Finding Direction: Life Cycle Analysis for Choosing How to Spend Money 2.6.1

This series of product analysis questions leads outward from the self to the rest of the world in many directions.  It asks us to understand what our choices are doing to and for others – neighbors, strangers, nature – and then to choose to act on that understanding.

What raw materials go into this product?  How is each of the raw materials made, mined, or grown?  Where do the materials come from?  What effects do the manufacturing, discovery, mining, or growing have on the people and land where the materials come from?  What kind of waste and/or pollution results from these processes?  What social and economic effects are produced from these processes?  Who gains or loses?

How is the product produced?  What are the processes involved in its production?  What effect does its production have on the people who make it, the neighbors of the manufacturing plant, or the land where it is made?  What local social or economic effects come from these processes?  Is the company’s production environmentally and socially responsible and ethical?  How and how far is the product shipped?

What waste is created by the product?  Is the packaging reasonable, excessive, or hazardous?  What does the packaging itself do to or for the land or the people during its life?  Can the product or the packaging be reused or recycled?  Will it be?  What will happen to the product when its original usefulness is over?

Who sells the product?  Who owns the retail establishment, whether in place or ‘virtual,’ and where do the profits go?  Is the retailer environmentally and socially responsible, especially within the local community?  Is there a local community?  Does the retailer make the local community or the larger community a better place to live: more beautiful, more just, more equitable?

Life Cycle Thought Experiment:  Choose a recent purchase – a shirt, an apple, a cup of coffee, a computer – and answer all the questions above to analyze its Life Cycle.  Then, which of these, if any, did you think of before making the purchase?  What have you discovered about the purchase itself after considering the questions?  What did you discover about yourself and your values?  How many of these answers did you know?  What answers are unknown, unclear, or maybe even somehow secret?

Phyllis Ballata

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