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Tree Hugger Tuesday: Be A Better Consumer!

October 4, 2011

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 Better World Shopping Guide

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:

Even your beer (New Belgium), your sweets (Endangered Species and Ben and Jerry’s) and your cell phone and credit card (Working Assets – they use Sprint networks)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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:!

You can also learn more about the research behind the book at their website.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2011 9:39 am

    Thanks for recommending this book! I always try to research where to buy certain products, I’m very concerned with humane animal treatment with products but websites often lie, so it’s hard to know where to turn sometimes. I’ll definitely pick this book up!

    • October 5, 2011 9:48 am

      And I just looked on the website and it’s actually available as an app for iPhone/iPod, which is even better than purchasing the book!

    • October 5, 2011 1:34 pm

      Yes! I don’t have a smartphone, so I forgot about the new app! Perfect!

      It is SO time-consuming to figure it all out on your own, and there is plenty of misinformation out there, so it’s nice to have it one place! So helpful!

      Of course, again, I really believe buying local is your best, easiest, bet!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. October 5, 2011 2:32 pm

    Part from the above stated benefits when buying locally – I also think that it feels good when supporting a local entrepreneur that also delivers good quality goods. As you say, at least we know what we get then. The whole processed food and general crap that is disguised as food is pretty scary. There are statistics that do point towards that many of our ailments today and serious illnesses (cancer anyone) is linked to all the crap we eat.

    At least when I go to my local butcher I know it is an actual chicken I am buying and not some hopped-up on chicken speed and god knows what piece of processed, watery, shaped lump. Which reminds me… I need to go more often. Good thing I get reminded every now and then. 🙂

    I wish there was a book like that over here.

    • October 6, 2011 8:07 am

      One thing I love about other countries, I saw it a lot in Europe, is the fact that you still have different local vendors for your meat, dairy, etc, available. And that, really, is the best way to go. EVEN over organic food from a large box store. See, we have *some* regulations on organics, but all that “free range” bull crap?? Not really – although, with no other choice, voting with your dollar and buying “free range” does tell the market what you care about. But those “free range” hens? Yeah… they might have had a door opened for them for about ten minutes one day, but because they’ve lived their lives crammed in a giant warehouse? They may not have even known to go out.

      Local vendors, even if they are not certified organic (that costs money), often care more about what they produce (yes, I’m generalizing), so are more likely to uphold organic standards when they can, and have happier animals. They’re more likely to be better stewards of their land and resources, because it’s their livelihood. If they ruin it, they can’t move on. And if they don’t care, there’s still far less transportation and processing involved, period.

      In addition, as you say Ivy, you’re supporting your local community. You are keeping your dollars at home, and keeping the lil guy in business. That, to me, means a whole heck of a lot, too.

  3. October 5, 2011 8:11 pm

    I ate my first Bocca burger today. If I can do that, I can be more green. Wait….who makes Bocca burgers? Are they on the bad list?

    Dammit, Kraft! Why are you on the bad list?! What if I only eat buy Kraft like twice a year? For what it’s worth, I tried the Annie’s Mac and Cheese. ::shudder::

    I do buy a lot of Ben and Jerry’s. Woo-hoo! Look out, Kermit, here I come!

    • October 6, 2011 8:12 am

      Ohhhh see? Now here’s where we get into the confusion about “go veggie and you’ll be green!” thing. Yes, of course, you have a smaller impact by eating lower on the food chain – e.g. eating the soy as a burger instead of feeding the soy, plus lots more soy and maybe some fish and other things, to a cow. YES that is important.

      But. Eating locally, or at least eating from the good list, or at least eating less processed, is really the way to go to reduce your environmental impact, as well as your impact on a lot of social issues.

      The other point I should make clear is – yeah, go for Kraft sometimes, but *start* making some different choices. Just a few. See how that goes. If we all made just a few changes in how we consume, we’d probably make a big difference collectively, even if you still had Kraft mac-n-cheese sometimes.

      Or, you could just eat Ben and Jerry’s a lot. I’m cool with that (… and can I have some?)

      PS Why ya gotta rag on Annie? I think her mac-n-cheese (white cheddar) is good! But then again, I haven’t had the blue box kind for a lot time…

      • October 6, 2011 11:03 am

        Actually, there is a new book out I really want to read called, “The Vegetarian Myth” that talks about a whole lotta things that we think are better for the environment that aren’t. For example, some people argue that eating free-range meat (emphasis on the “free-range”) is a lot less impactful on the environment than eating soy because producing soy (and corn) – often a mono-crop – is much harder on soil, uses a lot of energy in production methods, and at this point, is more than likely genetically modified and heavily sprayed with pesticides. The truly free-range cow, on the other hand, is eating grass and bugs, producing less toxic waste that is actually composted on some small farms, and can be used to grow more vegetables and grass (ah, the cycle of life). Of course, our meat consumption habits are out of control – and most of us unfortunately consume factory farmed meat whether we like it or not, but a little FR meat goes a long way with a large side of diverse vegetables, all of which is much better for the environment than processed foods, and even ones that include labor-intensive farming, such as grains. (Tangental, I know, I’m just fascinated about the evolving ways to be greener.)

      • October 6, 2011 11:18 am

        YES! THIS! I want to do a post on THIS VERY THING.

        One of the articles that changed my life was “The Oil We Eat” (, that came out in Harper’s years ago. It discussed these same kinds of issues.

        There is no question that eating local, small-scale foods is far, far better than eating anything mass produced. That hunting is actually your most environmentally friendly source of protein. Further, there are *many* small-scale farmers who care about their world AND THEIR ANIMALS, so they do more and should be supported over highly processed (read: high oil use/carbon footprint) veggie meals.

        In addition, from an ecological/biological standpoint, farmed animals have been domesticated FOR A REASON: For us to eat them. They would not do well in the “wild”. They don’t exist but for this reason. In addition, we humans are *meant* to eat meat. To pretend otherwise is, IMHO, kinda silly.

        Of course – these points are moot if the only thing you care about is not harming animals. Period. If your only concern is that we just don’t kill animals for people, then fine. Don’t eat them. But, for me? I prefer a much wider world view (no offense, peeps, just sayin).

  4. October 6, 2011 11:05 am

    Oooh, awesome article! Glad to see Seventh Generation at the top of the list…been a fan for many years (though they had a small issue with ingredients disclosure at one point, but they cleaned it up quickly). I also used to do nutrition consultations for the employees at Clif Bar, and can attest to what a great company they are (and they treat their employees really, really well).

    • October 6, 2011 11:20 am

      See? The thing is, you start buying from companies that have the right mission and priories (even if the reasoning behind it is selling more – who cares! it’s still better than the alternative! and it’s good to show that YES doing these things is good for business!), they tend to have the right idea on a lot of things. In this consumer culture, it’s really important to support this!

  5. October 8, 2011 2:44 am

    From the good list – I only know Ben & Jerrys !
    From the bad list .. the entire world knows that list !

    Damn it !!

    I know out here in India – because one is able to go to the local markets, meat vendors etc you know the products are local and not processed. So that’s kinda good right ?

    • October 10, 2011 8:53 am

      I know – that’s the thing: large companies are so well known, available, and often cheap, it takes a conscious effort to choose new products…

      However, again – in my opinion, local markets and vendors are actually much better than any company that ships globally. They’re also, as you say, more likely whole foods that have not been processed. Finally, you are buying from the local community, and keeping cash at home. I think buying local is not just good, it’s great! 😀

  6. October 11, 2011 12:22 pm

    1. you said whole paycheck foods.

    2. marry me?

    3. oh wait, you just wrote about why you’re glad you’re not in a relationship.

    4. scatch 2 & 3

    5. um, love me some Toms of Maine. and some TOMS shoes. anything tom, i guess.

    • October 12, 2011 10:54 am

      1. Yes. Yes I did.
      2. I thought we already covered this.
      3. Hello – I may have said I’m glad I’m not in a relationship, but, duh, that doesn’t cover marriage to you. Again, we’ve been over this, haven’t we?
      4. Ahem.
      5. Did I tell you my real name is Tom?

      6. I kid.

  7. October 11, 2011 12:22 pm

    um, my fiance works at bank of america. does that mean i should avoid him at all costs? haha


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