Founded by a hip-hop artist
and a spoken-word poet in Rhode Island, Knowmore.org is a wiki-based repository of information that rates companies (using a method it describes as “evolving” and “unscientific”) in six areas: human rights, workers’
rights, ethics, political influence and litigation, environment, and
fair trade/globalization. The site radiates grassroots activism, with photos of anti-war protesters sprinkled throughout.
The organization’s interns are working to pump up the database, but as mentioned earlier, this is a wiki, and editors are sought. Knowmore aims to be a “people’s corporate and political encyclopedia,” expansive enough so that users can search it for products, services, and brands they buy and learn more about what their dollars are supporting.
Knowmore certainly has its work cut out for it: Curious how many companies it had ratings for, I counted 210, which is probably not even a drop in the bucket when you consider the gazillions that must exist in the world. Plus, how do you keep all that info current? But all power to this effort, I say. I like the fact that there’s an immediate, reachable-sounding goal to cover every Fortune 500 company by the time the site is redesigned in the fall.
Knowmore is also handing out the code for anyone who wants to put its banner and interactive search bar (for companies, brands, and products) on their site.
Here’s another cool shopping-based tool, this one for use at brick-and-mortar outlets.
The Interra Projectis a Seattle-based nonprofit that aims to
spur “a values-based economy” in which consumers “take
back ownership of their communities” and help "speed the growth
of environmentally and socially minded industry.” Its model is
a community loyalty card, essentially an incentive program that rewards
people for spending their money locally or at outlets that are committed
to principles of sustainability. Along with a group called Boston Main Streets, Interralaunched its first program,
Boston Community Change, in November of 2006. It considers the initiative
to be a template for future such programs across North America. Its website says
it has identified more than 100 cities as probable markets over the
next three to five years.
Say you’re a Boston Community Change cardholder. At the cash register of your local health-food store, you pay for your organic OJ and bread (using cash, debit, or credit) and then swipe your community card. A portion of the transaction will eventually come back to you in the form of a rebate. Another portion is donated
to a community-based nonprofit of your choice, and the rest goes back into the program.
I just wonder—and I recently emailed Interra to ask—what mechanisms are in use to determine which businesses are really committed to sustainability?
Instead of buying stuff on Amazon, I’ve started using Alonovo, an online shopping outletthat provides ratings of its merchants (some of them, anyway) in such categories as social responsibility and business ethics. Users can customize those ratings (which come from KLD Research & Analytics and the U.S. Federal Elections Commission) according to their own values—for example, assigning more importance to how well a company complies with environmental regulations and less to how generous its charitable giving program is. In addition, Alonovo donates a portion of its revenue to nearly 100 nonprofits and activist organizations (such as the ACLU, the Breast Cancer Fund, and Unicef); shoppers choose which group their purchases will benefit.
Here’s how it works: Alonovo is a member of Amazon’s Associates program, so it’s basically a portal through which Amazon’s wares are sold. Shoppers get the same selection and price as they would on the e-commerce giant—in fact, Alonovo’s site is powered by Amazon, and the checkout process takes place on Amazon—but with the added benefit of the ratings and donations.
For each purchase on Alonovo, Amazon pays Alonovo a referral fee of up to 8.5% of the revenue associated with that purchase. Alonovo donates either all or half of that commission to the beneficiary organization chosen by the shopper. The group gets 100% if it’s an “active” partner of Alonovo’s (active partners promote Alonovo in their newsletters, websites, and email campaigns); otherwise it gets 50%. There are currently 22 active partners and 73 passive ones.
Registration on Alonovo is free and not required; Alonovo adds no fees to the products purchased through its site. It also offers forum discussions and links to CSR-related news stories.
I only wish the site could provide ratings on more companies and products—as does Alonovo itself, I’m sure—but acquiring and streamlining the data required to do that is hugely complicated, to say the least, so I’m not going to blame them.
Ethical consumerism, economic citizenship, values-based
buying, socially responsible investment, boycotting, buycotting, voting with
All of these terms point to the same simple idea: that if we
spend our money on things that jibe with our ethics—and avoid buying things
that don’t—we can make a difference, however small, in the world. The more
people who do this, the greater the potential for change, and the more the
world starts to reflect the beliefs and desires of its inhabitants.
The notion isn’t new. But nowadays it seems that more and
more people are engaging with ethical consumerism in ever more interesting ways.
I’m starting this blog so I can cover those efforts and ruminate
over the tangle of issues involved with aligning spending habits with values. Along the way, I plan to keep track of how this enterprise affects my
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).