Friday, October 8, 2010

Ethical Consumption Weekly Updates - Justmeans

Where do donated clothes go? - Akhila Vijayaraghavan

Browsing second-hand thrift stores, vintage shops and charity shops was a favourite pass time when I was a college student. I still love hanging out in back end markets and vintage places finding one-of-a-kind pieces.

Reusing second hand clothing is a great way towards a sustainable life. However, not all  donated clothing is created equal. Second hand clothing forms a significant economy and used clothing has gone global. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, about 61% of donated clothes in the US are exported to other countries.

Shipping these billions of pounds of used clothing each year to places like Africa can have a huge carbon footprint. Additionally, it can also hurt local textile businesses at its destination. To be an ethical consumer, it is essential not to endorse cheaply manufactured, one-season only garments which are designed to be tossed after a short usage span.

Post continues:

Decline in pollinating insects, antibiotics in Indian honey - what's the connection? - Akhila Vijayaraghavan

This week two articles caught my eye - one about antibiotics in Indian honey in the Down to Earth magazine and the other about decline in pollinating insects in India which is affecting vegetable harvests in the BBC. On the surface they may not seem to be correlate, but environmental awareness is understanding that ecosystems, biodiversity are more interconnected than distinct. All this brings us to main protagonist of this story - the humble honey bee.

Honey is one of those foods which is all-natural, or supposed to be. With the increase in market for commercial honey, a few years ago a very bad decision was made to introduce the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) in India; which although is a prolific honey producer is not well-suited for Indian conditions. Eventually these bees pretty much replaced the native Indian bees which are naturally more resistant to diseases.

Post continues:

Greening appliances - Akhila Vijayaraghavan

Home appliances account for about 17% of your household's energy consumption, with refrigerators, clothes washers, dishwashers  and clothes dryers at the top. There are several ways to be clever about energy usage in the house and reduce the amount of energy as well as your electricity bill. First, switch to a green power supplier if you haven't already done so. Several states now offer smart meters so make sure you get one if your state offers them. Second, there are several global energy standards that you can adhere to in your purchase of appliances - make sure to check for either an EnergyGuide, GreenSeal or Energy Star label. Although it varies from gadget to gadget, typically Energy Star gadgets save up to 20% to 30% in energy on the average. Third, rethink your gadgets - do you really need so many? Will you ever use that ice-cream maker or waffle maker on a regular basis?  Also consider the size of the appliance - do you really need a refrigerator that big?

Post continues:

Ethical choices: e-reader or books? - Akhila Vijayaraghavan

Whilst I was in Seattle a few months ago I had the chance to speak to a few independent bookstore owners to ask them what they thought about sustainability, green living and books. What came out of that conversation was very insightful. It is old but still infortunate news that independent bookstores are a dying breed hastened by the arrival of big retailers, Amazon and now the e-reader.

The Cleantech Group reckons that the Kindle is the greener way to read.  According to them a Kindle is responsible for 168 kq of CO2 over its lifetime. Replacing three physical books a month for four years with Kindle books will save 1,074 kg of CO2.

Post continues:

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Emma Watson Goes from Hogwarts to Bangladesh to Learn the Magic behind Ethical Fashion

Emma Watson, who has gained popularity with her role as Hermione in the Harry Potter series, recently visited Bachhara, an ethical clothing label, in Bangladesh. Since joining People Tree, a fair trade apparel company based out of the UK, as a creative advisor, Watson decided she wanted to experience first-hand how the materials used in her spring fashion line were created.

People Tree's work is dedicated to help developing countries overcome poverty through the promotion of fair trade and sustainability. By paying higher prices for the locally grown textiles, fair trade companies help guarantee livable wages for workers in impoverished nations. Emma Watson remembers the first time that she heard about fair trade in a geography course-work project, and remembers thinking, 'why isn't everything fair trade?' She wanted to be able to help people to be able to support their families and live with dignity. The Ivy League model commented:

Post continues:

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sipping Through the Cluttered Green Product Web

Do green products appeal to human nature or logic?

Green, green, green products everywhere! How many are truly sustainable though? How about a nature vs. logic equation? It is the beloved coffee/tea/cocoa mug. Now we all know we can save a few cents on our purchase by bringing our own mug, but how many of us actually do so?

The question here is whether this is an issue of logic or human behavior (or possibly both)?

If it is purely human nature, then the new “hot green product” on the market I am not a paper cup should have transformed boundaries and created a revolution. It looks like a coffee cup, you use it for hot beverages, and the only thing you need to do is remember to bring it! They took the idea of taking something familiar and tried to make it more sustainable. Obviously, a reusable mug is more sustainable than disposable products.

Of course, taking it one step further and making the mug out of recycled and recyclable materials may have made it a stand out product. But the idea was to appeal to human nature, and that would indicate that keeping in line with “business as usual” will allow people to make smaller changes at a time. The mug doesn’t scream innovative green product, but it does gently state that it is in fact identical to its disposable counterpart in appearance.

Yet the game of logic is quite different. Logically, any reusable mug, be it a coffee cup look a like or not, should have and equal impact because it is the same action. People still have the perceived inconvenience of bringing their own mug. So the additional step to bring their own mug would be the same whether it is a coffee cup look-a-like or an ultra green product with cradle to cradle certification. Logically, the important step is the in-store reward of a reduced price.

Yet in reality, neither of these hold the ultimate truth discovered thus far. The I am not a paper cup green product has had a solid following, yet individuals as a whole are bringing their own mugs more often than five years ago. At that time, most stores did not have a policy in place for bringing your own anything from bags to cups. So although reusable products seem to be a ‘new’ thing for the post-industrialized society, their popularity indicates a bigger trend. Small steps toward a larger goal of reduction and cost savings.

If every person brought their own mug for coffee every single work day, they would get one coffee free! This is dependent on the store’s discount and their prices. Although the savings of 12 free cups of coffee every year may not be astounding savings for your pocket book, it does have a profound impact on your ecological footprint. So much so, that companies such as Starbucks have invited their customers to compete for a monetary prize to come up with solutions to paper cup waste.

Whether logic or behavior take the lead, the end result is the same. We are taking some small steps toward larger and more important goals of reducing our ecological impact.

Photo Credit: gadgetpages

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy

Monday, April 26, 2010

Go green by putting your mail box on a diet

That pile of junk mail is doing a lot more than just weighing down your mailbox, it’s also adding to the growing amount of paper waste and if you are wanting to go green you should think about opting out. Opting out that is of the plethora of mailing lists you somehow wound up on (Don’t feel too bad not all of them you consciously enrolled in but they gained your address by other means!) and deciding to go paperless on what you can.

If you haven’t yet heard about it, a growing number of banks, utility companies, phone carriers, and other outlets are offering to their customers the option to receive their bills and notices via email rather than standard post. What this means is that you can cut out the amount of needless paper and being that email is fast outpacing traditional methods you will probably wind up paying that bill earlier.

Now that may take care of a marginal amount of your mail load but to really go green you need to be persistent and get rid of those leaflets proclaiming that you could get a certain magazine at an amazing deal or to be alerted that you are preapproved of the BEST credit card in the world (Trust me you don’t need another card with extra fees). Yes, easier said than done but it won’t take too long; many of those notices will include a telephone number you can call to get off the list; look in the very fine print. You can also submit yourself to the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service as an address in the DMA category: Do Not Mail. If you still are receiving trash and you haven’t got the time to continue to hunt down the offenders you can pay someone else to take care of it for you. There are services that you can find online to do that and two such organizations are 41 Pounds and Green Dimes.

Taking it to the magazines and other catalogues you may get you should unsubscribe to those you really don’t read; if it is catalogues, much of the same if not more items are now found on the business’s website. For those magazines that you do keep, once you are through think about if you have a friend who might enjoy reading them and pass them that way; you could even buddy up with friends who have similar reading habits and share subscriptions to really go green. For what mail you then do receive and keep be sure that it eventually finds its way back to the proper recycling bin. Once you’ve given your mailbox a diet you and the planet will benefit.

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Living Green with Farm to Table Meals

Living green and eating greens is an important part of any ethical consumer’s day.

Living green and eating greens is an important part of any ethical consumer’s day. As a society we have dissociated ourselves from our culture of food. Yet focusing on bringing our food straight from local farms to our dining rooms is a growing phenomena. With Jamie Oliver trying to transform school cafeterias from Mystery Meats to delicious and healthy alternatives, the Farm to Table meal hasn’t been this in style in a long time.

Where is the closest farm? Why not your own backyard or windowsill? Supplementing your meals with homegrown vegetables and fruits grown on your own turf is the smallest mileage food will travel! That means fresher food, cleaner air, and a direct return on your investment in seeds. For those hard to grow items including animals: Local Harvest, The Eat Well Guide and Community Supported Agriculture are all great places to get a jumpstart on sourcing your food locally.

Beyond fresh food and reduced food mileage Farm to Table helps with three things for living green: accountability, local economies, healthier environments. When you are purchasing food from Farmer Joe versus Corporation Joe, the Farmer has a greater incentive to stand by his product and provide you with the healthiest thing possible. Corporations on the other hand often win over Farmer Joe in terms of market share because of one simple factor: price. Hidden in that “low price” are some very high social and ecological costs.

One of the key social costs is the vitality of local economies. By investing in Farm to Table meals, you are living green while saving everyone ‘green’. For every $1 invested in local economies, 68 cents stays in the local economy. That means that by supporting Farmer Joe, you are able to fuel more money into your local system trickling into improved infrastructure and a strengthened social fabric.

The ecological impact of large-scale agriculture and animal husbandry is devastating, especially for those living green. The amount of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides used into today’s agriculture including genetically modified organisms is so astounding that many ecologists and farmers do not believe the ecological system will be able to recover. Given that these practices are fueled by none other than us, the common consumer, it is easy to quickly remove yourself from aspects of this global cycle. Buying local food grown under ethical and ecologically safe conditions can reduce your impact, and take a “vote” away from large-scale systems.

Food is not a product, nor is it simply fuel. It is at the essence of our beings to respect and thrive based on the food we consume. Respecting the natural cycles of that food is the first step in making a monumental shift toward living green and ultimately creating a positive impact on our environment.

For Earth Day this year, try to attend a Farm to Table event available at local restaurants, support your Farmer’s markets, and see if you just may have a green thumb under those manicured nails after all. Happy growing!

Photo Credit: Simply Local Food

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Green Tech Tools for the Home

We are often encouraged to make our homes more energy-efficient, either by purchasing green appliances, by using efficient light bulbs, by monitoring our water usage in the bathroom, and so on. These tips aren't new. But now there are a multitude of new technology tools that can help build your awareness of your energy footprint and help make your home more "green."

It can be difficult to ascertain how much energy you are actually conserving when you take steps to make your house more energy-efficient, as the information you receive via your utility bills doesn't really give a complete picture of which devices are efficient or which times of day are inefficient. As Caitlin Chock wrote here a few weeks ago, there are new devices you can install in your home to help monitor your energy consumption. It is likely these sorts of devices will eventually be tied into smart grids that in turn will help us become smarter energy consumers.

While conserving energy, and in turn saving money, are good motivations for making steps to have a more energy efficient lifestyle, there are other tools that can help motivate us in other ways.

One such device is the Green Goose. The Green Goose is a financial management system that rewards your savings account for your "environmental savings." Using special wireless sensors hooked to (literally) little green eggs, the Green Goose system can monitor how many miles you bike (as opposed to drive your car), the temperature at which your hot water heater is set, and how much water you save in the bathroom. In turn, the system then transfers money from your checking account to your savings account to reward you for your green behavior.

Waterpebble is another device to help track water consumption at home. The device monitors the amount of water that goes down the drain while you shower. The device tracks the length of your first shower, then using it as a benchmark indicates --with green and red lights -- when to finish showering. Each time you shower, Waterpebble will fractionally reduce the length of the shower in order to help you save water.

While these ideas might sound a little gimmicky, they speak to the great innovation in the area of developing new technology tools to help us live sustainably. As Chock writes, "There is something to be said for positive reinforcement; if you can see just how much you are saving from your efforts that is all the more reason to keep on thinking green."

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy

This Green Home: Compostable Bags

De-plastify your green home with these three key compostable additions!

Plastic is becoming a foreign element to any green home. What is replacing it you ask? The EPA’s 4 R’s of course: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink. First, individual consumers are reducing their initial consumption of “stuff” in general from home makeovers to trinkets. The combination of the economy and environmental awareness (along with that little thing called a “bag tax”) have helped us ethical consumers get a kick start on our “Reduce”.

The advent of reusing and recycling is also in full swing! With vintage here, reusable bag there, and “this used to be a water bottle” sign everywhere we are finally closing the loop. It is this fourth “R” that is helping us give unnecessary plastic the final boot from our green homes. Rethink!

We still need bags to take out the trash, clean up doggie do, and clean up yard waste. First they were paper, then the advent of the plastic changed all of that, and now we are happily transitioning into the world of “compostable” once again. The Biodegradable Product Institute‘s certification can help the average consumer differentiate between compostable “claims” and reality.

The top 3 compostable bag products I recommend for your green home include:

  1. Lawn & leaf bags
  2. Trash bags
  3. Animal bags for dog waste or litter boxes.

Compostable lawn and leaf bags were actually mandated in the State of Minnesota this year, with many State’s planning to follow suit. For those who do not compost, or have too many compostable materials to do so, packing up your organics in a nice and compostable bags is a great and quick way to be green! These are the most readily reused nutrients in our system, making this an easy and important step for any green home.

Now trash bags may not seem quite as logical at first since most trash is thrown into landfills. Yet upon closer inspection, the majority of trash sits at the top of a landfill pile for 3-5 days, the exact time it takes for BPI certified compostable bags to biodegrade. This reduces the amount of plastic used, an important factor as we learn more about landfills leaching into groundwater and soil. Although most landfills are 'sealed' meaning that even newspapers, a highly biodegradable item, are still found intact after decades, there will be less plastic. As plastic biodegrades it leaves behind toxic compounds both as solids and in gaseous states. This is a key area to reduce the plastic in your green home.

Can pets really create that much waste? As an animal lover, I have come to terms with the unfortunate fact that their waste can have a significant impact. Although not recommended for a household compost pile, pet waste collected with compostable bags or liners can immediately reduce your pet's impact.

These three easy steps can help “de-plastify” your green home, making it both more ecologically-friendly and people-friendly!

Photo Credit: Sustainable Sarasota

Share and Enjoy:
Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Blinklist Reddit Furl Yahoo Spurl Simpy