Best of the Better Living Show

My friend Kecia and I, along with Grace, braved the crowds of this green expo last Saturday here in Portland. The mix of vendors was incredible and I regretted putting Grace in the stroller, since it made it difficult to navigate the packed aisles let alone actually enter a booth and see the offerings up close. Still I managed to take note of some really cool companies doing great things for people and the planet. Bambootique didn’t have a booth at this event but I’ll be the first to admit product_thumbphp.jpgthere are a lot of other cool companies out there. Here’s a run-down of a few I liked:

Baskets from recycled chopsticks. Kecia and I went in together on their special buy three, get one free on these cool reworkings of used chopsticks. Yes, we asked, they have been cleaned and sanitized before being made into all kinds ofelephant_poo_paper.gif
creative designs.

Paper made from elephant poo. This paper is gorgeous and 75% of the content comes from the fiber “discarded” by elephants.

Burgerville. My favorite fast-food restaurant and only found in the Pacific Northwest. The rest of the country, you have no idea what you’re missing. They compost, they recycle, they convert their french fry oil into biofuel, they buy wind energy, and they buy the majority of their meat and produce locally.

Alternative energy for churches. My church has been moving towards making our building more sustainable and I’m excited to pass along information about Oregon Interfaith Power and Light. This organization assists churches in being better stewards of energy and to investigating the use of solar power.

In light of my recent posting on cloth diapers, I was also pleased to find a cloth diapering business there. Punkin Butt is a Tualatin-based cloth diapering company and I plan to buy my supplies from them next time Grace grows out of her cloth diaper covers.

There were lots of other great booths but these were the ones that caught my attention (and which my stroller could fit into!). I wished I had seen more fair trade companies present. There were a few but they were not very prominent. Fair trade is so closely tied with green issues, but the two get separated far too often. If you had a chance to check out the show, let me know what was most interesting to you.

Everyday Just Living Is Better Living

This weekend Portland hosts the first annual Better Living Show. This expo is along the same vein as the huge Green Festivals held in Chicago, Seattle, and other big cities, with an emphasis on earth-friendly choices for the home and garden.

I am fascinated by the name chosen by the organizers. Instead of finding another synonym for green or sustainable they chose the adjective better. I love this because it emphasizes what I have found to be true. Sustainable living, green living, just living, whatever you want to call it, truly is better. It’s better for the planet, better for people (especially the poor) and, selfishly but most motivational, it is better for me and my family. Every time I make a change, large or small, to make my life more sustainable I find my quality of life is improved. Knowing I’m making a positive difference for others and the planet while my life keeps getting richer draws me to continue to seek more things I can do.

I’m looking forward to attending the Better Living Show Saturday with my 14-month old, Grace, and my friend Kecia. I’m most excited about checking out the eco-fashion and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I can’t wait to try the organic food offerings. I’m excited to see what fair trade retailers are there too, since I always enjoy seeing what like-minded businesses are up to. The show is running all weekend so if you’re here in Portland, stop by and see for yourself. The show is at the Portland Expo Center and admission is free.

The Fuss About Cloth Diapers

In my experience as a mom (14 months to date) the general consensus about cloth diapers seems to be that they are either for hippies or for moms with way too much time on their hands. I am neither but in the last month I made the switch. Yes, we are now a cloth diapering home, although over a year into the diapering experience. Better late than never I suppose!

Can someone please explain to me what all the fuss is about? Cloth diapers are EASY. I can’t believe I didn’t use them from the beginning but it just seemed like so much work, so messy, so old-fashioned. For the past year we’ve used a combination of gdiapers (a flushable disposable diaper) and regular disposables. Gdiapers require a cloth outer cover in which you lay a new gdiaper insert each time you change the baby. They worked really well for us but are quite expensive (30-40 cents per diaper depending on where you buy them).

I was inspired to make the switch after reading my last issue of Mothering magazine, which had a cover story about cloth diapering. The article made it sound so simple plus pointed out the environmental benefits of cloth and the toxic chemicals present in disposables. I called up my local diaper service, TideeDidee, to find out the costs involved and discovered I would actually save several dollars a week using cloth, even with a diaper service. No extra laundry, no dirty diapers to rinse (with diaper service you just throw the diapers into the bin, no rinsing required), plus I found out my gdiaper covers would work so there were no additional cloth diaper covers to buy. I figured I had nothing to lose, I could always cancel the service and return to my old system if I hated cloth.

It’s been a month of cloth so far and both my husband and I agree it’s just not that hard. I can fold the cloth insert, lay it in the gdiaper cover and velcro it all shut (no safety pins required) around Grace in the same amount of time it takes me to unfold a disposable. The diapers don’t smell thanks to a little air freshener the diaper service provides, and the diaper delivery man (woman?) comes and goes unnoticed every Friday morning, leaving us a new pile of freshly washed white diapers.

The environmental difference between cloth and disposable has been debated for years, but it turns out the U.S. studies that equated the impact of both received funding from diaper making companies such as Procter and Gamble. I prefer to base my decisions on unbiased research and all the environmental groups websites I read, such as Treehugger, support the use of cloth diapers. Even with the use of a diaper service, cloth diapers use less energy. Some argue that the diaper service is more energy efficient than washing at home since the service uses large industrial washing machines and dryers to wash many more diapers at a time.

The final clincher for me to make the switch though was when I read that many children potty train up to 6 months earlier with cloth diapers. The technology used in disposable diapers is so advanced the child never feels wet, but with cloth diapers they are aware much sooner of their own bodily functions. The thought of getting Grace out of diapers weeks or months earlier made me want to dance in the streets. The sooner she is potty trained, the better for me and for the planet. I’m glad I made the switch and wish I had done it earlier.

Is Fair Trade Green and is Green Fair Trade?

The following is an article I recently submitted to an online magazine for a networking group I’m part of. It’s quite relevant to Everyday Just Living.

The concept of fair trade often gets lumped together with the idea of going green, but is there really a connection between fair trade (an economic distinction) and environmental sustainability? There is….and there isn’t.

Fair trade refers to an economic model in which farmers and artisans in the developing world are paid fair living wages for their products, such as coffee, produce, and handicrafts. Environmental sustainability refers to the protection of ecosystems so they survive for future generations. Both terms are hot right now and are receiving growing acceptance and recognition among mainstream consumers looking to make purchasing decisions that have a positive impact.

Fair trade by its simplest definition focuses principally on the impact of economics on people. However, the organizations leading the fair trade movement are making efforts to ensure that the planet is also considered when placing a fair trade distinction on a product. Some of the leading organizations in the fair trade movement are the Fair Trade Federation (a U.S. association of businesses and organizations committed to fair trade), TransFair (the only third-party fair trade certifying body in the United States), and the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT, a global network of fair trade organizations). All three of these organizations incorporate environmental sustainability into their criteria for membership and, where applicable, for certification.

Fair trade and environmental sustainability happily coexist in most circumstances. Take coffee as an example. Fair trade coffee is purchased from small farmers who form cooperatives through which they sell their beans. Small farmers in Latin America and Asia value their land because they live on or near it and because it has often been in their families for generations. Therefore they are more likely to incorporate sustainable growing practices to protect their soil and water, such as growing under a canopy of trees and using compost instead of harmful chemical pesticides. Large coffee conglomerates lack this connection to the land and typically use slash-and-burn agriculture, which requires a high use of chemical pesticides. This unsustainable method of growing coffee exhausts the soil within a few years, but large coffee growers can afford to move on to fresh land, whereas small farmers know they have to maintain their farms to provide for future generations.

As another example, consider these fair trade candles produced in Guatemala and available from Bambootique. Proyectocndl_set_4.jpg Eco-Quetzal (PEQ) is an environmental nonprofit concerned with supporting indigenous Mayan people to preserve their remaining native forest. Much of the forest has been lost to agricultural uses, one of the few ways the Mayan people have been able to support themselves. As a form of alternative income for the Mayans, PEQ has encouraged the production of traditional candles, which are then sold to tourists within Guatemala and exported for sale in the U.S. The candles are made from a wax extracted from the seed of the arrayan tree, one of the most common trees in the Guatemalan forest. Sales of the candles have been very successful, providing an economic incentive to preserve the trees rather than cutting them down for farmland. Once again, fair trade goes green.

While fair trade usually implies environmental sustainability, the reverse is not necessarily true. Just because a product has a green claim does not mean the economics behind the product are fair. Take an organic rose grown in Colombia. Of course, the organic rose proves environmentally better for the Colombian soil, water, and even for the workers who grow and process the rose. However, its “organic” label does not indicate whether or not the workers were fairly paid. Quite possibly the organic rose was prepared for shipping in the same processing plant as a conventional rose. Sometimes organic companies state a specific commitment to paying fair wages to their workers, but unless a product is clearly marked as such, it can not be assumed that a green product is a fair trade product.

So, how do you select products that are both fair trade and green?

–Find out if the company is a member of any association or certifying body (Fair Trade Federation, Transfair, or IFAT). All fair trade certifying organizations have environmental standards their members must meet, although the level of standards does vary between organizations and between products.

— For companies making fair trade or green claims but not members of a particular related organization, ask questions about who made the product, what conditions it was made under (factory versus in-home workshop), and the source of the product’s inputs (such as recycled wood vs. virgin protected forest).

–Use common sense. If an imported, organic piece of fruit is not also marked as fair trade, it probably isn’t. Because so many people are looking for this information, companies are quick to offer it if it is indeed true of their product.

The bottom line is use whatever information is available to you to make the most informed decision. There is no way to know every possible bit of information about a product. Use the information you have to choose, as best you can, products that treat people fairly and care for the planet we all share.

Bag Me in the Produce Section

It hit me a few weeks ago that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to take along my own grocery bags to the store or farmers’ market and fill them with lots of plastic produce bags. Those thin little bags are really hard to reuse since they tear so easily. They are made from petroleum just like the plastic grocery bags and they are equally hard to recycle, ending up choking our waterways, in landfills or incinerated in developing countries just like their check-out lane counterparts.

reusable produce bagsI discovered lots of reusable produce bag options on my new favorite bag website, reusablebags.com.  I ordered five of their organic cotton net produce sacks. These bags are sturdy and can be used probably hundreds of times (it’s only been a few days so I’ll have to get back to you on that). I chose them because they are see-through, which I know is important from my days as a supermarket checker in college.  I ordered five knowing I usually take 3-5 plastic produce bags on a grocery trip. If you order four or more the price goes down from $3.95 to $3.45 per bag, so I took advantage of the savings. If you buy ten or more the price goes down even more to $3.25 so if you get a friend to go in with you and buy a bunch you both save.

I used several of the bags on last Sunday’s trip to Whole Foods. The checker didn’t even bat an eye and I was proud to walk out of the store without one single plastic (or paper for that matter) bag in sight.

What do you use instead of plastic produce bags? Have you found a great alternative that works well for you?

Bag Me

Last November for my birthday my dear friend Lisa mailed me a shopping bag for a gift. An odd choice for a gift, I know, but it has turned out to be one of the most-used gifts I’ve ever received (thanks Lisa!).

The bag wasn’t just any old shopping bag. She sent me a reusable shopping bag from Granite Gear. To be honest, when I first opened the gift I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it. I’ve been taking my own bags to the grocery store for years so didn’t think I had a need for another reusable shopping bag.

Boy was I wrong. This bag is amazing.

First of all, it’s super lightweight. I weighed it on my postal scale and it came up at a measly 1.7 ounces, less than my cell phone. Secondly it is incredibly compact. It stuffs into its own attached mini-sack at about 4×4 inches but it can be crushed even smaller in the corners of your purse or even your pocket. The best thing about it is how incredibly strong it is. It’s made of something called “sil-nylon,” which they might want to consider using on the next space shuttle it’s so sturdy. When fully open the bag is a little bigger than your typical grocery store plastic bag but it holds the contents of 3-4 plastic grocery bags simply because it’s so tough. I keep it in my purse all the time and I no longer take plastic bags from anywhere – not Target, not the grocery store, nowhere. I even had the rare opportunity to go clothes shopping yesterday and bought items from 5 different stores. Everything fit into the one Granite Gear bag, saving five plastic bags just in the one trip.

According to the site www.reusablebags.com, 1 million plastic shopping bags are used per minute, which translates to 500 billion per year. Almost all are used once and thrown away. Ireland, Denmark, China and South Africa already have policies requiring retailers to charge shoppers for single-use plastic bags and Britian and Australia are moving in that direction. San Francisco has banned them city-wide altogether. These landmark legislative moves save countless barrels of oil (the bags are made from petroleum) plus cut back on litter, reduce pressure on landfills, and improve air quality (see below).

So we all agree plastic bags aren’t good for the environment. But what does cutting out plastic bags have to do with Everyday Just Living? When the planet is harmed, inevitably people are harmed, and that is definitely the case with the billions of plastic bags floating around our planet. You may have seen big bins in your grocery store collecting plastic bags to “recycle.” If you’re one of the few people who actually take your bags back to be recycled, you should know the truth: most of these bags do not get recycled. According to reusablebags.com, they are shipped to developing countries with more relaxed environmental laws, like India or China, where they are incinerated, adding to the already tremendous problem of air pollution in these countries. It is unjust that my need for a one-time use bag would contribute to pollution on the other side of the planet.

I did some unscientific calculations and I estimate that, by taking my own bags to the grocery store and using my Granite Gear bag for everything else (Target, clothes shopping, the farmers’ market), I reduce my consumption by a whopping 624 plastic bags per year. This has been an incredibly easy change for me to make for such a tremendous impact.

Join Me To Quit Cold Turkey

I am committing today to end my plastic bag use completely and I’d like to get blog readers to commit to do the same! If you’ll join me in this quest, post a comment here with your commitment. I’ll write another post on the topic soon and welcome your experiences with the challenge. If you’ve already made this commitment, post that here and tell us about your experience. Bah bye plastic…

Cheap Fair Trade Coffee – An Oxymoron?

coffee-beans-21.jpgSwitching from conventional coffee to fair trade is one of the simplest changes you can make in living a more just life. As more people switch coffees, many more farmers enjoy a livable income for their hard work. However the switch to fair trade coffee can be expensive. Most fair trade coffee is priced at least at $8-$10 per pound, comparable to other high-quality coffees but much more expensive if you’re used to purchasing Folger’s.

Many people assume the coffee is more expensive because the farmers are paid more per pound for their coffee. True, farmers who join fair trade coffee cooperatives receive at least $1.40/ pound for their coffee, compared to prices as low as 30-40 cents/ pound paid by the world’s largest coffee companies. However another big reason for the markup is the quality. The fair trade label does not guarantee better coffee, but most of it is good. Most small farmers grow their coffee under the canopy of larger trees such as fruit trees, which makes for richer soil, little or no artificial pesticides or fertilizers, and better tasting coffee. It also takes longer to grow and yields fewer beans than the slash-and-burn methods employed by cheap coffee conglomerates. So in switching to fair trade coffee you do pay a higher price, but in most cases you get a much better tasting cup of coffee as well as the peace of mind that your purchase benefits, rather than harms, the farmers who grew it.

Recently I researched fair trade coffee prices for my church, which I am proud to say has fully made the switch to all fair trade coffee. In the process I discovered several options that, while still more than conventional coffees, are more affordable than some fair trade grinds. The cheapest fair trade coffee I found is at Costco. Yes, the giant of super-packaging has discovered that the Fair Trade label sells and, like everything at Costco, when you buy in large quantities you save even on fair trade coffee. A 2-pound bag of regular coffee sells for $9.99 or $4.99/ pound. Their 2-pound bag of decaf sells for $10.99 or $5.50/ pound. The flavor is pretty decent, although a little on the weak side for me.

Another option that costs a little more is fair trade coffees at Trader Joe’s. My Trader Joe’s in Lake Oswego carries several fair trade options all between $5.99-7.99 for 12 ounces. I especially like the Nicaraguan and Ethiopian fair trade blends. They are rich, dark and smooth.

My church has settled on buying our fair trade coffee from Equal Exchange (EE). EE has a special Interfaith program for churches and, while slightly more than the Costco coffee, they ship it straight to the church so the kitchen is always stocked. Through EE’s Interfaith program we are able to buy 5 pounds of what they call “Fellowship Blend” coffee for $26.50 or $5.30/ pound. We are just starting with EE so I haven’t tried the coffee yet, but when I have had their coffee in the past it has always been delicious.

There is no reason to fret about buying cheaper fair trade coffee, at least not from a justice perspective. Regardless of what you pay, if a coffee carries a Fair Trade certification the farmers received a fair price. You may want to try a few to determine how you like the taste but, so long as it is certified fair trade, go right ahead and save a few cents.

For more information on fair trade coffee I recommend these sites:

Equal Exchange

Oxfam

Wikipedia – Great entry on fair trade

 

Welcome to Everyday Just Living!

Welcome to my brand new blog! My name is Beth Sethi and I am your host in this small corner of the blogosphere. I am a mom, wife and small business owner and I am passionate about fair trade and justice issues, especially for women. Before I co-founded my online fair trade boutique, Bambootique , I worked for several international NGOs. I have seen firsthand the difference it makes in the lives of the poor when they are economically empowered. Economic empowerment of the poor is a global issue and the choices I make everyday have the power to do good or to do harm.

Poverty in our world is very real – nearly half of all our planet’s inhabitants live on less than $2/ day, according to the UN. Much well-meaning aid is thrown at it and some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Everyday Just Living goes hand in hand with care for the environment. The state of our world’s environment is only exacerbating the problem of poverty. I believe to truly make progress in the fight against global poverty, as well as to protect our planet, each of us can – and must – do our part. Our part is often as simple as what coffee we buy or which light bulbs we use, but sometimes more is demanded of us. I hope here to share my journey and bring you practical ideas you can implement immediately to live a more just life. Thanks for checking out my blog. I welcome your comments and ideas!