I’ve been considering the benefits of purchasing items that were made in the U.S.I like American-made items for quality and economic reasons. Is American-made also more eco-friendly?
-Emily S., Louisville, KY
The concept of U.S.-manufactured items has gained political credence over the past couple of decades as many American manufacturing operations have been relocated overseas. Political and economic implications don’t necessarily speak to the environmental implications, though.
There is one obvious environmental advantage to manufacturing items here: reduced carbon emissions associated with transportation. An item made in Los Angeles that ends up on a store shelf in Hollywood, Florida, traveled roughly 2,700 miles, while an item made in Beijing, China, traveled nearly three times that distance. Shorter distances traveled reduce the fuel (and accompanying emissions) needed to move the item from manufacturer to store shelf. Generally speaking, local items are environmentally preferable, even if “local” refers to the continental U.S., as opposed to China or India.
Less obvious are the environmental protections captured (or lost) through different countries’ regulations. Countries that have attracted manufacturing operations tend to have fewer or less stringent government regulations compared the U.S. For example, a factory in the U.S. may have to comply with emission standards defined by the Clean Air Act, while a factory elsewhere has no such standards, less strict standards, or poor enforcement of existing standards.
The human and environmental toll of poor environmental regulation is enormous. Sixty percent of China’s underground water sources is undrinkable, and the country’s headline-grabbing smog is significantly shortening the lives of its citizens. For now, it might be cheaper to manufacture in less-regulated countries, but rampant pollution isn’t sustainable on any level — politically, economically, or environmentally.
All this isn’t to say that the U.S. doesn’t have a long way to go when it comes to environmental sustainability. Just because something is made in the U.S. does not necessarily mean that the product itself is greener than a product made somewhere else. But when you consider the entire manufacturing process, it’s likely that American-made products are more eco-friendly than those manufactured and imported from far away.