Category Archives: Shopping

Social and Environmental Change for the Holidays

It’s that time of year when people start shopping for holiday gifts…

A great way to support environmental movements is through consumerism. If consumers demand more environmentally, sustainable goods and socially conscious products, that’s what will be provided. Also, what better way to support  socially conscious causes than to purchase gifts that assist them. This way they benefit and even more people learn about the cause through your gift.

We are going to showcase a few online stores whose mission is to improve social justice and/or promote environmental conservation and stewardship.

Definitely don’t stop here, but be encouraged to search and find all the many organizations and companies that are making an impact on being environmentally and socially conscious in producing their goods.

This is just a start.

SOCO Hammocks

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This Texas-based brand’s mission is to, “empower underprivileged populations through partnerships with nonprofit organizations who provide humanitarian aid”. They  pay fair wages to the artisans at Indocrafts in the small village of Ubud, Indonesia who make the cozy hammocks. Ten percent of the profit goes to a new nonprofit each month.

These  pack down to the size of a softball, making them great for camping. They also are a good hint for that person who just needs to take time, post up a hammock, and relax. Check out their website here and their blog here.                Kick Back Give Back in a SOCO Hammock!

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Greenheart Shop

Greenheart Shop is an online store based out of Chicago that offers an array of products that are both fair trade and environmentally friendly. These products range from kids clothing, to food, to Oil Drum art. Their products are made using sustainable materials and methods and they pay the artisans fair wages. As well as being fair trade and eco friendly, this initiative supports the non-proft, Center for Cultural Interchange, to help international students in the US and Americans traveling abroad to partake in different environmental and social volunteer opportunities.

                  

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Olive Barn

Do you love gardening and want to share your love with others? Or do you know someone else who does? Olive Barn, who’s tagline is “Rooted in Sustainable Living”, has organic seed kits, wind chimes,and  sun catchers. Their seed kits would be really great for someone who wants to start learning about gardening or an avid gardener. All their seeds are organic! The business also happens to be owned and operated by a former Texas A&M Aggie and ranked in the top 100 fastest growing Aggie-owned companies.

These are just a few examples of companies working towards more sustainable, earth friendly, socially conscious consumerism. When you start shopping for your holiday gifts, search for stores that offer the items you want to buy, with an environmental mindset attached to their production.

Comment below with other great, conscious companies you have found.

Cosmetics: More than You Bargained For?

      

When it comes to taking care of ourselves, we can often neglect to realize what actually goes into products we use for and on our bodies. We might go to the store and look for cosmetic brands that say things like  “all natural”, “pure”, “no animal testing”, and so on but are we actually getting what we want?

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) defines cosmetics  as “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance.” Some examples are shaving cream, shampoo, face wash, lotion, lipstick, aftershave, deodorant, and toothpaste.

What do they actually consist of?

  • Coloring Agents such as coal tar, chromium oxide, aluminum powder, manganese, iron oxide, and mica flakes
  • Bulking Agents such as talc, nylon and silk fibers, silk powder
  • Additives such as fragrance, preservatives, and parabens

Read your labels and see what you come up with. Triethsnolamine, tocopheral acetate, tetrasodium EDTA, dimethicone, methylparaben, phthalates, and ethylene  oxide may be some of the terms you see along with many others.

So why should you care?

The cosmetics industry uses numerable synthetic chemicals in its products to give them their color, smell, shelf-life, and texture. Many of these have been linked as carcinogens or causing severe allergies.  Often these chemicals are untested for side-efects. Depending on the number of products we use each day, we could be exposing ourselves to numerous different chemicals and their reaction when used simultaneously is also unknown. The Breast Cancer Fund is a strong proponent for making cosmetics safe.

What can you do?

Check your labels. Know what ingredients are not desirable. A great way to do this is using one of these resources:

  •  – a database that scores products based on  hazard
  • The Think Dirty App – an iPhone app that allows you to use your phone to scan products barcodes and receive a toxicity ratings. You can do this at home to check your current products and when you are shopping

Also, you can take action –  The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics  “is a coalition effort launched in 2004 to protect the health of consumers and workers by securing the corporate, regulatory and legislative reforms necessary to eliminate dangerous chemicals from cosmetics and personal care products.”

Get informed. Get involved. Do some research.

Not all chemicals are harmful, but it’s good to know which ones are and to avoid them.

Consumption for Function

Reduce/Refuse, Reuse/Repurpose, Recycle

A lifestyle of less stress, more money, and healthier environment!  

They say less is more, but what exactly does that mean? This statement is trying to stress that as you cut consumption and downsize on the “stuff” you own, the more:

  • money in your bank

  • ease when it comes to moving

  • free time you will have because you do not have to clean as often/as much

  • clean air from fewer emissions from manufacturing and transportation

I can remember seeing photographs in my geography and sociology classes in college comparing average personal belongings for Americans to people from around the world in countries such as Japan, Mexico, Europe, Africa, India, and so on. There was an alarming difference in the amount of resources used for consumption in the United States compared to other nations, many of which are also developed nations. You can also view a world clock and experience just how much the U.S. and the world is consuming every day, week, month, and year.

I also was introduced to TED Talks and came across a video that got the ball rolling on downsizing and streamlining my life. 

When I began researching this streamlined lifestyle I came across several blogs and videos about people living in tiny houses. Some of which included stories of people who lived in New York apartments within 100 square foot, and they would also challenge people to live within 100 personal items. One blog that stands out most in my mind was written by a couple in Portland, OR that was overwhelmed with debt, working overtime, and in over their head with stress and daily life. They sold both of their cars to use Portland’s great public transportation system, as well as take advantage of bicycles to cause fewer emissions and stay in shape. During this process the husband went back to school to get his PhD while the wife went from working overtime to part-time and now spends her free time volunteering her efforts towards her passions. Their new lifestyle caused me to examine my life and begin taking inventory of my personal belongings. At one point in my life my collections were getting out of control, but have since sold everything. I now feel less anxiety when it comes to moving, and the reduction of clutter frees my mind of stress. I no longer feel I am missing something from my life and search for it in the big box stores and malls.

 

Houses have grown by three times in the last few decades, so we should have plenty of room for our possessions, right? Wrong. With the purchase of larger homes came the trend of purchasing a greater amount of items to fill those homes until consumption spins out of control. With this came a booming industry of storage units. Not only are our homes not big enough to hold our things we “cannot live without”, but we can’t park our car in the garage. Yet, we force ourselves to rent storage space for the things not quite worthy of being in the house rather than downsizing on items we no longer truly need. I say we should start a revolution to free ourselves of the clutter, while at the same time-saving the earth from our wasteful tendencies and ever-growing piles of trash. Larger homes and storage units mean more land use, over consumption in a throw-away society means more land use and tax dollars to buy the land for landfills.

 Politics can be a mess and seem like we are going nowhere, the industry lobbyist are armed with money and tailored suits, however we are armed with our voice and our votes. So I encourage you to create and keep a relationship with your representative whether you agree with them or not. However we are also have a vote with our dollars. Whenever we buy something it means that we approve of that product, materials it is made of, and the business practices. With this being said let companies know you want products made out of recycled materials or that use less packaging. Shop second-hand and thrift so people invest and create an economy that supports recycling. Politicians and business really pay attention to what we want by what we spend our money on.

-Mike, Sierra Club Lone Star chapter Intern

 

Seafood Watch

For special occasions, we turn to a nice sushi dinner or some good salmon. When we’re on the beach in Hawaii or sightseeing in San Francisco, we like to finish off the day with shrimp cocktails and fresh crab. Sometimes when we’re visiting exotic places, we’re introduced to enormous Tiger Prawns, shark fins, and conch. Admit it, seafood is usually an interesting and delicious twist to our everyday lives. For some people, avoiding things like shark fin, dolphin, and sea turtle is obvious. But it’s not just the exotic seafood choices that are the most harmful. In fact, it’s often the things we eat every day.

Bluefin Tuna

Seafood can be considered unsustainable for many different reasons. Some species, sea turtles included, are already endangered, often due to environmental strains other than fishing such as habitat loss and climate change. However, many other species such as the prized Bluefin Tuna (shown above) are on their way to endangerment simply because of unsustainable fishing practices and overfishing in the wild. This often makes fish farming seem like the most sustainable way to produce seafood, but unfortunately, this practice can also have downsides, such as drinking water pollution and natural habitat destruction. This makes eating seafood in general look grim. So should you be eating seafood and if so, how do you know?

The Bad News…

Location is everything with a lot of seafood out there, so it isn’t always as easy as saying yes or no to a certain type of fish. In some cases, sardines for instance, regulations or safe practices from one source make them a great option, where another source without safe practice should be avoided at all costs. The good part is, even though this is a tiny bit of effort on your part, you can always ask a restaurant or grocery store where that fish is from, and they’ll usually have an answer for you. If not, it’s up to you whether or not you want to buy it.

The Good News…

Seafood is great! And you can absolutely still eat a ton of it. You can still eat the following delicious seafood treats (and more) without worrying about sustainability:

  • Mussels
  • Clams
  • Mackerel
  • Catfish
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Squid
  • Tilapia
  • And more!

Sometimes being sustainable isn’t the easiest choice, but the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California has an easy to use Seafood Watch List that you can look up online or through a phone app. The best thing you can do in this case and in any environmental matter is to keep yourself informed and inform others, so please visit the links to learn more.

-Morgan, Sierra Club Intern

Finding Out What the Term “Organic” Really Means

A typical day of grocery shopping is more complicated than one may think. When looking for peanut butter, for instance, one has to consider several things. Is the brand affordable? Does it have a lot of fat and sugar? If it’s healthy, will it still taste good? Is it natural? And most importantly, is it organic?

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Too many people walk into grocery stores and associate anything labeled organic with the sometimes expensive price tag attached to it. Some people just buy organic either way simply because they’ve heard that it’s better. I mean, if it’s more expensive, that must make it good for you right? The sad part is, most people don’t really fully understand what the term organic means or why it is beneficial in our foods. So welcome to your crash course on organic shopping 101.

  1. Organic and all natural are not the same thing. “All Natural” is a term used on labels that is not regulated by the government in any way (other than some meat products) and could mean something as simple as just not using synthetic sugar. Organic, however, is a heavily regulated term that cannot be used on labels without official USDA certification. Also, while “All Natural” refers more to what is in the food, organic is referring to what is in the product and how it was made.
  2. A lot goes in to being USDA Organic Certified. USDA agents are in charge of visiting farms, etc. to see how the product is produced and how it affects the environment. Organically labeled products may not use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or chemicals as fertilizer or pesticides. Antibiotics are also not allowed to be given to animals. They have to constantly maintain separation between organic and non-organic foods (sometimes from nearby farmers) and have to be inspected spontaneously. This is a problem especially now with the controversy of patents on GMOs by companies like Monsanto.
  3. Organic food is better for the environment. DDT, a pesticide used in the 50’s and 60’s, became banned because led to a rapid decrease in nearby species where it was used, particularly in birds. Pesticides today have a similar effect, but span out over longer periods of time. Chemicals used in those pesticides and in fertilizers also have a negative effect on water quality, which effect ecosystems nearby as well as people who use that water source for drinking.
  4. Organic food is better for you. Every time a person takes in antibiotics, bacteria becomes more immune to them. This means that every time you eat meat that has had antibiotics, you ingest some too, and become more resistant to them when you need them most. Similarly, eating produce that has been sprayed with pesticides can lead to a build up of toxins that can prove harmful for pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

Overall, organic food is a worthwhile payoff. A few cents extra on the price tag is much less than the medical bills or taxes to fix the environmental or personal harm that often occurs.

For more information, visit the following links:

Tips for Shopping for Organic Foods on a Budget

Organic Labeling Fact Sheet

Organic Certification Process Fact Sheet 

-Morgan Faulkner, Sierra Club Intern