Grist.org interviews author of Branded!: How the "Certification Revolution" is Transforming Global Corporations, by Michael Conroy. Economist Conroy explains history and meanings of labels such as Fair Trade that certify environmental and social practices of corporations.
Truth, Torture, and the American Way, by Jennifer K. Harbury. The widow of a man who was tortured and murdered researches American human rights abuses in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues: Reflections on Redecorating Nature, by Marc Bekoff, co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Foreword by Jane Goodall. Interview of Marc Bekoff by Vegan Magazine.
The chocolate industry is rife with human rights abuses, including slavery. Fair trade chocolate is expensive compared to widely available brands like Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Kraft, but the cost of these brands to the workers--often child slaves--who harvest the cocoa beans cannot be counted in money. To ensure your money will support human rights as well as concern for the environment, see Green America's Chocolate Scorecard.
Food, Clothes, Cosmetics, Body Care, a Unique Garden Fence, Gifts, etc.
Leaping Bunny Compassionate Shopping Guide. You can download your own guide from this site and shop for such things as cosmetics, personal care products, animal grooming products, and household products from a list of certified partners.
ASPCA Store. Pet and other items benefit this charitable organization for animals.
Co-Op America's National Green Pages screens for human rights and environment; has a search category for animal welfare
Fair trade, organic coffee, tea, chocolate bars, cocoa, almonds, bananas, sugar, olive oil.
From the website: "The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibres, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain."
greenmarket.com screens for human rights, animal welfare, environmental concerns.
Mr. McGregor's Fence
This is an animal-friendly 18-inch tall barrier fence with a low-key electric fence outside it that reliably protects vegetable gardens from small critters without harming the latter. The electric fence (in its battery-powered version) runs off two flashlight batteries and won't harm a sparrow. However, any small critter (woodchuck, rabbit, raccoon, squirrel, etc.) that comes upon the fence will explore a bit in preparing to go over it, will encounter the charged wire, get a mild shock, and decamp.
The site also has a variety of other eco-friendly products to protect gardens, ponds, lawns, and buildings, plus squirrel-defying bird feeders.
Pangea Vegan Products. Many cruelty-free products, often hard to find, in a variety of categories. According to the website, "Pangea sells only goods made in countries where labor laws or unions are in place to protect the workers! We don't sell any products made in China or other countries known for sweatshops."
PETA screens for animal welfare.
Serrv International, according to its website, "is a nonprofit organization with a mission to eradicate poverty wherever it resides by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide."
Ten Thousand Villages sells beautiful handicrafts from around the world.
Sadly, Responsible Consumer can no longer recommend The Body Shop, because it has been bought out by L'Oreal.
Many of us spend far more, work much longer and harder on housekeeping, and consume far more in space and carbon than we need for comfortable, healthy, enjoyable living. The following show alternatives that are far more economical and eco-friendly, and beautiful to boot:
2010 Oct. 4 article in Cape Cod Times says major lenders in 23 states have voluntarily halted foreclosures in 23 states after revelations they had not properly checked paperwork showing they legally owned the mortgages on homes they planned to foreclose. Tracing the paper trails on many thousands of mortgages has become an unrealistic task because the mortgages are typically sold and resold from one lender to the next multiple times.
Resources to Help you Decide: What's in a Label?
What's in an Animal Welfare Label?"Cruelty free" and "not tested on animals" are not legally defined and may be deceptive. The Leaping Bunny Logo is much more meaningful.
What's in an Environmental Label?Ecolabel Index is a project of Consumers Union, the nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports. Here you can compare hundreds of labels in various countries and industries, narrow down lists to certain regions or industry sectors, and keep up with environmental news.
What's in a Fairtrade Label?
Fairtrade labels can be very confusing, because there are various labels used by several certifying organizations. Following are links to four organizations.
The World Fair Trade Federation (WFTO) logo applies to organizations, not products. According to the WFTO logo section of its website, "the Fair Trade Organization Mark (WFTO Logo) shows that an organization follows the WFTO's 10 Principles of Fair Trade, covering working conditions, transparency, wages, the environment, gender equity and more." There are separate labels for products in various countries licensed by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International (FLO-I)".
The Fair Trade Federation, based in the U.S., lets you choose from a long list of categories to look for products that are certified by them as Fair Trade. The Federation focuses on products that provide provide fair compensation to low-income artisans and farmers, and good working conditions. Consumers benefit from education about the cultures of the people who made the products as well as ownership of products that are often hand made.
The British Association for Fair Trade Shops focuses instead on alleviating poverty by improving access to international markets for producers cut off from mainstream markets.
For more on fair trade labels, see Ecolabel Index.
For commentary on Fairtrade effectiveness, pros and cons, see Report by Organic Consumers Association, The Pros and Cons of Fair-Trade Coffee
What's in the Non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) Project Label?
According to the April/May 2012 issue of Green American, "The Non-GMO Project label provides consumers with independent, third-party assurance that a product contains no GMOs. The Project tests high-risk ingredients in the products that bear its label, to ensure that they contain less than 0.9 percent GMOs (allowing for low levels of unintentional contamination)." The Non-GMO Poject works to educate consumers and provide transparency about the growing prevalence of GMOs in our products.GMOs are highly controversial, as they have the potential both for great risks and great benefits.
What's in the Organic Label?
The organic label is quite useful for determining how environmentally friendly a product is. It is less useful for determining how humanely raised an animal has been, and says nothing about treatment of farm workers. Critics of the label point out what it does not cover. Advocates point out its considerable benefit for the environment, which is its core reason for being.
The National Organic Program (NOP), implements the U.S. Organic Foods Production Act. In a PDF file, NOP gives percentages of organic ingredients required for the various organic labels. For detailed information on the regulations, see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 205. Be aware, however, that details of the code can change frequently.
The industry has been criticized for lack of protection for humans and animals. Sarah Newman, writing for Alternet in The Ugly Truth Behind Organic Food, reports that although certified organic food is "healthier and safer", the "labeling standards do nothing to denote how farms treat their workers". Large organic growers are responding to increasing demand for organic food, expanding their operations and cutting costs to keep prices down. Newman maintains that ideals of the original organic movement embracing humane treatment of workers and animals often get lost in the process of large-scale corporate organic farming. Many workers receive less than minimum wage, no overtime pay, and no health benefits.
Defenders of the Act maintain that making it too broad would dilute the impressive beneficial effect it has had on the environment. They say that basing standards on the original movement would be a mistake, because today's organic movement has been transformed through modern science into one that is very different from the original. They say that originally there was no coherent ideal of what organic farming should be, because farmers were of diverse political stripes ranging all the way from the extreme left to the extreme right. Some did not like unions, but emphasized that farmers should be self-reliant. Some thought only plants, not animals, fit into organic systems. To this day there is little agreement on what makes an animal "organiclly raised", which explains why some terms in the Act have not been defined.
For more organic labels, see Ecolabel Index.
Resources to Help You Decide: Individual Companies
ResponsibleShopper List of companies by name gives lots of details about the social responsibility of companies in its database. You can also jump to news blurbs about recent developments.
Resources to Help you Decide: Types of Products
Alternative Energy and Energy Conservation
American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy Consumer Resources provides a wealth of information.
Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs offer reasonable initial prices and significant long-term energy and price savings over incandescent bulbs. Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are initially expensive, but are more environmentally friendly and offer considerably more energy and price savings over the lives of the bulbs. LEDs are probably the bulb of the not-too-distant future: see an intriguing New York Times article with some great illustrations. Be critical reading this article, though: some of the the figures for prices and longevity vary widely from those given elsewhere. Much research (see Wikipedia for technical information) is being done to resolve technical and marketing issues and produce cheaper bulbs with a wider variety of warmth in color.
TCP, Inc. is a large producer of compact fluorescent light bulbs that carry the Energy Star label. Their site gives a lot of information about lighting but does not provide a way to buy their products online or the location of stores where they are available.
Compact fluorescent bulbs now come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit most lamps. In recent years the increased use of electronic ballasts built into the base have reduced flicker, buzz, starting time, and long-term expense. Compact fluorescents benefit the environment by using far less energy than incandescent bulbs. According to an article in Wikipedia, however, compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, and care should be taken in their disposal. For information on cleaning up a broken bulb, see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Cleaning up a Broken CFL. For information on recycling CFLs, see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Mercury-Containing Light Bulb (Lamp) Recycling.
Some compact fluorescent bulbs are marketed as "full spectrum". According to the National Lighting Product Information Program (NLPIP), "full spectrum" is a marketing rather than scientific term, and its precise meaning varies from one manufacturer to another. Manufacturers claim these bulbs produce light that is similar to natural daylight. Some claim the bulbs are useful in light therapy, which is often prescribed for the relief of seasonal affective disorder. To evaluate these and other claims, see Lighting Answers from NLPIP. To very briefly summarize, NLPIP's findings regarding manufacturers' claims for full spectrum lights include the following: color perception and brightness are enhanced; there is no benefit and some drawback to UV radiation; there is no benefit to visual performance (for example, reading); any white light, full spectrum or not, at the right level is effective for treatment of seasonal affective disorder; and in some cases the use of the term "full spectrum" added significantly to the price of the product without adding significantly to its quality.
According to James Dulley, full spectrum lights have a color rendition index (CRI) of over 93 for scotopic to photopic light. Dulley says that scotopic light causes the pupil to shrink in size, resulting in better focus and less glare.
For more resources on light bulbs, search Google for Compact fluorescent light bulbs
Energy Star Program
U.S. government-backed program for energy efficiency. Products that carry the Energy Star label must meet efficiency guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. Homes and business buildings can also earn the Energy Star. One easy way most viewers of this site can help the environment through energy savings is by using Computer Power Management.
Find a solar contractor in your area. "Solar Estimator" helps you to estimate costs.
Database of state incentives for renewable energy. Also links to federal incentives.
Diapers: Cloth or Biodegradable Disposable?
Green America feature article describes pros and cons of each, considering effects on water, landfills, and health. Provides options for disposables, tips for cloth diapers, and links to resources for organic cotton and hemp diapers.
American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy rates cars and trucks on their impacts on the environment. Lists best and worst by class and for the year.
Homepower magazine has resources for alternative sources of energy plus designing and building your own systems.
James Dulley is a nationally syndicated columnist who writes about ways to cut utility bills in an environmentally-friendly manner.Dulley's home page gives access to his syndicated newspaper columns, which are searchable by keyword and by general topic and give detailed information on many products; a tour of his own energy-efficient home; do-it-yourslelf guides; and a message board where readers can exchange questions and advice.
Rugs Made by Adults, Not Children
Goodweave International, formerly known as Rugmark Foundation, screens for child labor in the handmade carpet industry.