Dirty Truth About
in line at a favored restaurant or after-hours watering hole, where hands and
fingers gesture and point and make conversation a ship-to-ship signaling; there
is one thing that is very noticeable. Brightly noticeable. All the gold rings.
Talismans of marriage, engagement, accomplishment, vanity and health. Then, there
are earrings, bracelets, watchbands, charms, necklaces, pins. Across the great
wrist-finger-ear-toe-ankle of human history our adornment (and for a long whileeconomics)
is gold-centric. The pure nature and glamour (which has an original magical meaning)
of gold veins deep into our culture.
I step into a jewelry store to explore among the be-cushioned piles of gold stuff,
which look so gorgeous and make me feel like a patrician just to be there, I mull
over where our modern supplies of gold from. We all know from our California Gold
Rush and prospector history that gold lies in veins and was panned in streams
or mined with pickaxes or the first high pressure strip miningleaving horrid
scars in the northeastern California foothills still visible today.
Dilemma: gold is in the earth
So I wonder if this has stoppedall
these environmentally-scarring methods. It turns out, it has gotten worse as the
supply of fresh gold diminished and world demand increased. The prospectors of
our times are mining corporations, among the most ethically troubling entities
to ever be dubbed a corporation. I look down at a beautifully wrought gold band,
perfect for my girl friend's birthday, and I am struck (with shock, not wonder)
with a fact: it takes an average of twenty tons of earth waste and toxic chemicals
processed to create one gold ring. Landscapes are turned to craterscapes. That
is an incredibly heavy conversion, and I have visions of my girl friend buried
under twenty tons of stripped earth and toxic barrels.
I realize there are workers involved in this processing. Workers in the African
gold regions that are victim to daily toxic atmospheres and murderous gang territory
wars over gold fields.
effect, she would be wearing that legacy on her finger. Not a happy thought. The
ring is so pretty and precious. It is the perfect gift, simply because it is so
beautiful and eternally untarnishable. Yet, these issues kind of weigh in heavily.
at the Counter
Being a person of a budding social conscious, I ask
the sales associate if I'm about to buy a gold gift for that special somebody,
yet it will be forever tarnished with environmental, human and social wounds.
says no. It turns out that over the past six years successful campaigns have reshaped
the choices available to consumers and put some teeth into oversight of worldwide
mining operations. In 2004 the "No Dirty Gold" campaign from the Oxfam
nonprofit created a fairly good ripple effect into the jewelry industry, and at
least brought the bad boy mining corporations into the spotlight. By Valentine's
Day, 2006, eight of the largest jewelry retailers in the US pledged to move away
from dirty gold.
good guy retailers included: Zale, the Signet Group (parent company of Kay Jewelers),
Tiffany, Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff, Cartier, Piaget, and Van Cleef & Arpels.
jewelry retailers embraced a manifesto that includes:
for basic human rights outlined in international conventions and law
prior, and informed consent from affected communities
for workers' rights and labor standards
parks and natural reserves from mining
oceans, rivers, lakes, and streams from mining wastes
who didn't sign on for this admirable and ethical commitment? JC Penny, Walmart,
Sears and a few other big players.
recall I'm standing in a Zales store. So, there is a sigh of relief as this particular
ethical dilemma is neatly solved. If you want to buy gold jewelry with a clear
conscience, seek out the eight committed purveyors above. Now, the dilemma of
what in the heck my girlfriend will really like.
Chocolate: Underneath the
occasion I like to peel back one of those thinly foiled, thickly rectangled chocolate
bars and take a sheer bite of gastronomic heaven-savoring with an embarrassing
mew of my mouth its melting all over titillated taste buds. It is goodness, as
in the very definition of goodness: sweet, buttery, a faint sliver of tropical
fruity bitterness. No wonder wine lovers use chocolate to describe one of the
aromatic layers of rich red wine. I like chocolate, and I like to give chocolate
on special or impromptu occasions. I'm a sucker for chocolate mint ice cream,
Black Forest German chocolate cake, hot chocolate next to a blazing fire in an
Aspen ski lodge, thick chunks of Ghirardeli Square chocolate (San Francisco).
But I'm not a chocoholic. I don't need a fix every day, though a lot of people
I know doand chocolate is way up there in possessing the neural receptor
molecules that jump to our brain's pleasure and mood zone neurology.
when chocolate was first introduced into Europe through the Spanish colonial exploitation
of central America (this leads to our ethical discussion), it was not sweet and
buttery, but bitter. It was an appealingly bitter beverage-like coffee. In one
of the thousands of happy happenstances in which new concoctions are concocted,
somebody in Spain mixed the cocoa brew with sugar and a very expensive beverage
was born. The Spanish kept their secret for about a hundred years. Then, the rest
of Europe caught on and the sweet chocolate drink became so popular (and prized
for its sexual stimulus) it was banned by the Catholic Church to children.
chocolate was wedded with butter and sugar in a cooking alchemy, the chocolate
solid candy created culinary history.
Dilemma: about children and chocolate
While we eat chocolate in
its many guises, we unwittingly are still engaged in the old colonial exploitation
cycles of four centuries ago. The problem is still much the same: child labor
or virtual slave labor used to tend and harvest the enormous tracts of cocoa plantations
in west Africa, the new growing fields for cocoa.
at least ten years human rights groups have been reporting on the mass use of
child labor (9-12 years old) in cocoa-growing regions in Africaoften correlating
it to slave labor.
have eaten probably 50 chocolate bars since 2001, unknowing that in 2001 most
of the US chocolate manufactures agreed to stop using child-labor chocolate by
July, 2005. They did this under the leverage that legislation would be pursued
to have their products labeled "slave free."
far, three of the dominant chocolate makersHershey's, M&M's, Nestlesare
still using cocoa from the Ivory Coast while hypocritically condemning the child
labor practice. According to a widely-read article by Kate McMahon, many chocolate
makers blame the families in the cocoa region for using or allowing their children
to be used as virtual slaves. And they state they can't control the labor practices
of their source.
Name of Chocolate is not Hershey's
you enjoy chocolate on occasion or are a hopeless addict, you don't have to be
part of 21st century slave labor. There is way to alter your consciousness with
chocolate without bugging your conscience. Inspired by the free trade philosophy
and practice that has fairly successfully reshaped the economics of other third
world export crops such as coffee, a good number of small chocolate purveyors
offer fantastic chocolate without the stain of child labor.
include: Clif Bar, Cloud Nine, Dagoba Organic Chocolate, Denman Island Chocolate,
Divine, Gardners Candies, Green and Black's, Kailua Candy Company, Koppers Chocolate,
L.A. Burdick Chocolates, Montezuma's Chocolates, Newman's Own Organics, Omanhene
Cocoa Bean Company, Rapunzel Pure Organics and The Endangered Species Chocolate
when I get that craving for chocolate or am shopping for a chocolately gift I
search out one of these chocolate makersavailable in most whole foods and specialty
outlets. Many have online stores.
or Clear Radio Skies
of us tune into radio stations at all hours of the day and nightat home, in the
workplace, in our beloved cars glacially pinned in commuter traffic. I have favorite
radio stations set on my tuning selector. As I travel from county to county stations
come and go and I like to feel there is a definitive freedom in those airwaves.
In the days of FDR, Route 66 and 70's king kong rock stations you could tune in
dozens of stations, blast up the volume and you knew those stations were by and
large independent and did not belong to the cultural pulpit of a single corporation.
By federal telecommunications mandate, no single company could own more than 20
AM and 20 FM stations total.
years ago that law protecting us from an economic (and by extension cultural)
monopoly of radio changed. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 restricted the number
of stations a single company could own in a single market (to eight), but removed
the cap to total ownership.
in Clear Channel, a broadcast behemoth that now owns over 1200 radio stations,
35 television stations and 783,000 billboards across the US. The cultural monopolizing
of our American airwaves has many people outspokenly concerned.
Dilemma: Would the Founding Fathers listen to Clear Channel?
Founding Fathers distilled the US Constitution and Bill of Rights out of the absolute
atmosphere of freedom. Freedoms of the press, to assemble, of speech were carefully
established and protected. Yet, unchecked radio and TV open ethical holes in those
rights. Would Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin be cheery with Clear Channel and
its widespread power over what the American population is exposed to? Doubtful.
pundits are clearly worried about the cultural power of mass radio delivery. In
the entertainment industry, small players are frustrated at being locked out of
valuable exposure time. Most people do not read to get their news and information
on the world around them. They passively absorb through radio and TV. Clear Channel
effectively is not an open bazaar of ideas and music forms but a channel for single
philosophy demagoguery and very narrow musical tastes. Many opine it is about
as close to propaganda in the free market that we've seen.
the alarming concept of blacklisting from the Joe McCarthy days is making entertainment
entrepreneurs fearful of Clear Channel's power. If they can't get air time for
their performers, then we will never hear them. Fresh cultural innovation and
the natural evolution of culture is stifled.
in the low power boys, sat radio and internet radio
there are choicesdepending on where you are. A decade of Clear Channel harvesting
America's vast fields of airwaves has catalyzed the sporadic rise of radio revolutionaries.
Using low-power radio technology these local stations can broadcast short distances
with rich play lists and alternative-to-mainstream talking hosts. Clear Channel
has played hardball with these upstarts but they are holding their ground. Independent
stations still exist and thrive in many city markets. Satellite radio has brought
greater range of music and fewer ads, but costs a bundle to get plugged in. The
internet radiocast phenomenon is still taking baby steps, but there is some really
great independent selections on the internet and much of it is ad freekept afloat
through listener donations.
Evolving into Wal-Mart
My first experience of organic was
truly organic: a truck garden overflowing with richly colored, pungent-earthy
smelling and succulent, intensely-flavored vegetables. The garden was tended with
zeal and love as part of a food co-op, using all natural fertilizers and natural
deterrents to pests and weeds. The meals out of that garden were sublime and oozed
health. This was before organic saw its meteoric rise in the 1990's and was gradually
transmogrified into the 2000's as a "brand."
any supermarket or small village-style market worth its sea salt has a full blown
organic section, complete with bushel and crate type displays to make you feel
you're right on the farm inside Safeway or Piggly Wiggly. Organic is 50-100 percent
more expensive, but shoppers are very willing to pay for the taste, health and
environmental qualities of organic.
to put Wal-Mart and organic in the same sentence is oxymoronic. Organic Wal-Mart?
Yet, Wal-Mart has added an organic section to its big box high-volume, low prices
warehouses. So has Dean Foods.
Wal-Mart and other uber companies tilling into the
pure, earth-centric business of organic produce has sent up warning signals to
a number of watchdog groups. Cornucopia Institute recently produced a pending
study stating that large corporations are unduly shaping the "organic"
label on food. Cornucopia contends that the Organic Trade Association engaged
in "backroom dealings" that watered down federal organic guidelinesthus
allowing huge corporations to come in with conveyor-belt organic foods that are
not 100 percent organic.
Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), an advocacy
group based in Minnesota observes, "Consumer spending on organic has grown
so much that we've attracted big players who want to bend the rules so that they
can brand their products as organic without incurring the expenses involved in
truly living up to organic standards,"
of the outcomes of the dilution of the organic label is three very different organic
designations for labels, which should make shoppers carefully tend to reading
The three are:
Percent Organic" label allows only organic ingredients and organic processing
label allows only foods containing 95 percent or more organic ingredients and
only a limited number of strictly regulated non-organic ingredients.
with Organic" must contain 70 percent or more organic ingredients.
there is a huge difference between 100 Percent Organic and Made with Organic.
Add up the amount of 30% nonorganic ingredients (meaning chemical fertilizers,
pesticides and herbicides) over the passage of a year, and you've basically reversed
all the benefits of buying the 70 percent organic.
as the organic shopper
In October 2005, Congress weakened the organic-labeling
law despite protests from more than 325,000 consumers and 250 organic-food companies.
An added amendment to the 2006 Agricultural Appropriations Bill overturns a recent
court ruling that barred the use of synthetic ingredients in "organic"
foods. The OTA pushed for the change and claimed it will encourage the continued
growth of organic foods.
the OTAwhich advocates for the businesses, and not the consumersand Congress
have presented us with another ethical choice in shopping for our organic fare.
Do we settle for a mix of organic/synthetic (like a cotton/poly blend), or do
we shop for the smaller, purer organic producers and outlets for the 100 percent
enough consumers become aware of the labeling choices and realize that mixing
chemical and organic is really a cancellation of the organic and is enormously
profitable to the large companiesthus squeezing the smaller, purer organicsthen
the organic produce practice and philosophy may return to its roots.
of Starbucks for Small
The last time I stepped into Starbucks
was a couple of weeks ago. I went in for a Caffé Mocha to pick me way up,
along with a herd of other coffee gazelles. The smells were, of course, roasting
intoxicating, and there's always a feel-good sense of Starbucks, though the dent
to the wallet if this becomes a habit is pretty hefty. I am one of the fifty-plus
percent of Americans who indulge in coffee drinking every day of the weeka daily
ritual as ceremonial and perky-calming as a Japanese tea ceremony. Another quarter
of us drink coffee as an occasional beverage. Face it. We are coffee cowboys.
The question is: are we fair coffee cowboys?
I looked at the menu I noticed the Free Trade Certified coffee and I opted to
try it in my caffé, giving me the extra jolt of knowing I was helping the
coffee farmers receive a fair wage for their labor. It made my coffee that much
more flavorful. Fair Trade means the coffee was paid for with fair market prices.
think I was the only one at the counter who went for the Fair Trade coffee and
it made me realize that for all the billions of cups of coffee we consume every
year, a small margin of our money actually goes to the coffee farmersindependent
and cooperative. They live in the borderland of near or actual poverty, victims
of powerful coffee middlemen who force them to accept half the market price for
their coffee. Their production prices are still the same. So, they end up in a
steep cycle of debt and unremitting poverty. The coffee they produce largely goes
to America, and Starbucks is an enormous buyer of middlemen-massaged low coffee
counters and Fair Trade
As coffalohics we spend an average of $200
a year on the brew. If you go into Starbucks regularly, it's probably four times
that. Starbucks rakes in over $6 billion a year from about 10,000 coffee outlets
in 37 countries. They are the gorilla on the block, and if they choose to bring
more Fair Trade into their shops, things could really shift.
Trade coffee is still a small cup of the traditional roasts4 percent for instant
and 18% for whole and ground. Further, the annual supply170 million poundsof
Fair Trade is six times that of demandabout 37 million pounds. This is largely
because of consumer ignorance, or apathy to the price. Fair Trade coffee costs
$1.26 a pound, while conventional market coffee costs .60-70 cents a pound.
buys 11 million pounds of Fair Trade coffee a year, which is a little under a
third of the total amount of Fair Trade coffee bought on the market. Yet that
11 million pounds is only 3. 7% of what Starbucks stocks up on each year in coffee.
As coffee drinkers we're being put in a hard place by the
market middlemen. They engineer low coffee prices, which is attractive to the
big coffee sellers, and we get coffee at low prices. If the world were all fair
trade, we'd be paying double for our coffee. And all the coffee farmers would
be earning a thriving living. That is a good exercise of global economics. Of
course, we do have the choice to buy Free Trade Certified. To go ahead and pay
the extra money. We can also make our voices known to Starbucks to start including
more Fair Trade in their concoctions, and seeing if they can massage the price
so there is more demand. Starbucks has the power to make an enormous difference.
Energy conservation through lighting technology has
steadily advanced as our light bulbs went from incandescent (essentially, the
same heat-producing and energy wasting bulbs that Thomas Edison invented over
a hundred years ago) to fluorescent (with that very disturbing neon bluish light
found in workplaces and box stores) to compact fluorescents. The compacts are
very energy efficient, possess a much more pleasing light (especially the full
spectrum variety), yet they don't appear to be the end of the evolution in light
compacts as future of lighting in the estimates of many scientists and technology
watchers are the LEDslight emitting diodes. Small in size (a single diode is
usually about the diameter of an ear swab stem), in the world of energy efficiency,
they are about as efficient as our current physics allows. According to an article
on MSNBC.com LED's emanate twice the light of 60-watt bulbs and burn for an amazing
50,000 hours. That is about 5 years of continuous light.
are predicting that LED lighting will be our standard lighting technology in the
near future. The Department of Energy estimates that by year 2025 our energy consumption
could be whittled down by 29% through LED technology.
The conventional incandescent bulb (which creates light
through electrical resistance in a filament wire) wastes 95% of its energy through
heat loss. That means that all the world's incandescent lighting systems over
the past centuryplus have wasted 95% of the energy used to generate the light.
That accounts for a huge chunk of our net energy budget.
the LED technology there is zero heat generated, thus the energy going into creating
LED light approaches very high energy to work output ratiosamong the highest
in science to date. A pair of good alkaline batteries can power a LED flashlight
LED's, unlike normal, fragile bulbs, are very hard to break.
ethics of cost
LED light appliances are more expensive than compacts
or incandescent. The technology for LED has been around for 30 years, but bringing
it to market in usable forms and related manufacturing costs, and the fact that
they last so long, contribute to a higher price. Further the LEDs are being primarily
applied to focused light useflash lights and reading lights. LEDs don't broadcast
light in 360 directions as a normal bulb does. As thin tubes ending in the actual
light diode they point in a single direction. Most flashlights use a cluster of
diodes to gain more light projection.
LEDs have been in use by municipalities for traffic lights for a while, and they
report recouping their costs for the more expensive LED system within a year.
Similarly, a consumer could buy an LED appliance with a larger upfront cost, but
gain it back in saved battery purchases fairly quickly.
There are a number
of high quality LED appliances on the market, and it is rapidly growing from a
novelty to a cultural must-have. Take a look at the products from the LED scienceat
the least you will be making a personal dent in our collective energy diet.
Investing that's Green and Viable
Investing in stocks or mutual funds is an important part of
many Americans' plans for retirement or additional spending income. While many
people look at the stocks performance metrics with a single goal of solid returns
in mind, another criteria examines what the corporation's business is and how
it conducts that business in relation to larger local, national and global concerns.
This philosophy of investing is called Socially Responsible Investing or SRI.
One of the more profound expressions of the ethical and social conscious emerging
in our society is that of investments in corporate stocks that reflect environmental
and socially responsible commerce or services. If the thought of your investments
going into tobacco companies or paper companies that log old-growth forests really
alarms you, then socially responsible investing is the most appropriate and viable
alternative. As of 2005 $36 billion was seeded into SRI's (out of $5.6 trillion
total in investment funds)with the number of funds mushrooming from ten in the
early 90's to fifty to choose from today.
Domini, founder and CEO of Domini Social Investment observes, "People want
to believe that some of what they invest is working toward a world of universal
human dignity and environmental sustainability."
not to go into and funds to go into
Essentially, in SRI, your money
is being handled two ways. First, it is being steered away from corporations that
are in some fashion harming the environment (directly or indirectly through policies)
or engaging in business, labor or trade practices detrimental to the human standards
of living and dignity expected in today's world society. In some cases religious
filters are applied. Some religiously conscious funds, for instance, do not invest
in the so-called sin funds of alcohol and gambling. One Catholic fund does not
invest in hospitals that perform abortions.
SRI you are confident your investment dollars aren't going into child labor on
African plantations or to a company involved in weapons research.
your investment is being directed into companies exhibiting good environmental
policies and fair labor/social policies, or the religious/spiritual criteria that
may be in place.
investment is growing, but is it competitive
While SRI's are great
for ease of mind and an ethical expression of wealth generation, they still need
to perform at a growing return rate for the fund owners. It is this concern that
has been recently examined in newspaper articles and investor reportswith often
article in the Christian Science Monitor stated socially conscious funds and traditional
funds were about even in performance, but the Domini Social 400, a well known
SRI index, was lower than its traditional counterpartthe S&Pat the time
of the article's publication. Some observers say this is because the Domini fund
is not in tobacco and is lean on energy stocks. A Daily News article reported
that 2/3rds of the largest SRI funds were behind their counterparts and some were
losing money outright. Overall, since 2000, the SRI funds have lost 1.8 percent.
SRI spokespeople point out that the corporate due diligence for their filtered
funds is much more extensive and expensive than conventional funds. SRI managers
of very successful funds also say they need to be compared to funds with similar
the other hand, Chicago-based fund tracker Morningstar says that SRI's assets
have increased eight-fold, nearly three times that of traditional funds.
have also shown that 75 percent of investors do perceive that the more ethical
a corporation is in its policies and practicesincluding environmental, fiscal
and socialthe better it is as a long term investment.
Undoubtedly, the SRI's present a very ethical
and responsible alternative to conventional investment funds. Yet, it is necessary
to study the fund you want to invest with and ask the hard questions of the fund's
people and track record. There are over fifty funds to choose from, and you need
to look at both the short term and long term potentials.
on the Eco Runway
into any upscale boutique or clothing establishment that caters to new trends
and there will be inviting feel-good floor displays and handsome shelves of apparel
fashioned of organic, environmentally friendly and worker-friendly cloth. I went
into such a store recently looking for a new shirt and was pleasantly surprised
to sidle up next to organic hemp shirts that had a conscience. Workers were fairly
paid for making them. The environment wasn't degraded and there weren't 17 teaspoons
of chemicals used in processing this shirt (a true fact). Nice. And it's called
is a trend that is slowly catching fire as consumers realize they don't have to
dress in nonorganics made for sweatshop wages and hurt the environment. Two successful
shows in New York and San Francisco for eco-fashion were held in 2005. The doyens
of major fashion houses and department store buyers are paying attention to this
niche as are writers for the fashion magazine worldLucky magazine for example.
this a real fashion change, or conjured out of whole cloth?
Rich says of eco-fashion: "It's definitely something we're going to continue
toying with. People often perceive the fashion world as superficial, so it's great
to work with materials that are actually good for the environment. I had my doubts,
but when we actually saw the fabric swatches we were blown away. They were gorgeous,
and it wasn't hard to design with them."
the designers are weighing in with enthusiasm. No wonder. Among the sustainable
materials used for cloth are bamboo, sea cell, soya and sasawashi (linen-like
made from a Japanese leaf with anti-allergen and anti-bacterial properties).
with the attention, and there is nothing like the fashion world's attention, there
is not a huge demand for eco-fashionthough there are no statistics on it yet.
And there is the price. Eco-fashion is expensive. Critics are opining that eco-fashion
is so expensive that it won't translate into a strong fashion appeal, and remain
a niche that has little impact on the politics of environment and worker conditions.
the pirates of knockoff are knocking off designer eco-clothes, attaching eco labels
to clothes that may not have a stitch of eco in them. Further, there is no regulatory
body governing this fledgling niche.
observe that designers are not creating new styles with eco clothes, but are refashioning
existing linesperhaps diminishing the appeal to more fashion conscious buyers.
the more positive side, there is evidence that eco-fashion will have lasting power,
as small retailers continue to serve the small market and larger companies educate
their buyers in the virtues of eco clothes.
to buy in clothing?
There is no doubt that shopping and buying eco
clothing is the ethical thing to do. It's also kind of cool to think of the new
materials being developed for the eco fashion wardrobe. Again, we're in this ethical
well of being amongst a relative handful of buyers who buy with conscience yet
are too few to influence the market. Is it a case of the power of one, or a hundred
monkeys? Could be. And it could eventually make a long-lived change in the fashion
world, unlike dead fads that were based on celebrity rather than conscience.