conscious consumerism - where to start? - Mothering Forums

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Old 08-28-2003, 01:14 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Actually, I think I've already started. How do I continue?

DH and I had a talk last night after I read an article about slavery in the latest issue of National Geographic. He and I agree that we should work harder not to buy products produced by companies that do not use fair labor. We went veg in 1999 after a lot of thought about animal welfare, morality, and the impact of the meat industry on the environment, and it just makes sense that we should pursue companies that are good to PEOPLE in addition to the Earth and animals. (We relapsed last year on fish/shellfish, but I will probably end up removing them from my diet again in the future.)

The question is, what to do next? It's a bit overwhelming to overhaul my whole lifestyle all at once. I'm very accustomed to Gap jeans (the only ones I've found that fit right) and to shopping in Target and mainstream grocery stores (I love our local organic markets, but they are indeed more expensive, and our weekly budget does prohibit doing all of our shopping there at this point in time).

When we went veg, I found PETA's lists of animal-friendly and non-animal-friendly companies to be really helpful. Are there any nice guides to making your lifestyle more friendly to our fellow humans? How do I know what products are "safe" and which ones to avoid? Even if a company uses fair labor to produce their end product, how do I know whether the raw materials were harvested by workers who were paid fair wages?

Thoughts? Advice?

may my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living whatever they sing is better than to know  - e.e. cummings
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Old 08-28-2003, 02:29 PM
 
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I've never found one source for balancing the environment, employment and fairness in the workplace, and so forth. What I do is (1) buy just what I need (no profligate impulse shopping...which bothers several women I know who seem to 'bond' by 'going shopping'...aside from the fact I get bored by that: ) (2) once I decide it is a needed purchase, I look to buy something made locally...even if it is more expensive than going to target. Overall, less fuel used, maybe I even get something custom made for me for no real difference in price. (3) research. Here's some links. But, mostly, I just have an encyclopaedic memory and a penchant for reading the business pages:

http://www.greenpages.org/
http://www.junction-city.com/
http://www.unionlabel.org/do_buy.asp
http://www.thebird.org/
http://www.aflcio.org/corporateamerica/paywatch/
http://www.jimhightower.com/air/archive.asp
http://www.workingassets.org/

All fairly lefty. I find that the lefty pages tend to have more info on these things. Or maybe it is because the common "wisdom" in this country seems to say that if you care about your neighbor, you're a lefty.: So, only the lefties feel comfortable posting this stuff.

I think there are some web pages from the Socially Responsible Investment Funds, don't have their addresses, though.
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Old 08-28-2003, 03:55 PM
 
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When our son was born, we knew that a lot of our friends and family were going to insist on buying us baby clothes and toys. Unfortunately, most of these are now made in Third World countries where the labor laws are less than ideal. So we put together a list of criteria for our friends and family to consult, instead of a formal registry. Here they are:

Rules of Thumb
1) Articles should be made in the USA or any other country that has labor laws that insure the workers who make the baby articles are protected by labor laws similar or stronger than those in the USA, like the European Union.
2)Articles should be made of natural materials, and not from petroleum products like plastic. If the articles' materials are derived from recently grown plants, these plants should be grown without the aid of petroleum products and pesticides; that is, they should be organically grown. A lot of plastic materials especially those soft plastics used are made with mercury!
3)Lastly, if you decide to get a gift, I hope it is something you would have liked to have had when you were a baby.

The response from our friends and family varied from understanding, to confusion, to sarcasm.

This underlines the fact that today it is difficult to be an ethical consumer. The good news is that items created by fair labor tend to be of a higher quality. So you simply end up to buying fewer items that are of higher quality. This is fine for buying most goods. However, with children's clothing, this means that your children will outgrow their clothes before they wear them out. I would suggest buying some clothing at 2nd hand stores where you tend to see higher quality clothes at a lower price, since the low quality will be too worn out to appear at 2nd hand store. If you buy new "fair labor" clothes, you can then sell these clothes to a 2nd hand store or give them to friends and family.

Yes it is a life style change. Maybe your life-stylist was wrong.
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Old 08-28-2003, 09:11 PM
 
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Buy Local!

I know it's not always possible for everything, but I was so fed up trying to sort through what was immoral to buy and why that I decided to see how much I could get produced locally as sort of a game. It turned out to far more than I expected. I was also suprised at how buying local improves my own quality of life in lots of subtle ways. It has put me in touch with values that go much deeper than the instant-gratification/let-down cycle of mall-shopping.

I find I can get all kinds of local food, soap and body products, local music CDs, books by local authors, locally made gifts, art, greeting cards, toys etc. Even if I can't get a product made locally I can usually at least buy the product I want from a locally owned store.

The one drawback is that my clothes look rather crunchy-granola because that's what you can get if you don't shop the malls. On the other hand, it seems that in general local products compte with the mass-market by being better quality.

You mention that sometimes the price of local goods is high, but I find that If I just totally stay out of malls and big box stores I don't waste money on unnecessary junk. My husband and I have agreed that we can spend whatever we like on local shopping, but that we have to watch the budget very strictly for mass-market shopping. We haven't broken the budget yet.

--AmyB
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Old 08-29-2003, 08:25 PM
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I no longer shop at Walmart. (If you don't know why, read Nickel and Dimed . )

I also don't buy clothes that have to be dry-cleaned. (Which is tough, since I try to look professional.) But, I don't want to contribute all those carcinogenic, pollutant chemicals into the atmosphere.

(When I did get my clothes dry-cleaned last, the woman working there had her two small children with her, because she couldn't afford daycare. It's cool her boss let her, but YIKES! --having those kids exposed to all of those chemicals!!)

I buy Seventh-Generation cleaning products, since they are made without petroleum. I also buy organic tampons (for my benefit, since I don't want pesticide-laden cotton YOU-KNOW-WHERE!)

And we only buy coffee that has been certified free-trade.

Even making small, conscious decisions about your consumerism makes a difference.
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Old 08-29-2003, 08:32 PM
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We also buy milk from a local dairy and bread from a local bakery.
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Old 08-29-2003, 09:10 PM
 
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It can be really, really hard making the transition (and hard on your checking account too, since some 'natural' clothing is a lot more expensive than even name brand!).

Here's a few suggestions that might help:

*Shop at thrift stores/garage sales for clothing. Even if the label says "made in the USA", it doesn't guarantee it's "sweat free". If you buy used clothing, you're not contributing to those companies' profits, you're supporting a "little guy" (consignment/thrift shop owner, or private seller), and you're keeping stuff out of the garbage dump. So....you might still find your GAP jeans on occasion, but you're doing it mindfully.

*Buy local when possible. Some areas are easier to do this in than others. This is particularly important with food. It's been fun/interesting/educational to "eat with the seasons" for us, and another way of mindful living/consuming.

*Try your hand at making as many of your cleaning products as possible. You're not buying extra packaging if you do that (just reuse your old containers--like for Windex, ect.) and when you do need the harsher stuff (and potentially the things that are petroleum byproducts), you've counterbalanced that a LOT.

*Strive for baby steps and consciousness, NOT perfection. You won't be able to eliminate all the bad stuff (sad to say, but even most vegans will end up eating SOMETHING from ConAgra or Monsantos, it's almost unavoidable). So don't drive yourself crazy or do it out of guilt. One level at a time, until it's easy and you're ready to add another. You are making a difference even by doing a little bit, and will be doing even more as you 'advance'.

Others might disagree with me, but I'd say start with the 'easy' stuff and make that a habit first. Clothing tends to be easy since we normally don't have to buy a lot of it all the time. Cleaning products too, since even the 'good' brands like SG can stand a little watering down and still be effective. Pick one 'area' and research it at a time...soon it'll be second hand for you to have your red flags raised even in other areas.
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Old 08-29-2003, 11:44 PM
 
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Something you could invest in is a subscription to "The Green Guide". I have learned soooo much in terms of fair trade, organic and less impact on the enviroment. You can access the site for free and read some articles, but to read all of the articles, you have to subscribe. They have different levels of subscription, what I chose to do is pay 25 dollars to have access to the web site info and I get a small newsletter every other month. I love the info and I've learned what brands of chocolate, coffee, linens like towels, sheets and comforters, organic cotton stuff and tons of other stuff. They have a section of plastics that leach and some that are safe if you do choose to use them. There are tons of links to places you can buy all this stuff. What a wealth of information to earth friendly products!!

Go to the www.thegreenguide.com and check it out!
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Old 08-30-2003, 11:04 PM
 
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Moving this to activism now
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Old 08-31-2003, 12:40 PM
 
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I read this thread days ago, and it has been on my mind ever since.

I live over one hundred miles from the nearest major metropolitan area. Our little city's KMart has closed (fine by me, I could never get any help there), and WalMart is a big player, unfortunately, and it may be difficult-to-impossible to find an item anywhere else, sometimes, because it is sold out everywhere else.

But the links and info here have given me a new basis for how to examine our spending habits and choices.

Thanks again, everyone.
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Old Today, 09:29 AM
 
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I believe that everything you buy has an environmental impact, as any manufacturing process needs a given amount of natural resources to be conducted. Hence, when you buy environmentally friendly products, you may be contributing to reduce the average strain on the environment of use of natural resources, but there is still an impact. What I realized is that there is no need to go crazy looking for fair trade certifications (which I don't believe in too much anyway since the members have to pay, which generates a clear conflict of interest) or organic X and Y (since organic farming has its problems too and some argue it's much more inefficient than traditional farming), but rather be really really selective on what you buy based on:
- how much you really NEED it,
- how long it's going to last?
- does the manufacturer provide enough information to give you a good idea of where it was made?
My approach is basically going minimalist and trying to buy only things I need and don't have 2 of anything, buying secondhand and avoiding Target (I hate Target anyway, they don't have anything really good, just crap that you have to buy at some point like an olive oil dispenser).
I took this to the next level with clothes, in particular, and I write a blog about how to be a more ethical fashion consumer and how to find good companies and innovative ideas. Feel free to check it out: fashionhedge.com.
I don't buy anything too cheap to be true, since that usually means hidden costs that someone else is paying: workers, the environment or your health.
And you are not evil for shopping at walmart, you are evil if you are careless and buy tons of things just because you can, just because they are cheap and without considering the underlying consequences of such purchases.
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