Reduce Your Carbon Footprint: Buy Made In USA

There was a time when the United States manufactured nearly everything you bought, from your car and appliances to your shirts and shoes. Buying American-made goods was more affordable, and "American Made" was synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. Plastics weren't widely used, and"throwaway" culture didn’t exist yet. You took good care of what you owned, so it would last longer and not need replacing. Today, most of our everyday goods say "Made in China" on them, and you have to do your research to buy Made in the USA. One of the reasons many people choose to purchase goods made in the US is to boost the economy but buying goods made here can also help reduce your carbon footprint. 

A Brief History of Manufacturing in the United States

Samuel Slater built the first American factory in 1790, and in the mid-1800s, the US had its own industrial revolution fueled by innovation and demand for goods. The industrial revolution created factories, capitalism, and the rise of cities. Instead of farming and agriculture, it was more profitable to work in factories. The government practiced protectionism and increased taxes on foreign-made goods to promote American businesses, making it cheaper to manufacture products on US Soil. 

Made in the USA was a way of life, with high-quality goods produced locally. The economy was booming, and after World War II, the US decided to introduce free trade as a way to make it easier to sell American goods abroad. Companies created global supply chains, and the economy continued to prosper, with its peak in 1979 with over 19.5 million jobs in manufacturing. 

Manufacturing began to steadily decline until 2000 with the rise of computers, the internet, and tech jobs. As the dot-com bubble grew and the world went digital, US jobs shifted from manufacturing to tech. E-commerce changed the way people shopped; instead of having high stocks of a product on shelves, they could fill orders as they came in. Fewer products needed to be produced, labor costs rose, and the products became more costly.

The one side effect of shifting manufacturing overseas was the environment. While it may be "cheaper" to produce a product in China and then sell it on the internet in the United States, the environmental cost is much higher. 

What Does Made in the USA Mean?

For a product to be able to say "Made in the USA," the Federal Trade Commission says the product must be "all or virtually all" made in the United States. The FTC defines the US as all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US territories and possessions. "All or virtually all" means that all significant parts and processing that go into the product must be of US origin. The product should contain no (or negligible) foreign content.

Why American Made Sometimes Costs More

Better Labor Laws and Enforcement

Many Americans are willing to pay more for goods produced locally in the United States and are better for the environment. According to a survey from McKinsey & Co., 66% of all respondents and 75% of millennial respondents say that they consider sustainability when they make a purchase. Compared to countries like China and Vietnam, the labor costs alone make it more costly to manufacture products. Beijing has the highest minimum wage in China at 25.3 yuan per hour or roughly $3.98 per hour. Some regions are even lower, and minimum wages are not often enforced in overseas manufacturing.  

A human rights group went undercover and found that the female laborers in China making Disney-themed dolls were only getting paid 4 cents for every doll, which was being sold at around $45 in the US. Factory workers in China and developing countries like Vietnam are often victims of human rights violations, including not being paid fair wages, hazardous working conditions, and often child labor. There are horror stories of young children in Bangladesh working 16 hours days and factories collapsing, killing workers. The United States has stricter labor laws requiring overtime, paid time off, sick pay, safe working conditions, and a higher minimum wage. 

Stricter Environmental Regulations

The United States passed the Clean Air Act that puts restrictions on air pollution, protecting air quality and ozone deterioration. All of the factories in the US must adhere to these standards. Many brands choose to manufacture their products overseas because these countries do not have the same environmental regulations as the United States. China's factories commonly use coal rather than clean energy alternatives to cut costs. Overseas factories are a major cause of pollution even before the products are shipped (another source of carbon emissions) to the US and sold in stores. Sixty percent of China's underground water sources are undrinkable. Pollution from factories in Northern China cause people to live an average of 5.5 years less than those in South China with cleaner air.

The Benefits of Locally Made Goods

Less Travel

If a shirt was made in the US, in Los Angeles, then sold in a store in Hollywood, Florida, it would travel about 2,700 miles. If the same item was made in Beijing, China, and needed to travel to a store in Florida, it would need to travel at least three times that distance. The further an item has to travel, the more the carbon emissions created from either shipping, air, or truck transportation. Most goods from China and overseas travel by freight in shipping containers. Ships transport about 90 percent of world trade and generate nearly 3 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions per year, which the International Maritime Organization (IMO) expects to increase to 50 percent by 2050. 

More Environmental Regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates everything from how factories dispose of waste to what materials can be used in manufacturing to minimize the environmental effect and protect the American people.

 "There are several processes that can't even be done in the US (i.e., vulcanized rubber commonly seen on tennis shoes) because they don't meet [Environmental Protection Agency] standards." - Alonzo, co-founder of Los Angeles-based brand Everybody.World

Cleaner Energy

The amount of C02 emissions created from shifting manufacturing from the US to China is about the same as the total emissions from Italy, 500 million metric tons of CO2. Because these goods have to be shipped after production to the US, the amount of carbon emitted may be up to 10 percent higher. The focus on cleaner energy also helps create jobs and innovation in the US, rather than restricting manufacturing. Factories and manufacturing companies looking to reduce pollution invest in eco-friendly companies that design, build, install, maintain and operate pollution-reducing processes and equipment, creating jobs in engineering, manufacturing, construction, materials, operation, and maintenance.

Less Waste

When goods are shipped, they require more packaging to avoid breakage during shipment, which creates more waste. Goods are often wrapped in layers upon layers of plastic during shipping. Companies that manufacture overseas often have to meet excessively large minimum order quantities. Domestic manufacturing is more sustainable because it minimizes overproduction, the worst form of waste. 

A Brighter Future for Made in the USA

Seeing "Made in the USA" on a product label is becoming increasingly popular as companies shift their manufacturing back to the US. Global supply chain issues and trade wars have made it more difficult to use factories overseas, and consumers are becoming more aware and choosing to support brands that practice sustainability. Companies are seeing the benefits of manufacturing domestically and keeping the factories closer to distribution centers so they can get the products in the hands of customers quicker. There's more control over the supply chain when you have local factories. 

Choosing to buy American Made products invests in the US economy while also reducing your own carbon footprint. Goods made in the US don't have to travel as far, require less packaging, and have to adhere to stricter government regulations about pollution, waste, and other environmental factors. Many goods are made in China, Vietnam, or Bangladesh using unfair labor and factories that have minimal regulations and even less enforcement. The local environment is dangerous to those who live there and harms the planet. When you choose a good manufactured in the US, you know that the factories have stricter labor laws, use cleaner energy, and have to adhere to regulations like the Clean Air Act. The US created these regulations to minimize the impact on the environment, which other countries do not have. Factories overseas may use coal and heavily pollute the local environment due to a lack of government oversight and enforcement. Buying American Made is a simple swap you can make and feel good about.