Saturday, December 16, 2006

Hey Economist: get the facts right on Fair Trade

An article in the Economist (I found it in the New York Times) seeks to explain why buying organic and fair trade doesn't protect the environment in the long run.

Ah, but if it only had its facts straight.

For instance, the article talks about how Fair Trade coffee has forced the production of coffee to increase, thereby making the "real" price of coffee go down. But, it doesn't talk about why coffee production is so high in the first place: because of subsidies from the World Bank to places where coffee hadn't been produced before, such as Vietnam.

Learn more about the facts on this U.S. Food Policy blog.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Another world is possible and you won't find it at the shopping mall

The online version of Gift It Up! is still going strong so we have extended our hours.
Make donations online at by 9 a.m. on Saturday 12/16 and your gift cards will be placed in the mail on Monday 12/18.
This is one alternative gift that benefits everybody while restoring meaning to the holidays and keeping your shopping dollars out of big box stores and malls.
1) You are supporting the work of one(or more) of the great non-profits participating in Gift It Up!
2) Your honoree receives a gift card outlining what the donation made in their name is doing.
3) You receive a tax deduction.
For a win-win-win situation, make your donation now at

Brought to you by Conscious Consuming - your alternative to stress, media bombardment and shopping malls!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Gift It Up! Alternative Gift Fair: Support your Favorite Charities with your Holiday Gifting

Excited about the upcoming voting season?
I don't mean November '08. I'm talking about the Christmas season, when people make votes arguably much more powerful than they make on the first Tuesday in November. How? By their choices of what markets they support through their Christmas shopping.

Christmas gift-giving accounts for an enormous percentage of all spending. A third of adults nationwide (34%) think they will spend $1,000 or more on gifts, according to a November 9-12, 2006 Gallup Poll, Holiday shopping is one of the year's biggest generators of revenue-- money that goes on to support the organizations you buy from.

So then, what do you want to support this Christmas?
Sweatshop labor in China? Overpriced and unnecessary luxury items?

Naw, instead of supporting waste and unnecessary products, how about supporting non-profit organizations you believe in?
There's a great way to do it: Boston's Conscious Consuming Alternative Gift Fair: Gift It Up! occurring Saturday December 2nd between 11am and 4pm at Arlington Street Church in Boston’s Back Bay.

Gift it Up is a holiday donation showcase at which you can choose items to 'get' for your loved ones for Christmas: except the items will be delivered to people or non-profit groups who need them, and your friend or relative will get a beautiful card that explains your donation.

Gift it Up is organized by Conscious Consuming, a local Boston non-profit group that "believes that holidays - and every day - should revolve around loved ones and the issues we care about, not around the material goods we receive. This begins with contributing to energies which benefit our local and global communities."

Perks of the event include talking with representatives from the participating non-profit organizations about how they will use your donations; discovering non-profits you might not have known about, finding that perfect 'gift' for everyone on your list, and enjoying homemade snacks and hot beverages.

If you can't make it to the event, though, you can purchase selected 'gifts' on-line at Donate by December 15 and you'll get a lovely gift card and envelope to send to your gift recipients, which explains what the donation will purchase. But come to the event if you can- a wider selection of gifts will be available.

Think about it:
$25 buys a) one fruitcake, OR b) two meals per day for an orphan for a month.
$25 buys a) a book your friend will never read, OR b) a G.E.D. prep book for a person in prison.
$55 buys a) one more tie, OR b) a pig for a family in Haiti.

Other gift options include: mosquito nets, beds for orphans, tree seedlings, honeybees, vaccinations for stray animals, and rooftop garden supplies for households in Gaza. Participating organizations include Grassroots International, All Paws Rescue (a no-kill humane society), Spare Change News, Summerbridge Cambridge, and the Federation of Massachussetts Farmers' Markets.

These gifts can be even more meaningful than standard gifts, because they go on helping for months to years, and they show that you took the time to pick the perfect gift for your loved one (I told my boyfriend I'm getting him a cow for a family in Africa). And it'll always make a great story. (Remember when Aunt Cathy got us a live Creole pig?) The possibilities for great gifting are endless.

So, think about how you want to 'vote' this holiday season, and I hope you'll choose to vote for a better world through donations at Gift it Up!

Andrea Runyan recently moved to Boston and is a welcome addition to Conscious Consuming.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Buy Nothing Day

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

Today is the busiest shopping day of the year, and day of most stress for me. That's why I've pledge to buy nothing today.

You can do the same by learning more at

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Not mincing words

This quote by the President of China really gets to the heart of it:

I strongly support your vision, Mr. President, of encouraging your country to become a nation of consumers and not savers, which will inure to the benefit of our manufacturers, both large and small, and our farmers, as well.

(Thanks, Tim!)

Monday, November 06, 2006 ::

Our upcoming alternative gift fair "Gift It Up!" has been included in a story about how non-profits are trying new angles for holiday fundraising at For the full (short) article, click here: ::

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Green Festival

The Green Festival came to DC on October 14th and 15th and is on its way to San Francisco and Chicago in upcoming months. If you live or will be visiting one of these cities, check it out and be inspired. There are hundreds of speakers, exhibitors, and film screenings about everything from smart growth to green hotels to socially responsible investing, as well as amazing vegetarian food, activities for kids, and an organic beer and wine garden. PLUS all of the food containers and water bottles available at the festival are compostable, the exhibitors' booths are constructed with recycled materials, and admission discounts are given to those who ride bikes to the festival or come with a lightbulb to exchange. Check out for more info!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Is Pink What You Think?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time when many medical organizations, hospitals, and advocacy groups work hard to get awareness out about breast cancer so that someday, soon, we'll find a cure.

The month is also a time for many corporations to target our heartstrings and, they're hoping, your purse strings too.

How many products do you see out there with a pink ribbon on it? How many will commit a "portion of proceeds" of a certain product to breast cancer?

The answer is, a lot. Although these products are seen as a company doing good for the community, what's really happening is that many of these companies are taking advantage of a popular issue to make an extra buck. They're giving only pennies away to breast cancer research and pocketing the rest.

I'm not saying that all companies are using this month as a scheme, or that you shouldn't buy these products. I'm hoping that you will think first before automatically buying a product because you think it'll do good for the world. Educate yourself!

For more information, go to

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Selling Out or Buying In?

This article by Dara O'Rourke, Selling Out or Buying In?, is an important start for those who are concerned about the new "partnerships" between what we think are socially and environmentally-responsible small businesses and the corporations that are eating them up. Dr. O'Rourke makes the links for you (Odwalla with Coca-Cola, Converse and Hurley with Nike, Tom's of Maine with Colgate) and makes an argument for watching these businesses closely.

(P.S. If you can get your hands on the most recent copy of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, he expands the article to include Wal-Mart and their new organic push.)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

A refined sense of irony?

A few weeks ago, I called on my governor to endorse Junk Mail Awareness Week, a campaign by the Center for a New American Dream. She did it, for which I am proud and grateful. However, the way in which she decided to inform me boggles my mind: she sent me junk mail.

Today I received a 8 1/2" x 14" manila envelope with two pieces of cardboard set inside. Between the cardboard was a piece of paper with the official seal proclaiming Junk Mail Awareness Week. It even gives reasons on it as to why junk mail is bad for the environment.

One piece of paper, surrounded by three pieces of paper. Does that not give off the whiff of junk mail to you?

I'm impressed that the campaign worked and that my governor has signed on. However, I'm not impressed by her actions. I've searched her website to find any information that she has posted about this endorsement. There is none (perhaps someone more resourceful can find some). This shows me that she does not take this seriously and signed off on it without much thought.

My faith in government today? Well, you can guess.

An Alternative Form of Currency

Here's an old-but-new concept: instead of exchanging money for goods and services, how about exchanging hours of your time?

In Ithaca and many other parts of the country, this "new" form of currency is emerging as a unique way of keeping a community together. By using Ithaca Hours, you show that you support your local community, and that people's skills and services are as important to you as the money might be.

Ithaca is proving that alternative economies like this do work! For more information, check out their website or the Wikipedia article.

(thanks, BP.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

The wedding blues

Now that the summer is nearly over, I feel that I can safely bring to light my gripe about time-, money-, and "stuff"-consuming weddings.

Being in my mid-20's means that the streak of friends getting married is just starting. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of weddings: friends and family getting together to witness and celebrate the love of two people. But the weight that the average wedding carries with it -- through engagement parties, wedding showers, bachelorette parties, rehearsal dinners, receptions and even post-wedding get-togethers -- is more than I can bear.

The wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar business, with magazines, stores, websites, and consultants dedicated to the special day.

This recent New York Times article
sums it up, with an astonishing figure: "A survey this year found that the average wedding costs $27,852, compared with $15,208 in 1990." I know many families and couples who have taken out loans, made payment plans for wedding dresses, and scraped by in their normal lives to throw an incredibly lavish party. It all adds up -- from the rental hall to the specially-dyed bridesmaid shoes to those candy-covered almonds that everyone leaves behind.

Not wanting to end the summer on such a sour note, there are plenty of ways to celebrate your love while saving money, being creative, and making your ceremony memorable for all! You can find these tips on the same websites that advertise destination weddings to Hawaii or Europe. Here's a great article in the most recent newsletter of the Center for a New American Dream.

Or, as another guest said to me at the last wedding I attended: "Eloping is very underrated!"

Friday, August 11, 2006

On Vacation... for real!

This New York Times article really brings home that Americans really aren't taking vacations anymore. More and more people are worried that if they do take their allotted vacation time, they are risking the security of their jobs. Those who do go on vacation aren't really out of the office -- they're hooked up by their cellphones, laptops, and Blackberrys... even at the beach!

I was very fortunate at my last job to have a boss who understood the importance of time off for his staff. (I'm now going back to school, which is another discussion altogether: how can I take time for myself without feeling guilty about not studying?) When I went on vacation, I was on vacation: I would turn off the computer and phone, and even sometimes would turn around the clocks where I was, so I wasn't constantly being dictated by time to tell me when I should eat or go to sleep!

I'm curious to hear what other people do to really be on vacation. Give us your ideas in the comments section!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Going Green - Washington Post Articles

The Sunday Source section of this week's Washington Post (8/6/06) is all about being green. It includes the following articles on making the world greener:

- Going, Going, Green: including a sustainable dance club with organic beer, rainwater collection for toilets, and powered by dancing!

- 5 Things to Do with this Newspaper: including fixing a flat bike tire (Of course they don't mention the option of reading the paper online instead of buying it in the first place, but I guess it's a start).

- The Look: Environmentally Friendly Clothing - bamboo shirts, anyone?

- Green Buildings

- Increasing Gas Mileage: article focuses on hybrids, but also includes "hypermilling" techniques that can be used for both hybrids and regular cars

Friday, July 21, 2006

Are we getting through?

There has been a bunch of articles in the last two weeks on Conscious Consuming topics:

- July 17 Newsweek cover story on the Greening of America talks about how green is now cool.

- The current Money Magazine has a story on money and happiness -- being poor is a big drag, being middle class is pretty good, but being filthy rich doesn't make you that much happier than a middle class person. Apparently, having 12 cars doesn't make you much happier than just having one.
- That same Money Magazine has an article on a family that joined The Compact. (The Compact is a group who took a vow to drastically cut back on their shopping and buy only food, underwear, and a few other necessities.) The Money experts analyzed the families financies and advised them famility to spend more on their kids.
(Unfortunately, the cheapskates at Money haven't put their current issue up on the Web yet so I can't provide links. You're going to have to take my word on these two.)

- Businessweek July 17 "Business on a Warmer Planet," discusses how global warming is starting to hit big business in the only place it understands -- the wallet.

I guess someone out there is listening.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How to Buy Nothing

My friend Dave sent me this interesting link on How to Buy Nothing. It's an interesting site, not only for its content, but also because it's a wiki - a lot of people contributed to it, which means a lot of people are thinking about consumption, too!

I like the 7 rule: "if something you want is over 7 dollars, wait 7 days and ask 7 trusted people whether this is a good purchase. Then buy it if you still think it is a good idea. This rule will curtail impulse buying. Note: not everyone will enjoy giving their opinion every time you want to make a purchase."

Take what works for you, and try to challenge yourself to buy nothing! (or at least less!)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What to Eat?

We've been talking about food a lot on this blog lately, and there's a good reason for it: all of us think about food, both eating and buying it!

All the information out there might be confusing and contradictory. Well, I can't promise to help straighten it out, but there are two new books on the topic. These experts might help you wade through the information:

Marion Nestle's new book, What to Eat, takes an aisle by aisle look at what's out there and why. It also helps to decipher nuritional labels and whether or not you can trust an organic label (she says yes!).

In The Way We Eat, the ethicist Peter Singer and animal rights activist Jim Mason discuss different eating habits and what is better for you, the environment, and for the animals. This book may help you decide whether eating a plant-based diet makes sense for you.

This summer reading that might change the way you think about food!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Local or organic? It's a false choice |By Samuel Fromartz |Grist Magazine | Arts and Minds | 18 May 2006

I try to buy local and organic when possible, but during the long, cold Boston winter it's tough! Then in the summer when produce abounds I often wonder whether it's better to eat the delicious, warmed by the sun strawberries from Ward's Berry Farm in Sharon (where the produce is very local but not organic) or buy the organic berries shipped in from California. This article from Grist
Local or organic? It's a false choice |
By Samuel Fromartz |
Grist Magazine | Arts and Minds | 18 May 2006
makes me realize that the larger job is swaying the majority toward both buying locally AND buying organic.

Amazon Organic Groceries

What do those three words have in common? Not much...until recently.

Amazon has now launched an online grocery service for bulk non-perishable goods. This is a move that takes direct aim at the customers of places like Sam's Club and Costco. Given the fact that Sam's Club(part of WalMart) is anti-union, offers low pay and poor benefits in addition to being a BigBox drive-to-only, environmentally unfriendly store, it might be better to buy through Amazon where at least the people paid to deliver it to you are paid fairly. On the otherhand, there's Costco which still has all the problems of being a bigbox store but it does pay workers fairly and give decent benefits.

My vote between Sam's Club, Costco and Amazon? None of the above.

The way to buy bulk is at your local co-op in bins not 80 individual packages put into one big package produced by one huge company and sold to you by another huge company.

The entire article follows:
Shopping outside the box

June 21, 2006
In an earlier column, I answered a reader's question regarding online grocery shopping with local supermarkets. Yes, it is possible to save money because online grocery services provide most of the same products as a grocery store, they feature sale items, offer their own coupons and many will even accept traditional grocery coupons.

Best of all, by avoiding walking in the store you limit impulse purchases, which can be the downfall of even the most disciplined grocery shopper. With the busy schedules of most families, online grocery shopping can save valuable time and even gasoline costs.

Now there is another interesting online grocery shopping option. Think of it as the warehouse club concept — online. Amazon has entered the online grocery shopping business by offering nonperishable items in bulk at bargain prices. I recently read an article about the great bargains provided by this service, so I had to check it out.

Amazon's grocery section states that they carry more than 10,000 nonperishable items, that their products have great everyday prices, and they are eligible for free Super Saver shipping. For comparison, a typical large supermarket has 25,000 to 35,000 items, but that includes perishable items as well as nonperishable items.

While I'm convinced that Amazon has a good selection, I am a skeptic whenever any store claims to have great "everyday" low prices. Therefore, I compared some of their common items' prices with items I purchase on a regular basis at my grocery store.

For example, Amazon sells standard size boxes of Kellogg's cereals 17.6 oz. in a four pack, at an average price of $3.68 per box. That same variety and size of cereal is currently selling for $2.50 per box at my store this week. I'm not sure buying four boxes at that price offers enough convenience to offset the higher "bulk" price!

However, any strategic shopper knows how to figure out the rules of a store to take a strategic approach to getting lower prices. Although Amazon does not accept traditional grocery coupons, they do have regular promotions. For example, their site is currently promoting a special promotion for Kraft and Planters products. If you buy $39 or more of selected Kraft or Planters products, you get $15 taken off your order immediately as an instant rebate with a coupon code provided by the site.

In that case, I could buy a 12-count case of Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese dinner 14 oz. boxes for $28.80 and a 15-count case of Balance nutrition bars for $11.54. I would qualify for free shipping and there would be no sales tax. After the $15 instant rebate was deducted, I would be paying $1.51 per box for the Kraft dinner and 48 cents for each nutrition bar, which are pretty good prices for those items. Therefore, if you are a shopper who likes the convenience of online shopping, and has the storage space to keep an inventory of your purchases, you may be able to find some grocery bargains on typical items from Even so, I wouldn't order those items because I could probably find them at lower prices with coupons at my stores when they were on sale, without having to buy them in bulk quantities.

If you prefer organic foods, you may want to check out Amazon's organic grocery section. They feature many popular brands and also have promotional offers, such as instant rebates, on selected brands.

Finally, Amazon has a nice gourmet food section that featured some attractive gift baskets. Promotional offers for the gift baskets included a free $10 Amazon gift certificate with the purchase of a gift basket valued at $50 or more. If you needed to send a nice gift to a friend or client, and could take advantage of free shipping, you may find some nice quality bargains from

If you discover some smart savings strategies and real bargains in Amazon's grocery section, I'd love to hear about them!

Stephanie Nelson shares her savings tips as a regular contributor on ABC News' "Good Morning America." You can find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and visit She can be reached at

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Eat your (local) veggies!

Today is the first day of summer. Happy Solstice!

For me, summer conjures up memories of lazy days at the beach, lots of outings to the park fountains, and especially wonderful summer food.

This is the season where everything is growing. Especially in New England, where we grow little food in the winter, I love to take advantage of the local food market to get the freshest fruits and vegetables that I will have all year. I do this at the farmer's markets!

Farmer's markets are great for a number of reasons: you get to meet the people who are growing your food and who love to do it. You can try a whole bunch of vegetables that never reach the conventional market. Did you know that brussel sprouts actually grow on a stalk? I didn't, until I bought one last summer!

Also, supporting local farmer's markets is good for the environment, too. Locally grown foods mean that less fossil fuels were used in transportation and packaging. While not all locally grown foods may be organic, many small farmers work hard to use little pesticides (it saves them money and keeps the farmers healthy), and many also use Integrated Pest Management as an optional environmentally-friendly growing practice.

Many small farmers are now being financially supported solely through farmer's markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs, because the huge agricultural industry has pushed them out of conventional super markets.

So find a local farmer's market today! There are over 100 in Massachusetts alone!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

She killed her TV with a fork!

This is from my friend Angela Mucci's blog. It's funny to read about the TV's destruction but what's fascinating is to read her story of how people reacted to her not having a TV. Where was she during TV Turnoff Week!

TV''S ??????????????????

When I was eighteen, I killed my television. My friend Kelly and I had been drinking, so naturally we had to destroy something. It was fun. We cut off the cord, stabbed it in the back with forks (if you do this at home, be sure to UNPLUG the T.V.) and drew things all over the screen. Then I threw it on the ground next to the dumpster behind my apartment.

I'll admit, I went through mild withdrawal during the first few T.V-less months. I was used to watching three or four shows at night, and at first I smoked cigarettes nervously, twitching my foot or pacing the floor.

Should I get another television? I wondered... No, I'll conduct an experiment, see what life is like without T.V....

Well, first I started to get more creative, and then televisions looked different to me. When I would see them hanging in corners of sub shops or flashing along restaurant walls, they appeared to be bizarre and even frightening. I liked watching movies, but commercials became either unbearable to watch, or they just looked hilarious in a kinda creepy way. Same thing with "the news." I turned T.V.s off whenever possible, and that is when I began to notice peoples strange devotion to television.

People really wanted me to have a television. I was repeatedly met with the same exact two questions when I said that I didnt have a T.V. "Do you want one?" People I barely knew were often willing to give me a T.V. And: "But what do you do?" One person asked me if I was "one of those religious freaks," and asked me if I thought rock and roll was "bad or something?" It wasnt a moral thing, I explained. T.V.s just freaked me out. It scared me the way I couldnt help but stare at them when I was forced to be around them. They seemed to suck my energy. Even when they were off, they seemed to be alive. I had am image of my mom, slumped down on the couch, hollow-eyed, staring the screen at 3 P.M. on beautiful Spring afternoons. My Dad, emotionlessly tuned in to the screen.

I didnt own a T.V. for six years. But then when my parents sold their Falmouth house a few years ago, they told my brother and I to take what we wanted from what they left behind. There was a huge T.V. and it was winter. "It would be nice to watch movies during the winter, I thought. So I took the T.V. home (My friend Rene' and I carried that beast of an awkwardly shaped T.V. one step at a time up three flights of stairs, having to drop it at every other step and laugh hysterically), and I bought a tiny D.V.D. player. I didnt get cable, but I loved watching movies in bed, especially when it was too cold to go outside.

I soon became addicted to two television shows, both of which are available on D.V.D: The Gilmore Girls and Twin Peaks. I wondered what would happen if Rory, star of The Gilmore Girls spent a day in the life of Laura Palmer, star of Twin Peaks. Or vice versa
Each teen would be wildly out of their element in their respective small town. Any ideas of how this switch would look? Stay tuned for my compare/contrast of the two oddly similar shows that have completely polarized ideas of life in a small town.

If you would like to contact Angela, her email is:

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Corporations

I find this only slightly humorous in that it is sadly true in more cases than not. I thought #4 was particularly appropriate given the topic of the potluck Sunday!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Corporations

By Mickey Z.


June 9, 2006

What do trans-national corporate giants know that we don't? Do you ever wonder why CEOs have all that fun dwelling in decadent luxury while the rest of us live from paycheck to paycheck just to make ends meet? Of course you do.

Well, stop dreaming and read on...because here, for the first time ever, are the top seven secrets of America's most dynamic and successful corporations:

1. Say no to unions.
Avoid the annoying hassles and unnecessary costs of dealing with overtime pay, sick leave, OSHA rules, strike threats, and other labor related nuisances. Keep those union organizers away, hire temps, outsource jobs overseas; it's the American Way.

2. Cut labor costs.
Sweatshop: How does 15 cents an hour sound to you? No lunch break. No bathroom breaks. Remember, if your company doesn't hire that pre-teen girl in El Salvador, her family will starve. Have a heart.
Prisoners: Imagine a workforce that lives and sleeps at the work place. Think outside the box, but inside the cells. Prison's not just license plates anymore.
Slaves: The ultimate choice for maximum profit. Never mind the touchy-feely human rights talk. It's not our job to meddle in another sovereign nation's business. After all, if there's going to be indentured servitude, you can be damn sure your competitor won't be squeamish abut cashing in.

3. Exploit corporate welfare.
Here's how the commies at Public Citizen explain it: "Each year, U.S. taxpayers subsidize U.S. businesses to the tune of almost $125 billion, the equivalent of all the income tax paid by 60 million individuals and families. These corporations receive a wide range of favors: special corporate tax breaks; direct government subsidies to pay for advertising, research and training costs; and incentives to pursue overseas production and sales." Well...what are you waiting for?

4. Disregard environmental regulations.
Ask your shareholders how they feel about installing those expensive safeguards just to save a salamander or two. Besides, thanks to "greenwashing," it's not like anyone notices. Just because you're an oil company doesn't mean you can't sell yourself as a friend of the environment, right? Learn from Kraft. They creatively promoted their cereals as having "natural ingredients" when in fact, the corn they use is genetically engineered. Take-home message: Perception is reality.

5. Take advantage of the magic of public relations.
Toxic sludge has become bio-solids. Used is now pre-owned. McDonald's sells salads. Front groups, fake op-eds, third party testimonials...check out what PR Watch is bitching about if you're not sure what to do.

6. Make strategic campaign contributions.
Managing your bottom line is so much easier with a few members of Congress on your side. We live in a democracy; why not make it work for your company? Remember: Senators need vacations, too.

7. Donate lots of money to safe, generic charities.
Nothing says "hero" like a big fat check ostensibly earmarked for needy kids in some godforsaken corner of the globe. Don't forget to enlist a celebrity to keep the focus on your generosity and away from the conditions that create the need for charity in the first place.

As J. Paul Getty sez: "Formula for success: Rise early, work hard, strike oil." So what you are waiting for? This is truly the land of opportunity...

Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web.
Authors Bio: Mickey Z. is the author of five books, most recently "50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American Patriotism" (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Are you being Greenwashed?

Last weekend's potluck featured Jemilah Magnusson from The Green Life, a Boston-based environmental education organization. Jemilah spoke about Greenwashing, a method used by corporations and individuals to fool customers into thinking that they're buying environmentally friendly products and services.

According to The Green Life, the ten worst Greenwashers of 2005 were:

1. Ford Motor Company
2. BP
3. United States Forest Service
4. ChevronTexaco
5. General Motors
6. Nuclear Energy Institute
7. Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
8. TruGreen ChemLawn
9. Xcel Energy
10. National Ski Areas Association

Find out more about these companies, and what you can do about it, at

To get on the invitation list for future potlucks and other events, email us!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Go See An Inconvenient Truth

I saw An Inconvenient Truth, the movie with Al Gore, tonight. It was very good, and this is why you should see it:

If you are an environmentalist already:

This movie will re-energize you and help you remember the reason why you are working for the planet. For me, this movie so succinctly describes my passion for the environment. I'm rarin' to go... again!

If you are on the fence:
Al Gore does a great job of separating the science of global warming from the politics. While he is in the politics business, he relies on sound science to guide his reasons for why we have to stop global warming now.

If you've been meaning to get involved:
This is a great way to start. This movie will get your head in line with your well-meaning heart, and you will walk out of it wanting to get started!

If you're in solidarity but don't want to spend the bucks:
I think this is money well spent. If you see this movie on the opening weekend of where you are living, you are doing a great service to the fate of the movie's life (because much of the amount of advertising put in for a movie depends on the opening weekend's revenue). That means more people will hear about the movie and will have the opportunity to see it.

(Plus, it's either this or the Jennifer Aniston movie, which one is it going to be?)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

How much is your time really worth?

Here's an interesting way to think about your time and money:
Calculate Your Real Wage

The calculator goes through how much time you actually spend on work: not only the time you're at work, but also factoring in commuting, preparing for work, and relaxing after work (we all do it, don't we?).

Note: this works the best if you are truly honest to yourself about every hour you put into work. Also, list some real items that you are thinking of purchasing at the end. I was surprised to see what it said!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Big Box Organic - the corporatization of organics

There are many aspects to being a conscious consumer. Where and how were items made/grown? How were the people involved treated and compensated? What is the overall impact of your purchase - on the environment, on society, on the bottom line of various companies?

For a variety of reasons, many of us have shifted to buying more organic food. Traditionally, organic farming was synonomous with small, local farmers that practiced environmentally friendly forms of farming. That's often no longer the case as evidenced by this chart of corporate ownership of the organic foods market.

Here's an interesting article on the subject if you'd like to read more.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It's a boy! Now turn on the TV

Well, it's finally happened. A TV channel exclusively for babies has arrived.

BabyFirstTV is available via subscription so that your children can start becoming TV zombies straight out of the womb. Nevermind that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends absolutely NO television watching for children under two years old.

BFTV's executive Sharon Rechter says, "The fact of life is that babies are already watching TV," so why not give them something that's "safe" and totally their own?

Let's not assume that parents will take the easy, $9.99/month road, but will instead turn that TV off.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Not Buying It

I've been hearing about this new book that's come out, Not Buying It by Judith Levine. Here's a brave soul: she buys nothing that's deemed a luxury for an entire year. And she has pretty low standards.

Here's an excerpt from Amazon:
Since giving up shopping entirely is impossible in North America (buying food requires money), the most interesting aspect of Levine's adventure is the process of defining necessity. High-speed Internet access, Q-tips and any soap fancier than Ivory, for example, are all ruled out as luxuries. ...As Levine trades in movies and restaurants for the public library system and dinner parties at home, she is forced to reflect on not only the personal indulgences she's become used to but also their place in defining her social space. ...Levine investigates several anticonsumer movements—she joins her local Voluntary Simplicity group, participates in Buy Nothing Day and consults experts on issues of consumerism and conservation. Yet the most insightful aspect is Levine's account of her own struggle to keep down her day-to-day consumption of goods and to define the fine line between need and want.

Anybody read this book yet? Leave your review in the comments! Let us know of other books you've read, too!

Friday, May 05, 2006

See us in J.P. this weekend!

Hey everybody!

Conscious Consuming will be in Jamaica Plain at the wonderful
Wake Up the Earth Festival, Saturday, May 6th. We have a booth and love to chat, so meet us there!

We're also having a kid's activity, so bring all the little people you know. We're going to have kids make cards for their mom/dad and have them think of non-material things to "give" them for the next holiday, like Mother's Day. These could be things as simple as "Five hugs!" or as difficult (for a 5-year-old) as "Let Mom sleep in on Saturday!"

Join us in the fun!

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's TV Turnoff Week Boston!

Turn off TV and Turn on Life! Try it for one week, don't worry your couch, your TV and mass media will be waiting patiently for you!

This is a worldwide event publicized by The TV Turnoff Network and Adbusters.

Conscious Consuming is excited to be hosting three events in conjunction with TV Turnoff Week:

TV TURNOFF WEEK is April 24 - 30, 2006!

Tuesday 4/25: Join us at O'Naturals in Somerville(Davis Sq 187 Elm St) from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. We will be having our monthly meal at an establishment that has made some conscious consuming decisions of it's own instead of doing a potluck at someone's home. We will be featuring the founder of PC Turnoff Week as our guest speaker! Please join us for food, conversation and activity!

Wednesday 4/26: We are excited to host an open mic night at La Luna Cafe in Cambridge(403 Mass Ave). There will be music, poetry and a dash of activism from 7 - 9 p.m..

Thursday 4/27: Conscious Consuming social at the Lir Irish Pub in Back Bay (903 Boylston St, across from the Pru). Talk to and watch real people instead of televisions. Look for a guy wearing a black derby hat. Good place for jammers to assemble from 6 - 8 p.m. Some may do a TV B-Gone pub crawl afterwards.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

What's in your shopping cart? Probably something GMO!

We all know that GMO = BAD. But who knows how to avoid them? It's one thing to not want to buy GMO food but it's another to know how!

With fruit and vegetables it's relativey easy. A five digit code beginning with a 9 signifies that it is organic(which means many good things, including not GMO!). Any four digit code is neither organic nor GMO(the midde ground). Any five digit code beginning with a 8 is GMO.

Now to the more complicated part. Aside from only buying organic and/or goods specifically labeled non-GMO, what can you do at the store? You might be asking, how many products could be affected/infected with GMO ingredients?

A whole lot! There are GMO ingredients in most sodas, cookies, breads, crackers, baking mixes, cereals, chocolate(candybars, chocolate chips, etc), ketchup, mayonnaise, salsa, soup mixes, even Gatorade, rice cakes and veggie burgers!

This list is extensive and it's right here.

I would imagine that most storebrands are GMO unless specifically labeled non-GMO or organic so the safest places to shop in the Boston area seem to be Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Wild Oats. There's also Boston Organics which delivers organic fruit, vegetables, fair trade coffee, bread, peanut butter and eggs.

So many factors to consider when we're shopping. GMO, Organic, Fair Trade, Local and of course - price. And let's not even get started on dining out - Oy Vay!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Clean Clothes and Kids

For those of you who want to incorporate your values in with your work with kids, this Clean Clothes Campaign might be of interest. This campaign run by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee aims to teach kids about sweatshops and has a few activities and resources for kids to do something about it.

Thanks to Susan T. for pointing me this way!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Got my Blackspot Sneakers from the Blackspot Anticorporation

Most of you probably know of Adbusters from their playful and often inspirational magazine and website. They've sold a few items for quite some time but they recently took things to a whole new level. They have created the Antipreneur. Although most things are still in the idea stage, they have successfully launched two types of shoes, both called Blackspot Shoes.

Blackspots are not your ordinary shoe. They are union-made in Portugal(meaning that they are fairly-traded), organic hemp upper(sustainable and environmentally friendly), soles from recycled tires(environment thing again) and biodegradable fake leather(environment one more time!). Of course, they're vegan too!

Each person purchasing their first pair receives a Blackspot Sneaker Shareholder Certificate. This entitles the shareholder to vote on what materials to use, where to manufacture the shoes, marketing, how to use profits, etc.

Until you get your own pair, here are the instructions for How to Uncool a Megacorporation:
1 Apply a helpful dot of red to the ass kicking sweet spot, right at the tip of the toe cap.
2 Slap a Blackspot on every last logo, brand name and trademark
3 Walk into a local indy store and tell the manager about the Blackspot-How we're trying to create a bottom-up, socially responsible cool in the sneaker industry. Then email Blackspot Sneakers with the retailer's specs and they'll follow-up
4 Blackspots start popping up all over the urban landscape - a sign of defiance, just like the anarchy symbol of yesteryear
5 15 second mindbombs start being aired on TV
That's the plan according to Adbusters. Go forth and uncool your sweatshop shoes and make them into something much, much cooler. A sign that you don't think union-busting, child labor using, below poverty paying sweatshops are cool and you're going to stop buying or displaying products from companies that use them!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Working World * Re-connecting producers and consumers

A coworker had brought The Working World to my attention a few months ago. The Working World is a non-profit that helps fund and market products from cooperatives and democratic workplaces.

They've created an online market for factories run by Argentina's autonomous workers movement. These factories had been shutdown by the owners and have been reclaimed by the workers who are now running them! You can select from glassware, shoes, shirts and balloons. When you select a particular item(my favorite is the balloons -they're awesome!), you can see and read about the factory and the workers. Each item also gives you a breakdown of where your money is going. For instance here is the breakdown on a nice button-down shirt for men:

Price: US$14.40

Cooperative receivesUS$9.00
Real middle man cost 2.25
Fund contribution1.80
Import Duties 1.35

It's quite a bargain for the average US consumer and quite a good flow-through to the workers - that's what I call a win-win! The only losers in this equation are the transnational corporations and the sweatshops that supply them!

So if you can't find locally produced or thriftstore balloons, glassware, shirts or shoes, I encourage you to shop through The Working World. Help some people who are helping themselves. Give a boost to globalization from below and strike a blow against sweatshop corporations with your most important vote - your hard-earned dollar!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Review of Gone Tomorrow Screening/Heather Rogers Talk

I went to the Lucy Parsons Center last night to see Gone Tomorrow and hear Heather Rogers talk about both her book and movie. Here's a link to the original post about the event. I wanted to post about a few of the things she discussed. She lives in Brooklyn so I don't know if she'll make it back up here anytime soon but she was a very engaging and knowledgable speaker, definitely reccomend checking her out if you have the opportunity.

The movie Gone Tomorrow - The Hidden Life of Garbage is short(19 minutes) but delivers alot in that brief time. It is also interesting to note that the movie was Heather's first project and inspired her to write a book of the same name which, using over 225 pages, explores the same topic in much more detail.

Here were some points that really stood-out:
  • Industry generates 70 tons of waste for every ton generated by consumers(consumer waste accounts for less than 1.5% of waste!)
  • Only 22% of plastic bottles get recycled(there is a limited market for them)
  • Industry has framed disposable goods as a litter issue not a waste issue.
  • 50 - 80% of computers recycled in the U.S. end-up in China
  • Most recycled goods are down-cycled, meaning they are changed into something of lesser grade or use during the recycling process.
  • Capitalism needs garbage.
  • Most businesses externalize costs onto the environment
  • Green businesses either cater to high-end consumers or go out-of-business.
Solutions? You want something positive to take away from this and possibly act on??? OK...
  • A fundamental cultural change to one of reduced consumption(like the Compact but with everyone participating!).
  • Framing the waste issue as both a social justice and an environmental issue, then acting on it accordingly
  • Increased product durability, recyclability and servicability

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Changing the world, one shopping cart at a time

Article about a movie about the movement towards consumer education and creating resources for consumers looking to buy in a conscious manner.

Changing the world, one shopping cart at a time

Thursday, March 30, 2006


There's a telling scene in the documentary "Buyer Be Fair" in which various Home Depot customers try to define "certified wood."

Coming up


WHAT: Locally produced documentary on fair-trade shopping

WHEN / WHERE: 9 tonight on KCTS/9. Repeats at 1 p.m. Sunday and 1 a.m. Monday

Customer No. 1: "Well, I know it is treated with chemicals so that it stands up for a long time ..."

Customer No. 2: "I worked with wood for my whole life and I've never heard the term 'certified' ..."

Customer No. 3: "It's probably a good grade of wood ..."

Sorry, that is incorrect.

As any do-it-yourselfer in Amsterdam knows, certification means the lumber was grown and harvested responsibly, with oversight by the independent Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC, and labeled as such.

"I think it's well-known here in Holland," says one shopper in the film.

Another says, "I will pay extra for it. I do; I do pay extra for it."

It's not surprising that Dutch consumers are hip to the FSC label. Fair Trade certification, most commonly associated with coffee, began in the Netherlands two decades ago. Now, more than nine in 10 Dutch shoppers know what the Fair Trade label means and they look for it when they shop.

So do many other Europeans. As "Buyer Be Fair" points out, Bonn, Germany, is the world headquarters of the Fair Trade parent organization and FSC. Both are big players in the fast-growing product-labeling movement, designed to help shoppers identify independently certified global goods they can buy without cramping their conscience.

In their hourlong documentary premiering tonight on KCTS/9, Seattle-based producers John de Graaf and Hana Jindrova try to bring U.S. shoppers up to speed by showing how individual purchases affect the larger world.

"What you choose to put in your shopping basket has global implications," they note in the Take Action section of their accompanying Web site,, which was due to be up and running today. "It can determine whether a child is able to attend school or an endangered rain forest is logged. Certified products ensure that you know what your purchases are supporting."

Today you can find items from bananas to chocolates to soccer balls bearing the Fair Trade label -- if you're willing to do some legwork.

The standards are enforced by independent groups in 20 countries -- most of them in Europe -- and every country certifies a somewhat different array of goods.

TransFair USA, the only independent certifier in the United States, certifies only coffee, cocoa, tea, rice, sugar and some fresh fruits. So if you want a Fair Trade Certified soccer ball, you'll have to search online for a product that has been certified in another country, such as Canada.

On the other hand, if you're looking for Fair Trade Certified chocolate for your kids' Easter basket, the TransFair USA link is helpful. There's even a source in Seattle: Theo Chocolate, no address listed, only a phone number. We called and found it's at 3400 Phinney Ave. N. and is open for retail business on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (You also can find Theo bars at Ballard Market.)

Although more certified products are available, the "Buyer Be Fair" documentary focuses mainly on coffee and wood because those products pack such a wallop in the marketplace.

"Coffee and timber are two of the three top-selling trade goods," de Graaf said in an interview .

Oil is No. 1, but, as Jindrova added ruefully, there is no certification program for socially and environmentally responsible oil production.

Product certification is a frustratingly complex field, and the documentary won't automatically put guilt-free products at your fingertips. But, as viewers will see with the Home Depot shoppers, raising awareness is a good place to start.

"Our point," Jindrova said, "is just to get people thinking about where their products come from and if they can shape the market in a positive way."

If that sounds like feel-good hoo-ha, watch as "Buyer Be Fair" pans across deserted coffee plantations in Oaxaca, Mexico -- casualties of a free-fall in world coffee prices caused by cheap Vietnamese and Brazilian beans flooding the market.

At the Alemania plantation, once a busy community with a city hall and painted church, all that remains are decaying buildings and sinkfuls of unwashed dishes.

"So what do coffee farmers do?" asks ecologist Beatriz Avalos. "Either they abandon their land and go somewhere else looking for a job -- Mexico City or even the United States -- or they start clear-cutting ... to grow maize, beans for subsistence cattle, you name it."

Apart from the environmental harm, she said, the ripple effects will leave people with "nothing to lose," creating social and political instability.

Yikes! We don't want that bitter aftertaste in our morning jolt of java. What can we do?

There are some good leads in the links at, including help locating Fair Trade coffee. Still, there's no such thing as one-stop shopping for consumers who want to buy right.

"To be a conscious consumer," said de Graaf, "you do have to do a little thinking. These labels make it a little easier."

The documentary does spotlight a few laudable retail efforts:

  • In Seattle, Caffe Ladro sells only "triple-certified" coffee beans -- certified organic, shade-grown and Fair Trade.

  • Home Depot, the world's largest seller of lumber, now gives preference to vendors that offer FSC-certified wood. Shoppers can identify it by its green-tree logo. (Note, however, that a competing certification system, the industry-backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative, has a similar green-tree logo. De Graaf and Jindrova consider FSC's standards superior.)

  • Ikea, based in Sweden, where nearly half the forests are certified, produces as much furniture as possible from FSC wood. Case in point is the popular "Ivar" bookshelf, made at a factory that uses only FSC wood.

    One of the most interesting links at is Green-e, which certifies that participating power companies produce a certain percentage of electricity from sustainable sources such as geothermal or wind power.

    Consumers who want to participate pay a premium -- the national average is $6 per month -- to specify what percentage of "their" power they want from sustainable sources. In reality, electricity from all sources gets mixed together, so what the consumer is really doing is supporting the utility's overall reliance on sustainable power and not necessarily receiving "green" electricity in his home.

    Seattle City Light and Puget Sound Energy offer similar programs, though they aren't certified by Green-e. Again, it's up to the consumer to search the utilities' Web pages -- or the Green-e site -- for the formidable details.

    "It's confusing," Green-e's Keri Bolding told the P-I, "and most people just don't want to know where their electricity comes from. ... It's hard for a consumer to just get it in a sound bite and then want to spend money on it."

    In time, shoppers should feel more comfortable with the various certification labels, said Nicole Chettero at TransFair USA.

    "It's an emerging field," she said in an interview. "There's a lot of consumer education (to do)."

    Ultimately, Jindrova and de Graaf hope certifiers work themselves out of jobs by making fair-trade and sustainable products business-as-usual.

    Until then, it's up to each shopper to carry the day.

    "Any difference matters," Jindrova said. "Every single purchase. It just brings us closer to a better world."

    P-I reporter Cecelia Goodnow can be reached at 206-448-8353 or

    © 1998-2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  • Wednesday, March 29, 2006

    Tools for local food buying

    I came across a few sites for buying local produce and local animal products. For me the benefits in buying local as much as possible include personal health (try to get organic), suport local economy, and much less harm to the environment due to large farm techniques and the impact transportation pollution has on global warming.

    For local and sustainably produced meat, poultry, dairy and eggs

    For local and sustainably grown produce

    And a site with some great answers/overviews to all sorts of food issues (biodiversity, antibiotics, pesticides, animal processing)

    Tuesday, March 28, 2006

    Dear Conscious Consuming Readers

    I have a sweatshop dilemma. So, I would prefer to buy and wear fairly-made clothes all the time, but I have two obstacles:

    1. Reality is, I can't afford to buy it all the time.
    2. As much as I would like to, I can't wear the nice but casual clothes that great companies like No Sweat and American Apparel make to work. (Nor would I want to: if you look at No Sweat's "work" category, the only clothing for women is a red, sleeveless knit dress, and if you go to American Apparel's site, well, you'll see.)

    So what do I do? I do try to buy used clothes, but in the line of work that I'm going into, I will inevitably have to buy new collared shirts and such. Do I use my small, hard-earned money buying high-cost brand names, or do I go to Target where reality is, both of these stores probably use sweatshop labor? Are there other alternatives I'm not seeing?

    Thanks, discuss in the comments.

    Monday, March 27, 2006

    A bunch of garbage - Gone Tomorrow - this Saturday night!

    Heather Rogers will be discussing a highly-relevant book that she wrote about garbage. Who's to blame? What can be done? Read a bit below and then come meet Heather at the Lucy Parsons Center.

    Heather Rogers: Gone Tomorrow
    Saturday April 1st, 2006
    time: 7 p.m.

    description: The United States is the world capital of garbage; with just 5% of the planet's population, America generates 30% of its trash. The average American creates a staggering 4.5 pounds of rubbish daily, but garbage is a global problem. Consider that the Pacific Ocean is now six times more abundant with plastic waste than zooplankton.

    Everyone makes garbage. It's there all the time, in the corner of our kitchens, in the bins next to our desks. But trash is also always in the process of disappearing—getting quickly, almost imperceptibly whisked out of sight. But where does it all go? And what is the impact of garbage on the planet?

    In Gone Tomorrow, journalist Heather Rogers addresses these questions by guiding us through the grisly, oddly fascinating underworld of trash. Excavating the history of rubbish handling from the 1800s—an era of garbage-grazing urban hogs and dump-dwelling rag pickers—to the present, with its brutally violent mob-controlled cartels and high-tech "mega-fills" operated by multi-billion-dollar garbage corporations, Rogers investigates the roots of today's waste-addicted culture.

    Over the past 30 years, garbage output in the US has doubled. Gone Tomorrow explains that, despite popular wisdom, this explosion of rubbish is not the sole responsibility of the consumer. In fact, shoppers often have little choice in the wastes they generate. Consider packaging: tossed cans, bottles, boxes, and wrappers now take up more than a third of all landfill space. More prolific today than ever before, packaging is garbage waiting to happen.

    Once buried or burned, trash is hardly benign. Landfills, even the most state-of-the-art, are environmental time bombs. They spew greenhouse gases, and leach hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into groundwater and soil. Waste incinerators are no less disastrous. They emit 70% of the world's dioxin, and pollute the air with toxic particulate matter and a host of gases that cause acid rain.

    Gone Tomorrow also explores the politics of recycling, which is widely embraced—more Americans recycle than vote—but has serious limitations, and, as Rogers points out, should only be seen as a first step toward more fundamental solutions.

    Part exposé, part social commentary, Gone Tomorrow traces the connection between modern industrial production, consumer culture, and our disposable lifestyle. Read it and you'll never think of garbage the same way again.

    Heather Rogers is a writer, journalist, and filmmaker. Her documentary film Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life Of Garbage (2002) screened in festivals around the globe. Her articles have appeared in Utne Reader, Z Magazine, the Brooklyn Rail, Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Third Text, and Art And Design. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

    The Lucy Parsons Center has a well-stocked bookstore with new and used books and more than 200 magazines, newspapers, and journals, covering every wing of the progressive movement. We also carry posters, bumper stickers, t-shirt, cards, and pins. There are low-priced used and bargain books in addition to new titles, Spanish-language books, and children's books.

    Sunday, March 26, 2006

    Is Fair Trade Fair?

    This article examines some of the truths behind Fair Trade. Does it do what we think it is doing? How effective is it?

    One interesting line from the article:

    Of all the purposes of fair trade, perhaps the most important is educating consumers who have stopped asking questions.

    Is Fair Trade Fair?
    By Ellen L. Lutz
    September 19, 2005 | Cultural Survival Quarterly | Issue 29.3 to view entire issue

    This issue of Cultural Survival Quarterly looks at fair trade-the global movement in which North American and European marketers form partnerships with producers in the global South to ensure that low-income farmers and artisans earn a living wage for their work-and examines whether it is "fair" for indigenous peoples.

    For some, in this era when free trade has triumphed over all other global economic models, the question is heretical. For others it merely is absurd. Most corporate, governmental, and other free trade proponents are not attuned to the interests of peoples whose cultures and values are radically different from their own. They divide the world into simpler
    individuals and societies that already are benefiting from free market economics, and peoples who need wage labor or access to markets to "develop" and to lead "better lives"-lives more like theirs.

    Fair trade was devised to ameliorate free trade's harsh impact on the world's poorest people. While anchored in free market economics, the movement imposes on fair traders the duty to pay producers at least a living wage, to promote democratically run producer cooperatives that are invested in their communities, to help producers obtain affordable financing and technical support, and to engage in environmentally friendly production practices. Fair traders are supposed to encourage the development of products based on producers' cultural traditions, adapted for Western markets, as a means of preserving their cultural identity. And they are supposed to educate consumers about fair trade's benefits for producers.

    As measured by the interview data gathered for this issue, indigenous peoples agree that responsible fair trade is better than the alternative. But is that good enough?

    Today's free trade capitalism, with antecedents that extend back centuries to the voyages of discovery, conquest, and colonialism, is an anathema for many indigenous peoples. It is premised on the belief that land, equipment, materials, and even ideas are "property" that can be owned. It assumes that labor generates wages so that workers can buy the consumer goods and services they desire, not because the workers are invested in the products they produce. It disaggregates other human values such as extended family, ethnic identity, religion, politics, and culture, except through the assumption that if each individual pursues his or her own economic interest, society as a whole will somehow be better off. Today, most indigenous peoples, like most people in the world, are caught in global capitalism's grip. But that does not mean that they have absorbed its underlying values. Instead, they live with the dissonance of competing
    worldviews: one rooted in their indigenous cultures and traditions; the other imposed by external global economic forces. Often the discord between the two ways of understanding the world is so great that it cannot be rationalized. If the land, like the sea or sky or wild animals, cannot be "owned," how can a legal system that has been erected to safeguard one person's right to land to the exclusion of another's be understood, let alone be availed of as a source of protection? If creative expression is the means by which we honor our ancestors and our gods, and pass our traditions on to our children, what consequences will befall us when we "adapt" traditional designs to appeal to Western aesthetics or sell our heritage to tourists? If the structure of a society is based on reciprocal, interdependent, face-to-face relationships, what will happen to that social fabric when depersonalized wage labor becomes the only means of survival?

    Fair trade does not begin to address such fundamental questions. Even at its most inclusive, most transparent, and most capacity-expanding, it merely improves indigenous peoples' access to an imposed economic system that cannot accommodate fundamentally different ideas about ownership, community, or social relations.

    The articles in this issue spotlight the many positive aspects of fair trade. Unlike the mechanical, depersonalized free trade system, fair trade is founded on personal relationships between marketers who want to make a positive difference in the world and disadvantaged human beings who want to realize their capabilities. The articles also reveal the hurdles that must be overcome if fair trade is to be truly fair to indigenous peoples. These include ensuring that indigenous producers have relationships with multiple marketers, opportunities to diversify their businesses, and a complete understanding of all levels of their fair trade enterprise.

    Of all the purposes of fair trade, perhaps the most important is educating consumers who have stopped asking questions. Free market capitalism may be the dominant economic model in today's world, but that does not guarantee that it is the only model, or even the best model. Indigenous cultures offer alternative worldviews that can broaden all of humanity's horizons when it comes to understanding what it means to "be developed" or "live a better life."

    Moreover, fairness matters! And to be fair, fair trade must both be fair, and seem fair, to everyone involved: indigenous producers, fair traders, consumers, and everyone in between. Even those of us whose connection with fair trade occurs only at the coffee shop or craft market can make a difference by asking questions such as: What matters most to indigenous producers? What do they regard as fair? How much input have they had into the design, manufacturing, and marketing processes? Do they possess the knowledge they need to participate in those processes, or even to decide to what extent they want to participate? Does fair trade strengthen the fabric of their lives, or merely ameliorate the fair trader's and consumer public's guilt about past and present exploitation?

    By participating in a fair debate about such questions, by being open to answers that do not jive with our assumptions, by adapting our actions to the knowledge we gain, and by insisting that everyone along the chain of production do the same, we consumers not only can make fair trade fairer for indigenous peoples, but can engage in that radical process of enriching the quality of life for all of humanity.

    215 Prospect Street Cambridge, MA, 02139 * 617.441.5400 *

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Shrink You Ecological Footprint

    This excellent article just appeared in The Washington Post. One note - the article refers to Freecycle Washington. There is also a Freecycle Boston and it would be great if you joined it!

    Shrink Your Ecological Footprint
    By Bridget Bentz Sizer
    Special to The Washington Post
    Sunday, March 12, 2006; M05

    Everybody knows how big his actual footprint is, but until a friend sent me the link to , I was blissfully ignorant of the size of my ecological footprint. The Web site, created by the Earth Day Network, surveys users' eating, transportation and housing choices and spits out an estimate of how many planets would be needed to sustain the world if everyone on Earth lived the same lifestyle. The bad news? If everyone in the world lived like me, we would need three planets to sustain us. Even worse, the average American lifestyle would require 5.3 planets.

    But it's not all doom and gloom. While downsizing an actual footprint requires amputation, an ecological footprint is much easier to modify. "We all have the power to make changes happen . . . when each of us do it, collectively we have a significant impact on the environment," says Monique Tilford, acting executive director of the Center for the New American Dream, a Takoma Park-based environmental advocacy group. Here are eight ways to start acting locally for a global impact.


    Heidi Ridgley, a senior editor for the environmental nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, wasn't sure what to do with her eco-friendly bug killer after she moved from a roach-infested apartment in Adams Morgan to a pest-free rowhouse in Columbia Heights. So she offered it up on the Freecycle Network. "People crawled out of the woodwork to [claim] it," she jokes.

    Started in Tucson in 2003, the Freecycle Network is an international collection of free listservs aimed at reducing landfill waste by making one person's trash another person's treasure.

    "I discovered Freecycle while redoing my front porch last summer," Ridgley says. "I had perfectly reusable deck wood that I didn't need anymore, and a neighbor told me Freecycle would ensure it wouldn't get sent to a landfill." With more than 9,300 local members, FreecycleDC is a bustle of activity, with members posting regularly to offer unwanted goods. The only hard and fast rule is that all items must be offered for free. In addition to the deck wood and the bug killer, Ridgley has found homes for an unwanted child's scooter, a salad spinner, aquarium dechlorination drops and a thermostat.


    The average American receives 41 pounds of junk mail a year, according to the Center for the Development of Recycling. And 44 percent of that winds up in a landfill unopened (for me, the rest clutters up the kitchen table). Though the tide of junk mail may seem overwhelming, Tilford says that it's possible to shut it off. "Companies are required by law to take you off a mailing list if you request that," she says. A good place to start is by contacting the Direct Marketing Association to request your name be placed on a "do-not-mail" file. (This request can be made for free via postcard, or for $5 on DMA's Web site, .) To curb the flow of pre-approved credit card applications, call TransUnion at 888-567-8688.


    Labels on typical household cleaners can be a bit troubling -- with warnings of "irreversible eye damage" and "skin burns." Being clean can sound, well, a little dirty. But fear not. Mindy Pennybacker, the editor of the Green Guide, an environmental and health newsletter, says most of her readers report finding "alternative cleaning products that work just as well as conventional cleaners." In other words, being green and being clean can go hand in hand. To find eco-friendly cleaners, the Green Guide ( ) recommends reading labels carefully with an eye for specific claims. "Biodegradable in three to five days" is preferable to simply "biodegradable," since most substances will eventually break down, given the right conditions. Also, cleaners that promise "no solvents," "no phosphates" or are "plant-based" offer a better green guarantee than those with a vague "ecologically friendly" stamp on the label.


    Question: How many years does it take an environmentalist to change a light bulb? Answer: Seven, but only if he's using energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Though slightly more expensive, low-mercury CFL bulbs use less energy and last longer than standard light bulbs. Replace four standard bulbs with the CFL ones, and you'll prevent the emission of 5,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over the life of the bulbs, according to the Center for the New American Dream. The center, which has a "Turn the Tide" campaign ( ), also estimates that you'll save $100 on your energy bill over the same time period. Though consumers complained of the harsh quality of early CFL bulbs, more recent models have softened the light. A 25-watt CFL bulb emits the same amount of light as a standard 100-watt bulb. And these days, CFL bulbs are sold almost everywhere standard light bulbs are sold.


    When Mimi Ikle-Khalsa's car was stolen last year, the insurance settlement would have paid for a replacement. Instead, Ikle-Khalsa, a massage therapist from Takoma Park, reflected on her use of fossil fuels and decided to go without. She relies on a combination of foot-power and public transportation to get to work in Silver Spring and Bethesda. Aside from the occasional "horrific rain" that crops up during her 1 1/2 -mile trek to the Metro, Ikle-Khalsa has no complaints.

    While ditching the car entirely might not be practical for everyone -- according to a 2002 survey by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the average American drives 203 miles each week -- cutting back on needless car trips will shrink your global footprint; each person who eliminates 20 miles of extra driving a week also eliminates nearly 1,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year, according to the Center for the New American Dream. "Try consolidating shopping trips, so you're not just darting out and buying things," says Pennybacker. "All of these combined efforts can make a difference."


    Comedienne Lily Tomlin tells a story about buying a wastebasket: "The cashier put it in a bag. I brought it home. I took it out of the bag. I crumpled up the bag and tossed it in the wastebasket." The joke works because of its absurdity -- Tomlin generates trash even as she buys a receptacle for the trash -- but also because it taps into a larger truth; each year Americans use an estimated 100 billion plastic shopping bags., a Web site dedicated to reducing the use of disposable shopping bags, estimates that most plastic shopping bags wind up in landfills, where they take 1,000 years to decompose. So next time you're at the grocery store, consider bagging your goods in reusable canvas bags instead of paper or plastic. If you currently bring home 10 grocery bags each week that's a saving of 520 plastic bags each year.


    Arsenic, mercury and lead are the kinds of toxins that lead to emergency phone calls to the poison control hotline, but did you know that they might also be in your old cell phone? The EPA estimates that 700 million cell phones containing 250,000 tons of toxic waste already have been discarded in American landfills. Next time you get a new cell phone, try donating your old one instead of tossing it. The National Zoo has partnered with Eco-Cell, a nonprofit based in Louisville, Ken., to collect visitors' unwanted cell phones, batteries and accessories. Eco-Cell will donate up to $15 to the Friends of the National Zoo for every working cell phone collected -- working phones will be refurbished and passed on to low-income people, while "dead" phones will be recycled according to EPA guidelines. Not planning a trip to the zoo? Call Eco-Cell at 888-326-3357 or visit their Web site ( ) to learn how to donate a phone.


    Contrary to what the name might have you believe, the flying-window screensaver that pops up on your computer monitor when it's not in use is more of an energy waster than a saver. A computer monitor in screensaver mode uses almost as much energy as an active monitor. So ditch the screensaver and instead set your computer to "sleep mode" so that the screen goes blank when not in use. Better yet, turn off your monitor. Smith University estimates that 30 monitors set to sleep mode represent a reduction in emissions and energy consumption equal to taking one car off the road.

    © 2006 The Washington Post Company

    What is the impact of the choices you make when you shop?

    This is a 30 minute radio interview with people from two of our most synergistic large organizations, Co-Op America and the Center for a New American Dream. Talking about “what is the impact of the choices you make when you shop?” There is some really good Conscious Consuming discussion from both the featured guests and the callers. Definitely worth listening to if you have a chunk of time!

    Socially-Conscious Consumers
    Guest host Patt Morrison looks at socially conscious consuming with Amanda Johnson of Co-Op America and Betsy Taylor of New American Dream.

    Listen to it here

    Tuesday, March 21, 2006

    How to help non-profits more and get less junkmail!

    The non-profit industry in the U.S. is big business, and not just for the non-profits but for the US Postal Service, printers, list brokers, mailhouses, graphic designers and other related businesses. Fundraising represents at least 10% of the total pie for a healthy organization and can easily break 20% for many. That's means before a single person is helped, at least a dime of every dollar is being spent on getting the money. That's actually before any non-fundraising expenses are met. It's not uncommon for about 50 cents of every dollar to actually go to the programs. That's why it's good to look at charities on Guidestar or using Charity Navigator. You might want a utopian charity that flows 90% of all funds directly to the cause. You won't find that but you can use these tools to see how similar groups stack-up.

    So, you like so many groups that you want to help them all. What should you do? Deeper, not broader. Find a few key charities that are really important to you and give as much as you can to those groups. Many costs are fixed so the total costs of receiving a $20 dollar donation is very similar to receiving a $100 donation. Give 5 $100 donations instead of 25 $20 donations(more is better but you get the picture!). This isn't the stock market so don't diversify.

    How can $20 or less be donated most effectively? In cash, annonymously to a low-overhead organization. Cash is the least expensive to process. If they don't know who you are, they won't spend money thanking you or asking you for more. If it's low-overhead, no money is lost processing your donation. Look for a local organization in your community. Although Conscious Consuming would certainly appreciate donations, there are dozens of worthwhile charities that would be equally suitable. If you aren't sure about finding one, feel free to ask!

    What about reducing mail? Well you took a step in that direction with a larger donation. Most organizations do not sell, trade or rent the names of donors who gave $100 or more because they don't want to share the more valuable donors. Regardless of what amount you give, make two clear requests 1) only one soliciation per year and 2) do not rent or exchange my name. That request should be honored by any organization that you donate to.

    Some people say that if you receive unsolicited mail from an organization, you can use the postage paid envelope and return a note asking them to remove your name and to not exchange or sell it. I would discourage you from doing that since you are adding expense to the charity and asking them to do something they can't The explanation is a bit long and involves listbrokers, mail fees, etc. If you want the explanation ask me but I won't tie-up this post any longer.

    Happy Donating!