June 17th, 2009
If you’re like me, then you know that feeling of confusion and disappointment you sometimes feel after going shopping for a new green product. You’ve done your research to find the right item and you’ve checked online versions of a store to see that they have it, but when you get there that specific lightbulb, organic cotton t-shirt, or MSC-certified halibut on sale is nowhere to be found. In its place are ten other options that might or might not offer the same benefits you were looking for.
Fortunately, there are some great tools/services/websites that can help you sort through options as you’re standing there in the store. Some are text messaging-based services, others are simple websites easily navigable on a cell phone, and still others that use the latest iPhone apps and related technologies to make shopping decisions easy and nearly real-time. Here’s a rundown on some we’ve found to be most helpful.
Green Household Products. Good Guide is a relatively new company that aspires to provide information on the health, environmental and social impacts of common products that we use in our home. They cover over 70,000 products so far in food, personal care, toy and household products category. The best part is that these ratings and reviews are available via an iPhone app and also via SMS / text messaging. You can get information on products by searching on product categories, product names, and also on the bar code (the numbers that appear right beneath it). To use it, simply send a text message to “41411″ and then include “gguide” and whatever you’re searching on in the message body.
Example: You’re in a store comparing two green cleaning products (let’s say Seventh Generation Shower Cleaner and Tilex Fresh Shower Cleaner). Text “gguide seventh generation shower” to 41411, and you get a report back showing Seventh Gen’s Shower Cleaner overall score of 8.5 and Health, Environmental and Social scores of 8.0, 9.2 and 8.4 respectively. Text “gguide tilex shower” and you soon get an overall score of 5.4 (8.0 Health, 3.5 Environmental and 4.9 Social). The website provides much more information about what’s behind these rankings. Fast, easy and helpful!
Seafood. Seafood is a veritable minefield of sustainability choices. The global seafood industry is very poorly controlled, meaning that you can find fish in your local grocery store that should instead be on the endangered species list. Fish can also pose health risks due to the accumulation of mercury and other toxins in fish at the top of the food chain. How it’s grown can make a huge difference — the same seafood farm-raised might cause environmental problems, while the wild-caught version might be fine. And it’s highly seasonal/local, so you’re never quite sure what you’ll find in the store.
This handy one-page guide from Neil Banas (brought to my attention by Grist) lays it all out on one easy sheet, clearly showing pitfalls such as choosing between Alaskan wild salmon (nearly the best) and Atlantic farmed salmon (nearly the worst). If you don’t have room in your wallet for that, though, try out the Blue Ocean Institute’s FishPhone text messaging service. Text a message starting with “fish” followed by the name of the fish you are looking for to 30644 and receive a short report on the merits of that particular option in a few seconds. The same content is available at the URL http://fishphone.org, which is specially formatted for viewing on mobile phones.
As an example, texting “fish bluefish” (a relatively common East Coast predatory fish) to 30644 and you get the following message: “YELLOW: some environmental concerns: HEALTH ADVISORY: High mercury, PCB and pesticide contamination. “Fish salmon” returns several different messages depending on the point of origin and whether it was wild caught or farm raised.
Other Categories. We’ll post updates on other helpful services as we find them. Please feel free to bring any of your favorites to our attention!
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February 26th, 2009
Considering our country’s current economic woes, it stands to reason that most of us are cutting back on our discretionary spending - in layman’s terms, we’re buying less stuff. And though we’ve been told that buying more stuff supports our economy, it doesn’t necessarily support our environment.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to make those purchases count. Not all companies are created equal when it comes to sustainable business practices, and many people underestimate the power that they have as consumers. And, though November’s elections were certainly historic, your right to vote didn’t end there. Vote with your dollars! Supporting companies that are doing the right thing by adopting eco-friendly practices, or “buycotting”, will help ensure that those companies make it through these tough economic times.
So how do you determine which companies deserve your hard-earned dollars? How do you spot those greenwashers? It’s not always easy, but fortunately there are some resources that can help.
Turn to the Experts
Recently, a couple of studies have been released that identify specific companies as tops in their class when it comes to sustainable practices.
First up, The Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World, a list of publicly-traded companies that best manage the environmental, social and governance risk associated with sustainability. Brought to us by Corporate Knights: The Canadian Magazine for Responsible Business and Innovest Strategic Value Advisors the fifth annual list includes familiar American companies like Amazon.com, Coca Cola, Dell, Nike, and Walt Disney. (Note that these are all large, international, publicly-traded companies – no Tom’s of Maine here!)
Having a bit of info regarding these large companies’ efforts in sustainability can, and should, influence your buying decisions. Drop your laptop in the bathtub? Think Dell. Desperate for a carbonated caffeine jolt? Consider Coke.
But, when you make these purchasing decisions, just make sure that you keep the bigger picture in mind – do you really need a new computer? Updating your old one is a greener option, as is bringing water in a reusable container, washing those old sneaks, or borrowing books from the library – regardless of the sustainability efforts of Dell, Coke, Nike or Amazon. Vote with your dollars when it’s appropriate to do so, remembering that even the “greenest” of products do not actually help the environment – they just hurt it less.
Look for Green Brands
That said, you’re probably thinking, “When I think of a green beverage company, I don’t think Coca Cola, I think of Green Mountain Coffee.” Did I read your mind? Cool, huh? Actually, my source is a recent Earthsense report that takes another angle, examining consumer perceptions of popular brands.
Of 350 companies studied, 35 were singled out by consumers as tops in four categories:
- Sustainable business practices
- Product impact
- Investment likelihood, and
- Recommendation likelihood
The resulting list reads like a who’s who of companies for whom green is a big part of who they are. Topping the list were grocers Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, both of which achieved high marks on all four measures. Other familiar brands listed as “standouts” include Earthbound Farms, Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s Bees, Kashi, and Fresh & Easy. Google and Yahoo also made the list. You can download the entire report from GreenBiz.com.
On the flip side, check out Climate Watch’s list of “Climate Laggards” – those who are behind the curve on corporate responsibility and the environment. Who’s on it? Exxon Mobile (no surprise there), General Motors, and home-builder Standard Pacific.
Though some carbon-intensive industries are over-represented on the list, some companies (like GM) were singled out due to their total inaction, as they lag behind their competitors, are unresponsive to investor concerns, and fail to report their environmental impact to the public. Sounds like the trifecta of unsustainable business practices.
According to many analysts, the hard-hit stock market is a great place to pick up some investments on the cheap. If you’re trying to live a green lifestyle, don’t you want your investments to reflect your values? Research continues to show that companies that are strong on sustainability outperform their counterparts financially.
If you’re looking to buy stock, or just want to find out more about a particular company’s environmental performance, check out the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility’s “climate risk profiles”. Covering more than 150 companies, the profiles are particularly useful because they compare companies within a sector. For more on green investing, check out last year’s post on the topic.
Buy Used Stuff
Supporting companies that get it is important when you need something new. But what if you need something that’s just “new to you”? I’m a big proponent of thrift stores, garage sales, antique stores, libraries, Craigslist, borrowing, lending and dumpster diving (OK, so I’m not quite that hard core). If there’s a way to get it used, do it. Not only will reusing or recycling something keep it out of the landfill, but it will avoid the environmental damage done by a new product, from raw material extraction to manufacturing to shipping and finally, disposal. Plus, it’ll be easier on your wallet.
However you choose to go about finding the things that you need to get through life, just keep in mind that you have a lot of power in your bank account, even if your balance doesn’t make you feel so powerful.
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