Friday, November 30, 2007

"The Gift of Giving" in the Globe

Well, Gift it Up! is tomorrow, and we finally got coverage in the Boston Globe. Hooray! Even though you probably know all of the details about Gift it Up! if you read our blog regularly, you can read reporter Danielle Capalbo's article The Gift of Giving just to appreciate her for letting other folks know about us.

Thanks, Danielle!

As you know if you are on our email list, we could use a few more baked goods for our bake sale table, and a few more volunteers to hand out quarter flyers on the street. If you have some time to spare, we'd love your help! Come on down to The River of Life Church at 440 Center St in JP. We are looking forward to a great event!

Bakers, Volunteers and Emailers needed for tomorrow 12/1!!!

Gift it Up! is tomorrow and we need some more help to make sure it's a big success.

Can you bake something? We have a bakesale to offset our costs and make sure the groups get all the money raised at the fair. We would love for you to bring something for the bakesale.

Can you come volunteer? Even if it's only for one or two hours, it would make a difference helping spread the word to people.

Can you spread the word? Please email friends, family and coworkers about Gift it Up! If they are local, encourage them to come. If they aren't, or can't make it, encourage them to visit us on the web. Our general message about the fair is below. Thanks for helping out!

Please visit our website at and consider make an honorary gift to your choice of nonprofits in a loved one's name.

Instead of the newest incarnation of something you probably already have, won't you consider giving a gift to change the world? If you live in the Boston area, come to Gift it Up! If you can't make it to the event, participate online at

Conscious Consuming gathers 14 non-profits on Saturday, December 1, at the River of Life Church in Jamaica Plain. "Shoppers" will get to talk with representatives from each of the nonprofits, browse their programs, choose a gift to fit any budget, and receive a Gift it Up! card announcing the gift. The event is to be held: Saturday, December 1 12noon – 4pm River of Life Church 440 Center Street Jamaica Plain, MA

Alternative gifting is a growing trend; it was even featured in the funny 2007 indie film "Year of the Dog." If you are unable to attend the fair, you can visit the Gift it Up! website at to learn more about it, to see the list of participating non-profits, and to purchase gifts securely on line.

Conscious Consuming is an all-volunteer non-profit, holding this event to reduce consumption and help other nonprofits. Please forward this info widely!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Jolly and Green, with an Agenda"

There was a great article in the NY Times yesterday called "Jolly and Green, with an Agenda". It chronicled several people who have tried to bring their families along for a greener holiday, through alternative gifting, eco-gifts like LED holiday lights, and giving experiential gifts only. Here's an excerpt:

"It's not just the greens who feel this emotional tug at the end of the year: A 2005 survey by the Center for a New American Dream showed that 78 percent of Americans wish the holidays were “less materialistic.” At the same time, the average American spends about $900 on presents each year, according to the National Retail Federation."

The article talked about how such changes can be emotionally charged, especially between generations. Often our parents felt "want" more than we did, and holiday gifting is a time when they can be extravagant and feel the joys of giving things that they never had (my own mom shared one bicycle among 4 siblings). Many young adults today, however, really do have everything they need. The might WANT more stuff, but let's face it--they don't NEED it. They have grown up with all kinds of stuff, and if anything, are beginning to discover that stuff doesn't make them happy. As people into voluntary simplicity already know, the more stuff you have, the more time you use up taking care of it, repairing it, cleaning it, arranging it, etc. My house if full; I really don't want more stuff.

What do I want? I want to spend time with my family and friends, give to others who have less, enjoy a good meal, and oh, OK, go to a yoga class or two. Your experience will be different, but the essential thing is that these kinds of shared experiences bring back the joy, peace. and love that gives the holiday season such a good name.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tis the Season to Gift It Up!

It's that time of the year again, when Conscious Consuming proudly presents Gift it Up! Please visit our website at and consider making a donation to your choice of nonprofits in a loved one's name.

According to the Consumer's Union, children in our country are sent 30,000 TV ads per year to get their parents to buy them stuff. And yet you know that there also are millions of children around the world who wish every day they had enough food or a safe place to sleep. American's produce 4-5 pounds of trash per person, per day, while children in many parts of the world labor to make us these cheap, "throwaway" goods. Instead of the newest incarnation of something you probably already have, won't you consider giving a gift to change the world?

If you live in the Boston area, come to Gift it Up! If you can't make it to the event, participate online at Conscious Consuming gathers 14 non-profits on Saturday, December 1, at the River of Life Church in Jamaica Plain. "Shoppers" will get to talk with representatives from each of the nonprofits, browse their programs, choose a gift to fit any budget, and receive a Gift it Up! card announcing the gift. The event is to be held:

Saturday, December 1
12noon – 4pm
River of Life Church
440 Center Street
Jamaica Plain, MA

Alternative gifting is a growing trend; it was even featured in the funny 2007 indie film "Year of the Dog." If you are unable to attend the fair, you can visit the Gift it Up! website at to learn more about it, to see the list of participating non-profits, and to purchase gifts securely on line.

Conscious Consuming is an all-volunteer non-profit, holding this event to reduce consumption and help other nonprofits. Please forward this info widely!

Enjoy the peace and good will of the holiday season,

The Team at Conscious Consuming

Buying to Save the Earth? Watch this video first.

Here's a funny video Jerry Mander that follows this green consuming idea:

The New York Times follows up with him in a short interview.

Reactions? Add your comments!

Friday, November 23, 2007

What Buy Nothing Day Means to Me

About a week ago, my sister showed me a catalog she got in the mail. It was from Barney's, the department store, and the theme was "Green Holiday." Inside, the text says, "Join the Green Revolution, we did!" How do I feel about this, she asks?

Looking through this catalog, I was confronted with all the mixed feelings that I have as a business student and a staunch environmentalist. On the one hand, it's great that environmentalism is trendy these days, not just among the consuming public, but among companies that see environmentalism as a selling point for their products. Businesses might use the environment for good, creating new, cleaner technologies and reducing their waste without expense to the economy. On the other hand, every time someone in the U.S. buys anything, this consumption creates ripple effects around the world, causing possible environmental harms through resource depletion and pollution, or creating situations in which human rights are at risk or poor people and countries are dependent on our consumption of material goods for their survival.

For me, this is what Buy Nothing Day is all about. Taking a step away from this consumer lifestyle we live in, trying to understand what this lifestyle has done to our culture, our environment, and our happiness, and reflecting on the reasons why I'm part of this movement to consume wisely. I need a day in which I'm not burdened by what to buy, how much, what potential impacts it has, and why I'm buying it in the first place. In joining the Buy Nothing Day movement, I'm standing with many others who declare that we are humans first, not consumers.

So, I'm not joining the Green Revolution today, not if it means buying a whole bunch of stuff, eco-friendly or otherwise. I'll join the Green Revolution by learning about my impact on the world, by consuming consciously, and by spreading the word.

You can learn more about Buy Nothing Day at:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turnabout is Fair Trade for Christmas Catalogs

Many thanks to guest blogger, Tereza Coraggio for this excellent article about her experiences asking catalog companies about the stories behind their products. Her experiences reminded me of Sara Bongiorni's response when asked by a reporter what she learned during A Year Without Made in China. "What do the US regulated labeling standards tell us?," the reporter inquired. Her reply, "Not much."

On to Tereza:

For those who see the people behind the products, Black Friday is aptly named, and not for the "in the black" of retail sales. The chocolate holidays – Halloween, Valentine's, Easter - are occasion enough for mourning, but Black Friday ushers in a season of darkness. Every year, I'm caught between loving the festivity, the excitement of the kids, and the warm generosity of family and community, and feeling a terrible sadness over the invisible workers, their lives squandered in making tokens of our affection. Although my kids no longer think elves supply the Disney channel, few know the full reality. This year, I decided to do something constructive with my conflict. I decided to turn the tables.

In September, the Center for a New American Dream sponsored a Carbon Conscious Consumer (C3) campaign called Junk Your Junkmail. For a $41 fee, of which 1/3rd was donated to nonprofits, I hired a business called to get me off the direct mail lists and cancel my catalogs. Named for the 41 pounds of unsightly paper fat your mailbox consumes per year, they guaranteed an 80% reduced-carbonhydrate mail diet.

Looking at the pre-season glut, though, I started calling my own Christmas catalogs. I begin by finding something to praise – something I like that they're doing or an interesting product. Then I ask how they make sure that there's no child labor or sweatshop labor involved in making their products. Do they do unannounced factory inspections, or have an outside agency that certifies? What about their supply chain – how do they verify that the cocoa or cotton used isn't harvested by children, or that the mines producing the metals aren't hazardous to workers or the environment?

I ask them to pass my questions on to whoever can get back to me, and I give them my contact information. In the meantime, however, I request that they remove me from their mailing list. Their products are eye-catching, and I don't want the temptation, for me or my kids. I say that I can't blame the mess the world is in on anyone, if I don't care what I'm buying. When I can maintain a Zen humility, as a fellow-muddler slogging through life, the responses I get back are gratifying. These are some...

At Limited Too I talked to a black woman from Texas who politely agreed to pass my comments up the chain. Before hanging up, though, she said it was funny that I called just then. She’d seen a special on the Gap last night and thought to herself, "I used to shop there." She was happy to tell management that people cared, because we all have to stick together.
Unfortunately, the call to get off their mailing list put me onto their automated telemarketing. It's annoying that they can call you, but you don't have an option to talk back. To find a real person, I went to their website, which told me "all our jeans are made with love." Happy to hear this, I clicked to find out more. Up popped a window with stitching details. Where's the love? I googled an article called "Justice for All" on their new Justice brand name signaling a change in strategy. Hurray! That must mean fair wages and labor practices. No, it means prices that are 20% cheaper. Where's the justice? I'll tell you when I get hold of a real person to find out.

At Plow and Hearth, the rep listened thoughtfully, and said that I was the first person who’d asked these questions. I told him that over 20% of consumers now base their decisions on ethical concerns, according to Co-op America. So I was unlikely to be the last.

At Williams Sonoma, a mom who's homeschooled five kids mentioned a wooden shelf which brought jobs to an impoverished area. I said, yes, but...most manufacturing is done in impoverished areas. Are the jobs fair? She didn't know, but respected me for asking and would relay my concerns. I also found out that her teenage son bakes bread to surprise her when she comes home from work – just the kind of guy I wish my teenage daughter could meet.

I still wanted to try Williams-Sonoma's peppermint marshmallows that take 3 days to make. Besides their own line, they carry Rubicon Bakeries' from Richmond, CA. Looking them up on the web, I found they were started in 1973 by people concerned about the closures of state psychiatric hospitals. Their jobs provide training, housing, employment, and services to the homeless and mentally disabled, and they've recently opened a new bakery in Berkeley. With all this, I was holding my breath when I called to ask the million-dollar question. How do they know if there's child labor or slaves harvesting their cocoa beans? Fair Trade Chocolate! Hallelujah! I'm placing my Christmas orders now.

At Explorations, a catalog of New Age spirituality, I talked to a woman named Trinidad. She’s certain that the owners would NEVER source from anyone who wasn’t ethical, but she wasn't sure how they verify it. However, they’re going to get back to me on a few specifics – an orthopedic neck rest, a Zen alarm clock, and a statue of Gaia. She agreed that it would be spiritually disconcerting to meditate with products made in sweatshops. To my surprise, James Young emailed me, a product specialist from Gaiam. I hadn't noticed that Explorations was theirs. The first two products were made in China, and Gaia was of unknown origin (created or evolved?). Although he handled organic certification, he didn't know who certified their manufacturing standards.

Curiously, some user comments on Junk Your Junkmail were about Gaiam's excessive cataloging and selling of their lists. I asked James if he knew how many they sent out, and who they sold their list to. He thought I should call corporate, where decisions were made, instead of customer service. When I did, the receptionist first sent me to customer service, and then back to James. Hopefully, this isn't an infinite loop.

Title Nine Sports was also certain that everything was ethically made, but didn’t have any details. Their products were made all over the world according to different standards. So, I asked, Title Nine doesn’t have any standards of their own? No, she was certain they did, but she didn’t know them. If she was a customer, she’d want to know the same things, she said. But as a CS rep, didn’t she want to know? We agreed that Title Nine was marketing to young, socially-conscious consumers and I wasn’t the first to ask. She would pass on my concern. Since then, I read at that Orvis and Title Nine topped the list of junk mail last month. I hope they left some trees to photograph with their outdoorsy sports line.

A surprising number of the people I talked to have said they agree with my concerns. The rest have taken my questions seriously and have been respectful. The Noble Collection was an exception. They specialize in upscale movie-theme paraphernalia billed as "Exclusive Treasures at Uncompromising Value." I asked what their uncompromising labor standards were for manufacturing. For a specific example, I chose the $650 18-karat One Ring for control of Middle Earth. "Made in the U.S.!", she said. "Do you know where the gold comes from?" I asked. "How do you know it's not the U.S.-owned Peruvian mine that's killed union organizers and sent death threats to the priest who represents the workers?" I mentioned that all of these movies are about the battle between good and evil – Narnia, Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code. Wouldn't it be contradictory to wear an icon for the 'good side' that paid money to kill union leaders and priests? Or that stunted children's growth from lead in the water? As she fumbled to transfer me, I could hear snickering in the background, and an incredulous, "She wants to know where the gold comes from?!!" The supervisor was curt in relaying my request to the product manager, but warmed to the task of taking me off their mailing list.

If you would like to join Accountability Anonymous, call your own catalogs and send the results to Be polite. Evil may exist, but no one you'll talk to makes enough money. Don't forget to laugh, and remember that it's getting better. A very literate receptionist called my question arcane – by which she meant no insult, just that no one had asked it before. We can't blame the companies if we're not asking. And finally...may your days be jolly and bright, and the rest of black Fridays be white.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Green Toys for the Holidaze

I know many of you probably already subscribe to Co-op America's e-newsletter, but for those of you who don't, you might want to check out their list of Top 10 Toys for the Holidays. I have two kids of my own, and can personally attest to the longevity of some of the toys on their list, especially wooden toys and musical instruments. Everyone from toddlers on up loves to play with wooden toys; electronic toys that "do stuff" are not only annoying to listen to, but they hamper children's creativity. When the toy only has one way to be played with (like most electronic toys), children let it do its thing. But when a toy just "sits there," children have to use their imagination to creatively invent a scene, complete with characters, setting, action, and dialogue. They allow children to do the acting, instead of being acted upon. Not only are these kinds of toys educational in that regard, but they're non-toxic, and FUN to handle. My children have loved their musical instruments from toddlerhood, and seven years later, they're still a favorite when we have friends over (for parades, shows, jam sessions, you get the picture).

If the child on your list is over age 4 or 5, the Family Pastimes board games are a real winner. Not only are they made and sold by a family business, and made of recycled paper, but they are cooperative games. That means that the players have to work together to win the game, and no one child's feelings are hurt when they "lose." Buyer beware, however: these games work best in the context of family play. You actually need to spend time playing them with your kids or they'll sit on the shelf.

While as an organization we promote alternative gifting, I haven't sufficiently evolved as an alternative gifter not to buy my kids presents. As long as you're buying (for your children, neice, or nephew), you may as well get gifts that you'll all be happy to play with for a long, long time, and support some great green businesses in the process.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Take the Pledge to Think Outside the Bottle!

From Corporate Accountability International:

Bottled water corporations are changing the very way people think about water. Though many bottled water brands come from the same source as public tap water, they are marketed as somehow more pure. What's more - bottled water corporations sell water back to the public at thousands of times the cost. Plastic bottles also require massive amounts of fossil fuels to manufacture and transport. Billions of these bottles wind up in landfills every year.

You can help reverse this trend. At events and over online networks tens of thousands are supporting the efforts of local officials to reduce the social impact and environmental harm of bottled water by prioritizing public water systems. So far, in Chicago we have gathered over 1,500 pledges. Taking the Think Outside the Bottle Pledge is quick, easy, and sends the message that water is a human right, not a commodity.

Take the pledge at: and also visit the website for more information.

Opt-out of Catalogues

This great new service will unsubscribe you from catalog mailings. You can return again and again whenever you receive another catalog in the mail. Not only is it a great way to decrease junk mail, but it also saves trees!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Buy One, Give One

If you are planning to buy some stuff this holiday season, you might want to consider a "Buy One, Give One" program. Many, many socially responsible businesses now regularly donate 10% of the purchase price of items to non-profits or local schools. Buy One, Give One programs take that concept further by donating an item of equal value to the one purchased. Read on for three great programs: the Bogo solar powered flashlight, the XO laptop, and Tam and Rob fair trade clothing company.

Sun Night Solar has developed a Buy One, Give One program for their Bogo solar powered flashlight. These fabulous flashlights are a terrific innovation for us in the developed world, reducing the expense and pollution associated with disposable batteries. In the developing world they are priceless. According to the Sun Night Solar website, "two billion people living in the developing world rely on kerosene lanterns, candles, and single-use battery flashlights for light at night. Not only are these options expensive, dangerous, and harmful to the environment, they also negatively impact health, education, and security." The Bogo light provides an opportunity for children to further their educational opportunities by reading at night, which is especially important in developing countries where children often work during the day. These flashlights also reduce the dangerous, expensive and carbon-emitting use of kerosene. The Bogo solar powered flashlights cost $25, and the buyer gets to choose which US nonprofit will distribute the flashlight to a program in a developing country. Mom, if you're reading, one of these lights is all I want for Christmas!

Another fabulous Buy One, Give One scheme is through One Laptop Per Child. Their mission is to provide a means for learning, self-expression and exploration to the nearly two billion children of the developing world with little or no access to education. Collaborating with design experts from academia and industry, OLPC developed the XO laptop: "The result is a unique harmony of form and function; a flexible, ultra-low-cost, power-efficient, responsive, and durable machine with which nations of the emerging world can leapfrog decades of development—immediately transforming the content and quality of their children's learning." Starting November 12, One Laptop Per Child will be offering a Give 1 Get 1 Program for a brief window of time in North America. For $399, you will be able to purchase two XO laptops—one that will be sent to empower a child to learn in a developing nation, and one that will be sent to your child at home. The buyer can also just donate an XO laptop for $200.

Lastly, this holiday season, the women's fair trade fashion label Tam & Rob is launching Buy One Give One Free for Christmas. For every item purchased before Christmas, a new sari will be donated to a destitute woman through the charity Social Action for Association and Development (SAAD) in Maharashtra, India. Tam & Rob supports the work of SAAD, a charity that provides literacy and skills training to some of the world’s most vulnerable women, as the label’s own ethos is also to increase opportunities for disadvantaged groups. The new saris donated by Tam & Rob will benefit these women as they start their new lives and careers supported by SAAD. These companies are doing well by doing good, and we hope you'll support them if you can.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Green Cuisine: Earth-friendly, Healthy Recipes from Top Chefs and Local Farmers

The Union of Concerned Scientists has put out a new series of recipes from chefs using locally-grown, sustainable ingredients. This season's article is on sustainably-grown meats and what it means for meat to have too many antibiotics.

Check it out!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Yvon Chouinard's revolution

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, speak about the social and environmental responsibility of businesses. While he made some great points about how corporations need to work towards a sustainable future, and gave examples of how Patagonia has eschewed focusing on growth to ensure job security and less costs to the environment, there was one thing he said and one thing he did that really made me respect him as a leader in corporate social responsibility.

First, he acknowledged that because of the nature of his business, selling new consumer goods to the public, Patagonia will always have a cost to the environment no matter how much they work to reduce pollution, material waste, and use recycled materials. He encouraged us all to use products until they are no longer usable instead of going out to buy new clothes or other products when we don't need them. I've never heard anyone who's trying to sell me stuff tell me not to buy their stuff before!

Secondly, at the end of his talk, the hosts presented Yvon with a bag of goodies as a thanks for speaking to us. He politely declined, saying "I have everything I need." That small gesture showed the thousand audience members that he was committed in his own life to the philosophies he espouses in public.

I'm not writing this post to recommend Patagonia above other companies as a "better" business in any way. I want to show that there are corporate owners out there who care, in a meaningful way, as much as we do about the environment and in the people who live with us on this Earth. We must find a way to work together towards our common goal!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Wiser Earth

We are excited to have been included on the Wiser Earth website, which links up activists and community organizers in the social justice and environmental sustainability movements. Paul Hawken, author of the book Blessed Unrest and co-founder of Wiser Earth, posits that these movements (of which Conscious Consuming is a part) together form the largest cultural movement in the history of the world. I am very excited to order my copy of his book from the library, but in the meantime, the Wiser Earth website has videos introducing the concept. My favorite is the second one down. Check it Out!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Playing Sports Fairly

I just found out about this company, Fair Trade Sports, a company that makes Fair Trade Certified, and environmentally-friendly soccer and rugby balls, basketballs, footballs, volleyballs, and other gear. For people who are a little more exercise-enthused than I am, this might be a great option the next time you need a new sports ball!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Slow Down and Green Up Newsletter--November

Happy November everyone!

We at Conscious Consuming are gearing up for our 5th annual alternative gift fair, Gift it Up! We are excited to be holding the gift fair at a new venue this year, The River of Life Church in Jamaica Plain. We gather about 14 non-profits, including Grassroots International, the African Mission Society, Prison Book, The Network/La Red, and Heifer International (with more groups pending); attendees have the chance to talk to a representative from each of the non-profits, and make an honorary donation in a loved one’s name. We have beautiful cards to announce your gift. If you can’t make it to the fair on Saturday December 1st (12-4pm), you can still purchase alternative gifts securely on-line, via our website Lest you think this is too far “out there” for your family, start a conversation at Thanksgiving and see where it takes you. In my very traditional family, we decided to attend Gift it Up together and each choose our favorite non-profits in lieu of material gifts. Your family just might surprise you! If you can volunteer on the day of the event, please email, and if you can hang flyers in your town about Gift it Up!, please email and we’ll send some along.

Speaking of alternative gifting, we would like to share with you The Center for a New American Dream’s alternative gift registry at This is a fabulous resource if you are planning a wedding or baby shower and are interested in nontraditional gifts. The website tool allows you to create your own registry, including gifts such as “bringing us one meal a week after the birth of our baby” or “chipping in for our CSA membership.” You can also provide links to material gifts if you’d like, such as your favorite organic sheets or cloth napkins.

Lastly, Friday November 23 is Buy Nothing Day! According to the Adbusters website, “On November 23, millions of people around the world will go on a 24 hour consumer fast and thousands of activists in 65 countries will engage in credit card cut ups, zombie walks and other pranks and shenanigans in an attempt to catalyze a mind shift towards sustainable lifestyles.” Visit to print flyers to hang in your community or to join with other activists in building awareness about the need to consume less stuff.

Thanks for all you do,

The team at Conscious Consuming

5 Minutes to Change the World

Looking for ways to change the world in 5 minutes a day? has a new tip everyday that will make your home more energy efficient, your commute cleaner, and and your life healthier. You can sign up for their tips through your email or get it through your newsfeed. Be sure to also check out events in your community organized by people like you!

Eaters Unite!

Here's a great article by Michael Pollan on the current Food & Farm Bill being sent through the Senate right now. As Pollan replies to a representative who thinks that the public outcry about subsidies to big ag companies are because people don't know what they're talking about: "It seems more likely that, this time around, people in the city and all across the country know exactly what’s going on — they just don’t like it."