Tree Hugger Tuesday: Be A Better Consumer!
Are you one of those people who think going green and living environmentally friendly and bein’ all sustainable means making these ginormous life changes?
Things like… going vegan. Or off the grid. Selling your car. Avoiding showers and using patchouli and dreading your hair.
Well, have I got news for you! You can be earth-friendly without becoming a crunchy neo-hippie who only shops at Whole
Paycheck Foods. And, as a sidenote, some of those ginormous changes aren't actually the best thing for the planet (*cough* vegans! *cough cough*) - but that's for another time...
You can keep a lot of your lifestyle and still do right by your planet and your community!
But how?? you ask?
Well, you came to the right, er, blog! Today's Tree Hugger lesson is:
How to be a Better Consumer!
See, yes you absolutely should learn to reduce your consumption, but that doesn't mean living a life of austerity or giving up things you love. It doesn't mean abandoning all consumption. In fact, purchasing power can be a critical way to show your support for environmental (and other!) causes.
The key is re-thinking where you buy and the companies you buy from.
There are companies out there that are listening, that do believe we vote with our dollars, are making changes and doing things right. You can support those companies with your money - your purchasing power. And, despite what some might tell you, this can make a difference.
In addition, you could be like me. I'd rather know my dollars are going to like-minded companies, and that I use my purchasing power as an aware consumer. I liken it to voting: If I vote, I can complain. If I don't vote, then I can't. That alone is reason enough for me.
But, Nikki, you respond, I am a busy busy bee - I don't have time to figure out what companies I should buy from!
Well, my friend, aren't you glad you checked out Tree-Hugger Tuesday this month because I have the answer! And it comes in the form of a little bitty book (yes it will fit in your bag - maybe even your pocket): The Better World Shopping Guide. AND - just so you know - this book also exists as an app (get it here)!
The author of this nifty lil guide did all the work for you. He's used twenty years of data to rank everything from airlines to wine, so it's easy to make a decision about which company to support and buy from. In addition (and this is something I particularly appreciate, as I believe we should be thinking bigger than just carbon footprints), he uses a range of issues to create the rankings: in addition to environmental concerns, he takes into consideration human rights, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice (a list of his extensive sources is here.)
To get you started, I thought I'd go with his Top Twenty Best Companies (you should always consider buying from these guys...)
From this list alone, you have where to buy your:
- Paper products, from toilet paper to tampons (Seventh Generation)
- Cleaning supplies (also Seventh Generation, in addition to method, and Earth Friendly)
- Personal care items from soap to toothpaste (also method and Earth Friendly, plus Tom's of Maine, Dr. Bronner's)
- Animal care (Earth Friendly)
- Food (Annie's - yay mac n cheese! - and Eden)
- Flour and other baking products (King Arthur Flour)
- Dairy/soy (Organic Valley and Nancy's)
- Veggies/juices/fruits/snacks (Earthbound Farm)
- Drinks/tea (Honest Tea)
- Make-up and hair products (Aveda)
- Shoes (Dansko)
- Clothes/outdoorwear/gear (Patagonia)
- Energy bars (Clif - also owns Luna bars)
Of course, not everyone is going to have access to New Belgium beer, or like Dansko shoes - but that's the point of the Better World Shopping Guide: It provides you with options! So, you may not have New Belgium, but you probably have Sierra Nevada! And if you don't like Dansko, what about UGG?
Every page lists many different brands, stores, companies, and retailers to choose from, easily ranked by A-F grades. Furthermore, part of the research behind this book was going out into the world too see what stores/brands were most accessible, and focusing on those - so they shouldn't all be alien!
However. Here I must add a very important sidenote. While the Guide can help you make better consumer choices about well-known and available brands and companies, above even those recommendations, you should always shop local. Buying from your local community is almost always better in terms of environmental impact (smaller scale, less transport) and community support. So, if you can, shop farmer's markets, local boutiques, wineries down the road, the mom-n-pop grocer around the corner, and the salon up the street before using the Guide at chain stores and supermarkets.
That said, let's return to the Guide for the Twenty Worst List:
Ewwwwwww.... These are companies and retailers that you SHOULD AVOID whenever possible! And, yes, the Guide will tell you WHY they are such a problem (but I should probably find the end of this post sometime soon).
I know, I know. There are a lot of big names up there. But. Again, the Guide offers alternatives! So - instead of buying gas at Exxon/Mobile or Chevron/Texaco, fill up at a Sunoco, Amoco, or Arco station. Check out your local hardware store over Wal-Mart. Fly JetBlue instead of United. Get something new for your home at IKEA instead of Sears. Go vintage at a local boutique over Dillard's!
Now that you have the information, I do understand that the biggest hurdles to creating new consumer habits are 1) Time and 2) Money.
I know it's Quicker and Easier and Cheaper to just get the Nestle products at your mega-Wal-Mart. Trust me, I get it. But here are some reasons to reconsider, things I (at least) find to be higher on my priority list:
- Quality: I promise you will notice the difference between locally grown produce and whatever has been shipped from some other country to your mega-grocery. In Aveda make-up over what you get at Wally World.
- What is good for the planet, is good for you: Do you really want to put all that gross (and sometimes toxic) crap in and around your body (ya only have the one), your partner's body, your baby's body, your house, your pets, and your world (biodegradable, bitches)? Why not treat those you love to foods that are whole and things that are nice to them and better for your planet and your community? And yes, I realize that some things are not going to be as "good" as the bad guy's stuff - because bad things are often used to make things taste/"work" better. But still.
- Start paying real cost: There are reasons cheap things are cheap. Part has to do with the above: they're sub-quality and made with not-nice, overprocessed but less expensive things. But the main reason it's all cheap (because even cheap things should be more expensive than they are)? Is the actual cost of making that thing has been re-distributed to someone else and some place else. Nothing that we pay for in this country is as expensive as it should be - and someone else is picking up that tab. If you give even a smidgen of crap about people in developing countries or bulldozing the Amazon, it's time to start paying [at least some of] the real cost of things.
And now, I'll make one final plea on this whole Time/Money thing, and it starts with me divulging some personal info: I am a graduate student working on my PhD. My fellowship for this provides me with a $20,000 student stipend. Of that, $10,200 goes toward rent, leaving me with a cool $9,800.
Also, per my fellowship contract, I am not allowed to get another job to supplement my student stipend.
That means, in case you missed it, that I live on $9,800 a year, after rent.
If *I* can buy local and according to the Guide... I think other people (who aren't students) can probably make some more informed choices, too.
Don't you think?
To purchase the Better World Shopping Guide, please visit http://www.betterworldshopper.com/book.html. It is $10. Yep, ten whole dollars. Even better? Visit your local bookseller and ask them to buy a bunch for the store, and then buy it there!
Even better than that?? Just get the app for your smart phone: http://www.betterworldshopper.com/ipod.html!
You can also learn more about the research behind the book at their website.