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’Tis the Season: Shop Responsibly—Part 1

12/16/2008 12:00:00 AM

Tags: gifts

The Natural Home staff spent the past weekend at Eco Gift Festival in Santa Monica (not a bad place to be as snow and cold blanketed much of the country). Better even than the mild weather was the attendees’ response to our new line of Natural Home kitchenware. It was our first opportunity to talk directly with readers (both new and old) about the products. I’m pleased to say the reaction was positive; gift buyers were excited to find beautiful, affordable products that were produced in a thoughtful and conscious way. They asked a lot of really good questions about how the products were made, where they were made and under what conditions.

On Friday, I gave a presentation designed to help attendees ask those kinds of questions, ensuring that the gifts they’re buying are truly green. Given that the average American family spends around $18,000 each year on goods and services (a huge chunk of that during the holidays), I believe it’s crucial that we feel great about what we’re buying. I like to think of it as casting 18,000 votes for the kind of world we want to live in. Our dollars matter. So, this holiday season, these are the questions we’re asking before we plunk down our own hard-earned dollars.


Photo by brungrrl/Courtesy flickr 

1. What is it made from? 

--Is it made from natural, replenishable or recycled  materials?

--Does it outgas harmful chemicals?

--Is it a potential allergen or carcinogen?

--Does it contain lead or heavy metals?

--Do you know all the materials used in its manufacture? 

2. How was it manufactured? 

--Did its manufacture cause pollution?

--Who made it and under what conditions?

--Were the workers or artisans paid and treated fairly?

--Does the wholesaler or importer buy directly from artisans? 

3. Where was it made? 

--Did it travel less than 500 miles to get to you?

--Is there a locally made alternative?

--Is it made in a country that enforces fair labor laws?

(Note: This year, China enacted new labor regulations and, according to the Fair Labor Association, is now actually slightly below the international average for the number of labor violations per factory. South Asia remains problematic, however, with the most violations occurring in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.) 

4. How is the item maintained and operated? 

--Does it require continual energy, batteries or replacement parts?

(This is especially important during the holidays, when 40 percent of all batteries sold in this country get snapped up. If your son or granddaughter just has to have that battery-operated toy, consider including a rechargeable battery with the gift.)

--Is it durable?

--Can it be repaired easily? 

5. What will happen to the item once you're done with it? 

--Can it be disassembled, recycled, reused or composted?

--Is it biodegradable? (There’s no legal definition for the word “biodegradable,” but the European Union deems a material biodegradable if it will break down into mostly water, carbon dioxide and organic matter within six months. The Federal Trade Commission defines biodegradable products as those that “break down and decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonably short amount of time when they are exposed to air, moisture and bacteria or other organisms.”) 

Check in tomorrow for part two of how to shop responsibly this holiday season.

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