If you want to avoid buying clothing that was made in sweatshops (characterized by unsafe conditions, unethical labor practices, and poor wages); and/or you want to buy clothing that is made from natural and organically grown fabrics, rather than from synthetic, petrochemical textiles or from fibers grown with toxic pesticides, you should probably—at least for the time being, until the industry shifts—avoid buying most of your clothing from major retailers, especially those that sell clothes for super-low prices. Those “fast fashion” clothes are not just cheap in price. In most cases, they’re also cheaply made (so they’re not durable), and the people who make them aren’t making a living wage. As President Benjamin Harrison said, “I pity the man who wants a coat so cheap that the man or woman who produces the cloth will starve in the process.”

Furthermore, those workers work long hours in dangerous factories: facilities without proper health and safety standards, audits, or enforcement. (For example, in recent years, more than 1,800 garment factory workers have died on the job in Bangladesh, mostly due to unsafe buildings that collapsed on them. Some clothing retailers, such as Walmart and the Gap, have so far resisted signing onto a new building safety agreement, and instead have proposed weaker initiatives of their own.)

Look for well-made and durable, certified Fair Trade or domestically made (Made in the U.S.) clothes, made of certified organic, natural materials (such as organic cotton, wool, hemp, bamboo) or recycled materials, by ethical and sustainable brands [follow the links below to find some]; or buy clothes second-hand. And most importantly, don’t buy way more clothing than you need, and be sure to donate your unwanted/extra clothing.

Apparel Product Assessments and Vetted Brand Listings:

Check the Apparel section of GoodGuide (which also has a mobile app):

…and look for clothing labels that indicate certification with the Global Organic Textile Standard, as well as Fair Trade Certified,

…as well as clothing companies that are Certified B Corporations.

Also check out the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and its preliminary Higg Index, which aims to measure the environmental (and, in a later phase, also the social) performance of apparel products. In addition, there is Greenpeace’s international Detox fashion campaign, which has challenged major clothing brands to get their suppliers to make non-toxic clothes and to eliminate their release of hazardous chemicals, especially those that are contributing to water pollution.

Selected Companies/Brands:

These are a few brands that take the environmental and social impacts of their products more seriously than most other brands. Most of the following companies offer organic and/or Fair Trade clothes. Be sure to check out their “Sale” (or “Specials” or “Clearance”) pages to find discounted products.

  • Coyuchi  (see their pajamas and robes)

If you know of other relevant brands and you would recommend their products to others, please mention those brands in the Comments section.

 

For further information on this topic, you might want to read this book:

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline. (Also check out the author’s Shopping Directory.)

 

Other recent posts on green products:

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October 31, 2013
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You can find fresh, daily morsels of information and inspiration on The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page. Anyone can view the page, even if you don’t have a Facebook account. But if you do have an account, we hope you’ll click on the Like button (if you haven’t already “Liked” the page).

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the wide variety of topics that it covers, and you are welcome to comment on the posts and share your own recommended links. We’d like to get your feedback on the information we’re providing.

Here’s a sampling of topics that we’ve spotlighted on the page over the last month or so:

  • The Human Experiment film, narrated by Sean Penn
  • Union of Concerned Scientists’ paid internships
  • Sungevity’s zero-down solar leases
  • Climate Progress
  • Energy-saving tips
  • Wangari Maathai
  • “Ecocide is a Crime” campaign
  • Keystone XL and tar sands protests
  • Non-GMO Shopping Guide app
  • Americans Against Fracking
  • World Solar Challenge solar-powered cars
  • Dr. Vandana Shiva, and her organization Navdanya
  • Great quotations, graphics, photos, and cartoons
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September 30, 2013
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This is a list of links to information resources related to sustainable agriculture, organic farming and gardening, and growing and buying good, safe food.

Image created by Matt FarrarThese resources are organized into the following general categories (though some are relevant to more than one category): Organizations, Magazines and Blogs, Educational Programs, Funding & Investing, Permaculture, Urban Farms, Agri-Tourism / Farm Tours, International/Non-U.S. Initiatives, Films and Books.

At the end, you will find a few suggestions of simple ways to get involved in the good food movement.

Organizations

Magazines and Blogs

Educational Programs

Funding and Investing

(including some crowdfunding sites)

Permaculture

[Partial list; please mention other groups in the Comments.]

Urban Farms

[This is just a small selection; there are many, many more. Please mention other urban farms you are familiar with in the Comments.]

Agri-Tourism / Farm Tours

International/Non-U.S. Initiatives

Films and Books

Many films about food and farming have come out recently. One of the most recent is Symphony of the Soil.

There are also many good books on these topics. One new one is called Farmacology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing, by Daphne Miller, MD.

I also recommend reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as well as books by Wendell Berry, Michael Ableman, Michael Pollan, Frances Moore Lappe, Anna Lappe, and Marion Nestle.

For other relevant books, check out the offerings from Chelsea Green Publishing, Mother Earth News, and New Society Publishers.

Taking Part

You don’t have to be a farmer to be involved in sustainable agriculture and the good food movement. Here are just a few of the steps that almost anyone can take, to create a healthier family, healthier community, and a healthier planet:

  • Buy organic, non-GMO, and locally grown foods whenever possible (from the grocery, a farmer’s market, local farms, a CSA, etc.) To find local farms, farmer’s markets, or food providers, go to LocalHarvest.org, and if you live in California or New York, check out Farmigo.com, which is basically an online Farmer’s Market or CSA for small or large groups.
  • If/when you buy meat (from stores or at restaurants), avoid getting factory-farmed meats. Look for and ask for meats from grass-fed and grass-finished animals, that are free of antibiotics and added hormones, and that also, ideally, have third-party certifications (such as Animal Welfare Approved) verifying that the animals were raised and slaughtered humanely. Boosting the demand for such products will help shift the industry away from factory farming. (We’ll be adding a blog post with more information on humanely raised meat in the future.)
  • Buy organic, non-GMO seeds and organically grown plants, and plant them in a kitchen garden, window boxes, porch pots, raised beds, a greenhouse, a community garden, or wherever you can.  Use organic/natural rather than toxic chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. It’s fun and satisfying to swap your surplus harvest with friends and neighbors.
  • Replace water-intensive, conventional grass lawns with a garden, or no-mow native grasses or groundcovers. Choose low-water (drought-tolerant), native or adapted (climate-appropriate) plants and flowers, including those that attract and feed pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

 

Related posts:

Sustainable Agriculture in the Spotlight: Fresh films, books, etc.  [August 2009]

Sustainable Ag: Marin and Sonoma County Resources

Recent Films with Green Themes: Food, farming, energy, etc.  [2011]

Quotations for Gardeners, Farmers, and Others  [MotherEarthNews.com blog]

Chocolates of Choice: Organic, Fair Trade, and Delicious

 

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July 24, 2013
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Benefit corporations and Certified B Corporations aim to benefit society and our shared environment—rather than just the company’s traditional “bottom line.” More and more companies are choosing to be triple-bottom-line benefit businesses.

Benefit Corporations are “a new class of corporation that:

  1. creates a material positive impact on society and the environment;
  2. expands fiduciary duty to require consideration of non-financial interests when making decisions; and
  3. reports on its overall social and environmental performance using recognized third party standards.”  (Source: BenefitCorp.net)

Benefit Corporation status affects requirements related to corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency. It does not affect a company’s tax status.  To learn about the legal basis for benefit corporations, click here.

The Benefit Corporation corporate status is now (as of June 2013) legally recognized by 17 states and the District of Columbia.  Benefit Corporation legislation has passed in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont, and New York (as well as DC), and legislation is currently moving forward in at least nine other states. For state-by-state information, click here.

Here is a searchable list of some of the businesses that have registered as benefit corporations.

Certified B Corps                                       

A non-profit organization called B Lab certifies corporations as Certified B Corporations (or B Corps). Note: Benefit corporations and Certified B Corporations are similar, but different. Benefit corporation is a legal status administered by the state, and benefit corporations do not need to be certified as B Corporations or certified by any other third party. Some benefit corporations choose to become Certified B Corps, and some (but not all) Certified B Corps have the “benefit corporation” legal status, as only some states and countries currently recognize and grant that status.

Certified B Corporations have been certified as having met a high standard of overall social and environmental performance: they have achieved a verified minimum score on the B Impact Assessment.  They also have access to a portfolio of services and support from B Lab to help them with marketing, sales, raising money, and learning from and doing business within the Certified B Corps community.

As of June 2013, there are 775 Certified B Corporations, in 27 countries, and in 60 industriesClick here to find a B Corp (search by location, name, industry, keyword).

These are a few of the top-scoring, “Best for the World” B Corp companies of 2013:

  • Preserve personal care products (toothbrushes and razors) and housewares

And companies like Sun Light & Power, Sungevity, Better World Books, and other B Corps companies have been deemed “Rockstars of the New Economy” by Fast Company magazine.

Newer post on this topic [added May 2014]: Beneficial and Benevolent Businesses: Top B Corps of 2014

Related post: Green Business, Corporate Social Responsibility, Ethical Finance, and Sustainable Economies

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July 2, 2013
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Saving energy saves money. Reducing your energy use will reduce your gas and electricity bills (which frees up funds for other, more meaningful things). It also benefits the environment and your health in a variety of ways. For example, using less electricity reduces power plant emissions from burning fossil fuels, which reduces air and water pollution, and that helps protect everyone’s health and our shared natural resources. It also reduces the emission of greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.

This checklist outlines a number of ways that you can conserve energy at home (or at work), by changing your household (or workplace) products and practices related to Heating and Cooling, Appliances and Equipment, Lighting, etc. Most of these strategies are easy and low- or no-cost, and saving energy helps save you money down the road.

HEATING AND COOLING

  • Program your thermostat to provide less heating or cooling at night and during the daytime hours when your home/building is not occupied. If you don’t know how to change the settings on your programmable thermostat, read the manual or ask someone for assistance. (If you’d like to have an easy-to-program, energy-saving thermostat with an elegant design, take a look at the iPod-like Nest thermostat.)
  • On hot and sunny days, cover your windows by closing the shades, blinds, opaque curtains, or shutters; and turn off any lights that aren’t needed (especially any lamps that are using conventional incandescent bulbs, as they emit a surprising amount of heat). And if you live in an area that regularly has hot summers, consider adding shade trees, awnings, or overhangs (particularly outside of west-facing windows) and putting a light-colored roof on your home when it’s time to replace the roof.
  • Avoid or minimize your use of air conditioning, when possible. Air conditioners use a lot of energy, making them expensive to use. In warm weather, try using ceiling fans, floor fans, or a “whole house” attic fan (or in dry regions, an evaporative cooler) instead of AC. These options can often provide adequate cooling.
  • Follow the recommended maintenance procedures for your heating and cooling systems. Replace or clean air filters as specified in the owner’s manuals. Have your furnace or air conditioner serviced if it isn’t operating properly or efficiently.
  • Keep your heating/cooling vents dusted.
  • Keep furniture, curtains, and other objects away from heater/air conditioning outlets, to allow conditioned air to flow freely into the room.
  • Make sure your windows close properly. Fix any broken window panes, seals, or latches.
  • Don’t leave the heat or air conditioning on if you open a window.
  • Weatherize your doors and windows by using weather stripping or seals to minimize air leaks and drafts.
  • Make sure your home is well insulated. Insulate your hot water pipes and water heater, and add insulation (if needed) to your attic, walls, or basement.
  • Hire a home performance contractor to do a home energy audit; they will inspect your home and identify any inefficiencies and seal up air leaks. In many homes, fixing air leaks can save more energy and money than installing a high-efficiency furnace. (One very experienced company that offers these services in California is Advanced Home Energy, formerly called Recurve.) You can search here for a contractor near you who has been accredited by the Building Performance Institute. If you live in California, check out the information provided by Energy Upgrade California.
  • When purchasing a new furnace, air conditioner, ceiling fan, water heater, windows, or doors, choose products that have a high Energy Star efficiency rating. (For windows, at a minimum, make sure you choose double-paned glass.)

Please continue reading. The rest of this post includes tips on lighting, appliances, electronics, and more:

[CLICK HERE to CONTINUE]

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May 29, 2013
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The Goldman Environmental Prize is the world’s largest and most prestigious annual award for grassroots environmentalists. Goldman Prize winners are models of courage, and their stories are powerful and inspiring. “The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. Each winner receives an award of $150,000, the largest award in the world for grassroots environmentalists. The Goldman Prize views ‘grassroots’ leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.”

This year’s six prize recipients (one from each of the six inhabited continental regions) are:

  • Kimberly Wasserman (Chicago, IL, USA) — Fought to get local, polluting, coal power plants shut down; leading community greening projects
  • Jonathan Deal (South Africa) — Fighting against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) gas extraction
  • Azzam Alwash (Iraq) — Restoring marshes and protecting water resources
  • Nohra Padilla (Colombia) — Instituting recycling and waste management programs
  • Rosanno Ercolini (Italy) — Fighting toxics from incinerators and spearheading a Zero Waste movement
  • Aleta Baun (Indonesia) — Protecting sacred forestland from marble mining

Click on each recipient’s name to read—or watch a brief, well-made video—about their remarkable efforts and achievements.

Here’s the three-minute video about Kimberly Wasserman, who “led local residents in a successful campaign to shut down two of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants — and is now transforming Chicago’s old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces:” 

Last year’s recipient from the U.S. was Caroline Cannon, who has brought “the voice and perspective of her Inupiat community in Point Hope, Alaska to the battle to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling.”

Posts on Goldman Prize winners from previous years:

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April 15, 2013
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People all over the world are starting to see an increase in extreme and volatile weather, record-breaking “natural” disasters, shifting seasons and habitats, species losses, and dwindling resources. (These are all trends that climate scientists accurately predicted would occur as a result of high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.) This climatological and ecological instability is creating huge economic burdens and heart-breaking social disruption and dislocation, and climate projections show that the situation will almost certainly get worse.

As the costs and consequences of climate change become impossible to ignore, more people are recognizing the need to be more prepared for the challenges we’re likely to face in the short-term and the long-term (e.g., power outages, food and water shortages, or flooding from storms and sea level rise in some areas). A variety of initiatives are arising that aim to share ways of becoming more resilient—i.e., able to survive and thrive in the face of climate-related dangers. These efforts are occurring at the household, community, town, city, regional, and global levels.

Some initiatives are focused on the design of durable, climate-responsive, and disaster-resistant homes and buildings, including dwellings that can withstand hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes, or that incorporate “passive” heating or natural cooling strategies so that they can remain livable when there is no power; later this year I will post a list of companies that design and manufacturer disaster-resistant homes. Other initiatives are focused on personal or local food security; or the decentralization of energy production into localized or on-site power generation; or restoring degraded or contaminated land and habitats; or creating self-sufficient rural homesteads, self-reliant communities, and/or strong local economies.

While many of these have been grassroots efforts, the importance of resilience as a key requirement for sustainability is also beginning to be understood at an institutional, policy-making level. For examples, some major cities (e.g., San Francisco, New York, Seattle) see the writing on the wall and are actively trying to figure out how to become more adaptive and make their systems and infrastructure more robust and secure.

These are some noteworthy resilience-related initiatives and information resources:

  • Resilience  (a program of the Post Carbon Institute)

RDI explains resilience well: “Resilience is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption of some sort. At various levels —individuals, households, communities, and regions — through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services.  Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet: more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe droughts in some areas, wildfires, melting permafrost, warmer temperatures, and power outages.  Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to the these vulnerabilities.”

The various actions that they suggest are organized into these 12 categories:

1.) Ensure that a home is safe in a storm. 2.) Build to resist or survive rain and flooding. 3.) Build super-insulated envelopes. 4.) Incorporate passive solar design in heating climates. 5.) Minimize cooling loads in cooling climates. 6.) Provide natural cooling. 7.) Maximize daylighting. 8.) Provide backup renewable energy systems. 9.) Plan for water shortages. 10.) Address fire resistance and durability. 11.) Consider resilience at the community scale. 12.) Support local food production.

  • Hunt Utilities Group (HUG): a resilient-homes research and development campus in Minnesota. (More info about them here.)
  • Mother Earth News, which focuses on modern homesteading, among other resilience-relevant topics

Related posts:  

 

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February 28, 2013
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You can find fresh, daily morsels of information and inspiration on The Green Spotlight’s Facebook Page. Anyone can view the page, even if they don’t have a Facebook account. But if you do have an account, we hope you’ll click on the Like button (if you haven’t already “Liked” the page).

Please visit the Page to get a sense of the wide variety of topics that it covers, and you are welcome to comment on the posts and share your own recommended links.

Here’s a sampling of topics that we’ve spotlighted on the page over the last month or so:

  • Mosaic’s successful solar crowdfunding platform
  • Hybrid Vehicle Scorecard
  • Global Green’s K-12 Green School Makeover grants
  • The ultra-green, newly built Bullitt Center in Seattle
  • Fossil Free: a divestment campaign for campus endowments
  • Farmigo.com: a virtual farmer’s market that delivers to workplaces, schools +
  • Webinar on community/neighborhood/bulk solar projects
  • How to opt out of receiving the printed Yellow Pages
  • New books: Clean Break; Carbon Zero; etc.
  • New films: You’ve Been Trumped; Promised Land; etc.
  • Organizations: 350.org, Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, etc.
  • Cartoons, photos, graphics
  • Great quotations from Martin Luther King Jr., John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, Ross Gelbspan, Mary Oliver, etc.
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January 21, 2013
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There are a number of large and well-known environmental organizations (e.g., NRDC and the Sierra Club) and other broad-based sustainability groups that do very good work. But there are also many lesser-known, smaller, or more issue-specific environmental organizations that I believe also deserve attention and financial support. You might not have heard of all of these groups before, but they’re worth knowing about. They include:

It was difficult to narrow down my long list of favorite organizations to this small set; there are so many other effective organizations and initiatives that deserve support, as well. If you have a favorite organization to recommend, please mention it in the Comments section.

Remember that you can always give a donation to a group or a cause in honor of someone else—as a gift. It’s a wonderful type of gift to give for the holidays or any other occasion. You can also give someone a charity gift card (such as the TisBest Charity Gift Card) that allows the recipient to spend the funds on a charity of their choice.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to mention a few other non-profit groups that are near and dear to my heart, though they are not directly related to environmental issues. I hope you will look into and support some of these groups, as well:

Also consider making donations to local organizations that serve your community (e.g., food banks, shelters), as well as to local and nationwide public radio/TV programs and other non-profit media outlets.

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December 7, 2012
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