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.

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Changing the world, one shopping cart at a time

Thursday, March 30, 2006

By CECELIA GOODNOW
P-I REPORTER

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

Coming up

BUYER BE FAIR



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, buyerbefair.org, 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 buyerbefair.org, 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 buyerbefair.org 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 ceceliagoodnow@seattlepi.com.

    © 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
    http://www.eatwellguide.org/index.cfm

    For local and sustainably grown produce
    http://www.localharvest.org/

    And a site with some great answers/overviews to all sorts of food issues (biodiversity, antibiotics, pesticides, animal processing)
    http://www.sustainabletable.org/home/

    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 http://209.200.101.189/publications/csq/ 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
    categories:
    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 * culturalsurvival@cs.org

    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 http://www.ecofoot.org/ , 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.

    JOIN FREECYCLEDC

    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.

    GET RID OF JUNK MAIL

    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, http://www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist .) To curb the flow of pre-approved credit card applications, call TransUnion at 888-567-8688.

    BE GREEN WHEN YOU CLEAN

    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 ( http://www.thegreenguide.com/ ) 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.

    CHANGE YOUR LIGHT BULBS

    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 ( http://www.newdream.org/tttoffline/actions.php ), 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.

    PARK YOUR CAR

    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."

    BYO BAG

    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. Reusablebags.com, 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.

    RECYCLE YOUR CELL PHONE

    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 ( http://www.eco-cell.org/ ) to learn how to donate a phone.

    SKIP THE SCREENSAVER

    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!

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    Consumerism is sooo over

    Here is an article on how consumers no longer look to buying stuff for their happiness.

    The Good Life: Consumerism is so-o-o ‘90s
    by Holly Dressel

    Advertisers spend billions to convince us that buying more stuff leads to the good life. But millions of us have quit buying it.

    LIVING THE GOOD LIFE is a subject that has been featured often in YES! stories since the magazine’s first issue, for the simple reason that this issue is so central to human culture.

    In the first book I wrote with David Suzuki, back in 1999, we had a chapter called “Complex Pleasures” that tried to analyze what it is that we humans really want. Today there are even more studies, polls and surveys that attempt to answer this most compelling of questions. And what they’ve uncovered has been a little surprising, in that it has been repeatedly demonstrated that once basic human needs for shelter and food are met, people are not made very much happier by even vastly larger quantities of material goods. In fact, decently nourished villagers in India or U.S. blue-collar workers are often just as happy with their lives as society matrons and rich businessmen.

    Click here for the entire article.

    Friday, March 03, 2006

    Houston, We have Incorporation!

    We are now Conscious Consuming Inc.! We are a registered and incorporated non-profit in the State of Massachusetts. What does that mean and why did we do it?

    It means that we're an entity, a corporation, with a status and rights quite like those accorded to an individual. Conscious Consuming can now enter into contracts, open a bank account, rent space, etc. We did it for those reasons and to become tax-exempt so that donations will be tax deductible. We want to do the most good for the least money - after all, we're Conscious Consumers!

    So we are kicking off our 2006 events with one of our signature potluck discussions on March 19th. Featuring a guest speaker from the organization the inspired us to come together - The Center for a New American Dream. Sean Sheehan, National Outreach Manager, will be speaking to us about Simplifying Our Lives and Aligning Our Lives With Our Values. We are especially excited to be having Sean here for our first event as an incorporated non-profit!


    If you are interested in attending, please email us at Conscious.Consuming@gmail.com and we will forward you an evite.