Environmental Measures

Environmental criteria are usually both easier to measure and easier to address than social issues—if only because the emotion and ambi­guity surrounding most social issues aren’t part of the picture. Environmental issues are often measured and addressed in terms of materi­als and energy use (both amount and type of each). There is often little disagreement that toxins, for example, are bad for people, but there may be considerable disagreement over how they should be measured, how bad they may be for people, what levels are “accept­able,” and how these concerns weigh against financial, sourcing, or access trade-offs.

Like social criteria, environmental measures can be exhaustive with little agreement over priorities or validation, and include the follow­ing areas to consider:

• Consumption and conservation of energy

• Consumption and conservation of water

• Consumption and conservation of air

• Consumption and conservation of organic materials (including food)

• Consumption and conservation of inorganic materials

• Consumption and conservation of recycled and upcycled materials

• Consumption, conservation, and source of energy (and percentage renewable)

• Production and reduction of pollution and other toxic emissions to air, water, and land (there are thousands of potential substances under this category alone)

• Production and reduction of waste

• Production and reduction of product pack­aging (including biodegradable)

• Consumption and conservation of transpor­tation (including energy, source, amount, and emissions)

• Area of land disturbed, protected, or re­stored

• Disturbance or preservation of biodiversity

Example: Nuclear Power

For example, nuclear power is once again considered a prominent alternative, despite the disregard it was met with in the 1970s. This is because it’s now being touted as a more environmentally beneficial solution since it emits far fewer greenhouse gases during electricity generation than coal or other traditional power plants. It is widely accepted as a somewhat dangerous, potentially problematic, but manageable source of generating electricity. Radiation isn’t easily dealt with, especially in nuclear waste and maintenance materials, and expensive solutions are needed to contain,

Example: Nuclear Power (continued)

control, and shield both people and the environment from its harm. The dialogue about using nuclear power—and expanding it—centers on weighing these risks against the rewards, as well as the risks inherent in other forms of power generation. These are just some of the issues involved.