I recently wrote about an investigation revealing that Energy Star was giving its well-respected certification to undeserving products. Now, it seems, it's making efforts to shine more light into the dark corners, including a requirement that all manufacturers use independent testing and provide the lab results. Well done! [Link]
Last week’s Consumer Electronics Conference in Las Vegas trumpeted itself as being green, but Consumer Reports and Treehugger were skeptical.
Much more intriguing-sounding to me is the upcoming Greener Gadgets Conference, which takes place in New York on Feb. 1 (just one day). I won’t be able to go, but if you act fast, you can take advantage of a ticket discount offered on Inhabitat.
On Mr. Wallet Mouth’s website, which is dedicated to field recording and phonography, he notes that he donates the proceeds of some of his CDs to charity. Because I’m married to him, I know that he does in fact make these donations (to a variety of do-gooder groups, including Doctors Without Borders and Heifer International).
But say the catalog you’re using to do some Christmas shopping states that when you purchase its wares, you’ll also be making a charitable donation. How do you know the company is going to follow through on that promise? Same thing when you’re at the grocery store and the cashier asks if you’d like to tack on another dollar or two to go to a good cause—how do you know that’s actually going to happen?
According to a story in today’s New York Times, you don’t. Embedded giving, as this merging of buying and donating is termed, is completely unregulated (despite the existence of charity regulators) and therefore susceptible to all the flaws and scams that can result from an absence of accountability. For example, the World Wildlife Fund didn’t even know it was the supposed recipient of donations from products listed in Barneys New York’s “Have a Green Holiday” catalog until it was contacted by the New York Times reporter.
So are all embedded-giving programs merely vehicles for virtue-washing, so to speak?
Not necessarily. My iPod Nano bears the the logo of (Product)RED, which generates donations to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The article points out that this program is unusual in the embedded-giving world, because “a detailed contract exists between the seven companies that
have signed contracts to use the (Product)RED brand” and because buyers can track how much money is being raised on the organization’s website.
But setting aside for a moment the issue of accountability, as well as the concern (also raised in the story) that fusing shopping and giving could make people less likely to give large donations at the end of the year, I see another problem: Embedded giving takes the focus away from the item being purchased and its “shadow” or backstory (the social and environmental factors behind its production—the stuff the label doesn’t tell you).
For example, Apple, the maker of my iPod, has a checkered history regarding e-waste and toxics. (Only recently has it been getting its act together.) And while I can’t find fault with the fact that that $10 of its $199 price tag is helping to fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, I also can’t help but believe that the RED donation serves as a distraction from what we consumers should really be thinking about before we buy: whether the product exploited people or the earth, and whether the maker of that product deserves our money.
Energy Star’s new electricity-saving computer specifications
are now in effect, but guess what: only 117 desktop and laptop computers are
entitled to sport the sticker, as Floppyhead.com has pointed out. And not one of them is an Apple.
Every single magazine for which I freelance uses Macs. I myself have a Dell Dimension E521, but although Dell has three machines on the list, mine is not one of them. Apparently the Dells, all OptiPlexes, are mostly targeted to the business, education, and government markets.
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).