save electricity and also reduce your carbon footprint.

If you make a small initial investment, you can reduce your carbon footprint more efficiently. Use energy saving light bulbs instead of incandescent light bulbs. Install thermostatic valves on your radiators. When you replace your old fridge/ freezer, buy one with an energy efficiency rating of A, which will reduce the energy consumption dramatically. Also replace your old boiler with a new energy efficient condensing boiler. And don’t forget to recycle your grey water.

If you’re an avid traveler as I am, it would be a little disappointing to learn that less travel will save the world. If you have to travel, there are ways to travel in a more carbonfriendly way.

Share a car to work and/or use the bus or subway rather than your car. For short journeys either walk or cycle to a supermarket or department store. If you’re the owner of a company, let your employees work from home one day a week, it will make a huge difference on the carbon footprints. If you replace your old car, buy a biodiesel fuel engine car. When you’re staying in a hotel, turn the lights and air-conditioning off when you leave the hotel room and ask for your room towels to be washed every other day, rather than every day.

There are also many ways to cut carbon emissions through ‘Green Consuming.’

Don’t buy bottled water if your tap water is safe to drink. Seoul City Government promotes its tap water, branded ‘Arisu,’ to encourage people to drink from the tap rather than buying bottled water.

Buy local fruits and vegetables and, if possible, try growing your own in your back yard as the U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama does at the White House. Also buying local foods that are in season helps reduce carbon footprints. Those fresh fruits and vegetables that are out of season may have been flown in.

Reduce your consumption of meat, and if you have to eat meat, choose white meat rather than red meat. Try to buy products made close to your home; those items that are made in the distant place may have used a preservative to keep the food fresh. Buy organic products so as to avoid chemicals, such as preservatives, pesticides and fertilizers.

To reduce waste, don’t buy overpackaged products. Koreans tend to like over-packaged things. For example, if you buy one box of cookies, each cookie is individually packaged with cellophane. Cookies in the cellophane package are then packaged with a bigger cellophane package and/or additional cardboard. Also recycle as much as possible, there are many shops selling second-hand furniture and electronic goods.

In your spare time, instead of driving a car to a department store and/or movie theatre, take a bike or go for a walk. It will help you be healthy and also reduce your carbon emissions.

It is still unfortunate that there aren’t many options to buy environment- friendly products in Korea. In terms of green consuming, Korea is still considered an underdeveloped country. According to Hyundai Research Institute (HRI ), 40 percent of the environment-friendly products are office supplies and office equipment. Moreover, the market share of environment-friendly products is under 5 percent.

The Ministry of Environment introduced the ‘Carbon Dioxide Label’ mark last year February. This mark applies to products that are produced by environment-friendly companies. As of September 2009, only 55 types of products acquired the Caron Dioxide Label. Moreover, most people are not aware of the mark due to the lack of promotion and advertisement.

Kim Dong-yul, a researcher at HRI , said, “It is considerable to adapt the ‘Green Model City Competition’ in Germany and Japan to promote green consuming. It is important to publicize ‘Consuming Standard’ through action programs.”

According to the Korea Environmental Industry and Technology Institute (KEITI ), the domestic market size for environment-friendly products is likely to be US $3.6 billion in 2012. That is about 1.4 times larger than in 2009. The market is divided by the public sector ($2 billion), the household sector ($1 billion) and the business sector ($0.6 billion).

The Public Procurement Service announced the Public Procurement Minimum Environmental Standard on January 27. For the year 2010, computers, notebook computers, TVs, refrigerators, air cleaners and some others of the total 18 products must qualify for the standard to be procured by the government.

Mr. Lim, Joong-sik, an officer at the Public Procurement Service, explained, “When the new standard is applied to the current procurement of products, only 60 percent qualify according to the standard. To relieve the shock and to give time to be prepared, the grace period will be applied to products respectively. It’s six months for PC s, one year for refrigerators and air conditioners. Also, we will allow an additional sixmonth grace period for small and medium-sized companies.”

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