Jen’s Library – Big Green Purse

Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World
by Diane MacEachern

Oh, book sale finds, how do I love thee.

I have several awesome friends who are, to varying degrees, into the green, organic, and local food movements. I found this at the big Bethesda book sale in the spring and thought it would make a great gift for one of them, but then I ended up reading it first because I couldn’t help myself. The best part is, none of these friends would be offended about receiving a used book as a gift, so I’m still in the clear. 🙂

I’m no economics pro, but I can grasp the concept that demand will drive supply to a certain extent. If everyone stops buying products with purple dye #230 in them, manufacturers will respond by taking it out of their product so they can continue making money. Consumers influence the market – look at the availability of gluten-free products at the average grocery store today, when only five years ago someone with celiac disease had to go to specialty stores to find a candy bar they were allowed to eat.

Big Green Purse looks at our spending power and how we can try to use it for good, shifting slowly towards having more choices in organic, fair trade, and local products, and having those products more accessible and visible where we shop. It’s split into chapters about different products, like produce, clothing, and cosmetics, along with explanations about what all the different labels and certifications really mean. There are a lot of tips to help you avoid being “greenwashed” (the author’s term) by manufacturers and marketers who put “natural” and “environmentally friendly” labels all over their products, hoping to suck people in. These days, more people are interested in making better choices for the environment, and lots of companies are trying to make themselves seem as “green” as possible so they can ride that trend and get people buying their products. A lot of that labeling is meaningless, though, so you’ve got to do your research before you shop. She gives lists of examples of products and companies she recommends as being legitimately green, along with some which are not, because she encourages her readers to contact those guys and urge them to take some steps towards green-ness.

My problem with organic stuff is that it’s expensive. I’m terrible, I know, but if I have to spend twice as much for an apple with no pesticides on it, forget it. I’ll wash the stupid thing and get on with it, ecosystem be damned. And I know that’s not very nice of me, because I should be caring more about the planet I’m living on, but if I went totally organic granola with my grocery shopping, I’d go broke quickly. Buying more of it would be good because it would be sending a message, however tiny, that people want organic stuff, so slowly and surely, prices would start creeping downwards… but it’s hard for me to do that when the price of food keeps going up and the “greener” options are inevitably more expensive.

I decided to start with coffee. After reading the chapter on coffee growing, I figured that I could make the sacrifice and spend a little more on coffee in order to try and help save some rainforest. I’m only doing it for the tree frogs. The book says to look for “shade grown” coffee, because that farming method does the least damage to the ecosystem, but I haven’t had any luck finding that at the big grocery stores, so I went with organic and fair-trade-certified coffees as a compromise. I have tried two so far, and I liked one of them a lot, so switching to that brand wouldn’t be a terrible sacrifice for me. I can post coffee reviews if anyone’s interested!

I don’t see myself shopping for organic hemp t-shirts, or boycotting Hershey bars because the cocoa beans they use weren’t grown in an environmentally friendly way. But maybe I’ll try using fewer household cleaners, buying recycled aluminum foil, and growing more of my own veggies. Baby steps.

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