The United States is possibly the greatest consuming nation the world has ever known, with access of many of its citizens to conveniences of daily living at levels well above those of kings and princes of antiquity. Overall, the proportion of global consumption accounted for by the United States is four to five times higher than the U.S. proportion of global population. The U.S. is also a massive net importer of both raw materials and finished goods, causing in the process substantial impacts to the landscapes and environments of other nations. In view of the high global impact of U.S. consumption, it is worth considering whether Americans bear any responsibility for seeking to understand the negative impacts of their consumption on other geographic regions and for doing what they can to minimize those impacts. It is difficult to convincingly argue that they do not.
If you are a manufacturer, distributor, or consumer a relevant question is whether you are reasonably certain about where the raw materials or products you purchase come from, and what the likely social, economic, and environmental impacts of their production are at the point of origin. If the answers to either of these questions is “no,” or if there are significant and negative impacts that remain unaddressed, then it is probably fair to ask whether you really care.
If you do care about impacts linked to your corporate or individual consumption, your concern may lead you to such questions as: What is responsible production? What is a responsible material? And what steps might you take to improve your performance on the global responsibility scale? A growing number of mechanisms are available to answer these and similar questions, and to help you determine production impacts. There are also systems for verifying responsible production on an ongoing basis. These are the topics of this article.