The Internet is less than a “blip” in time compared with the 4.6 billion-year-old Earth. But in its short life span, the World Wide Web has become a resource for consumers who want to shop with the planet in mind. In recognition of the thriving green market that has developed in cyberspace — and in honor of Earth Day 2004 on April 22 — here are 10 simple ways to start shopping green online.
1. Make educated choices. The Web site of national non-profit coopamerica.org not only provides practical tips about buying green, but also posts bulletins about boycotts and exploitative business practices. The current campaign asks consumers to e-mail ExxonMobil to encourage the company to invest in renewable energy.
Since 1982, the Washington-based group has educated consumers about social and environmental issues with the ultimate goal of helping “responsible” businesses thrive. “If everyone shifted just 10 percent of their spending to companies with outstanding records on social and environmental issues it would channel $170 billion to building a green economy that puts people and the planet first,” says executive director Alisa Gravitz.
Gravitz also encourages consumers to take an active role in what merchants sell. “Store managers often value the feedback of customers and take their preferences into account when stocking the shelves,” says Gravitz. “If people ask for green products, stores will sell them.” she adds. So “don't be afraid to ask the store manager at your local stores to stock organic, fair trade (a label that indicates no sweatshop labor was used to make the product) or other green products,” she says.
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2. Let your fingers do the clicking. Coopamerica.org also publishes its National Green Pages online. The 11th edition of the green directory has information about 2,000 companies and 25,000 products. Consumers can search the cyber directory to locate all things green, from a neighborhood restaurant that dishes out organic food to Earth-friendly shops. All businesses in the Green Pages have been carefully screened for their social and environmental responsibility, confirms Gravitz.
3. Shop at Earth-friendly stores.Unlike the non-virtual world, where health food and environmentally conscious stores are often few and far between, the Web has made it possible to connect many environmental retailers under one cyber-roof. In its 10th year, online portal ecomall.com has links to more than 200 environmentally conscious stores.
Ecomall.com also posts hundreds of links to grassroots groups, non-profits and government agencies. "It's the Whole Earth catalog online," says ecomall.com's founder Tom Kay, a New Yorker and an activist since the ’70s. Ecomall.com’s “Green Living” magazine features articles (and links to articles) on a variety of environmental topics, from ways to reduce trash to maintaining a vegetarian diet on a trip to Disneyland.
4. Buy products made from recycled materials.
4. Buy products made from recycled materials.These days, products made from recycled materials actually can be quite fashionable. Check out the bags, made from reclaimed rubber inner tubes, at Nederland, Colo.-based englishretreads.com. The model T totes, available in small $75 and large $85, are a great everyday bag for the casual work environment.
5. Buy in bulk.When grocery shopping for staples, think big not small. Go for the slightly larger mayo jar or ketchup bottle. Buying in big containers will not only save a few cents but less packaging means less waste to our nation’s landfill. Also, always bring a reusable grocery bag to the market.
6. Shop at auction sites. Buy a used book today, save a tree tomorrow. Inadvertently, the real boom for the environment has been the online auction craze. The online auction sites have made the second-hand market easily accessible to consumers. Buying at an auction satisfies consumers’ desire to get something “new” yet discourages the production of brand-new goods.
7. Think energy efficient.When purchasing electronic goods, consult the energyguide.com first. Run by privately held Nexus Energy Software, the energyguide.com has several cyber tools to help consumers sort out their energy needs and how best to meet them efficiently.
To get started, simply enter your zip code into the “energy analyzer,” fill out a brief form about your energy usage, and in less than a minute (on a home connection of 56k), you will receive an estimate of energy costs in a “similar home,” as well as charts for monthly energy use in dollars and by appliances. “Find-a-supplier” contains information about energy companies in your area. You can also get personal assistance via e-mail to locate a contractor near you. Of course, there’s a cyber shop for energy-efficient products. But remember: Shop around before you buy.
8. Support local farmers.A great resource online isSeattle–based familyfarms-direct.com, a cyber portal with links to about 100 farms and cottage industries. Consumers at familyfarmsdirect.com can pick up homegrown or farm-made regional specialties, from fluffy Boston cream pies to wild Alaskan halibut.
9. Teach your children well.
9. Teach your children well.Teach your kids the four R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle and respect — and they shall inherit a cleaner planet. To that end, buy them toys that will help them understand the wonders of nature and instill in them a special appreciation for the Earth.My all-time favorite remains the plush globes at huggaplanet.com. The 12-inch “Hugg a Planet,” now available in Spanish and French, is a steal at $19.95. Home Earth Science projects also have gone way beyond the ant farm. Although Uncle Milton’s Original ant farm is still cool and available online for less than $15, kids can now watch tadpoles morph into frogs in the “Live Frog Habitat” and caterpillars change into butterflies in the “Butterfly Jungle.” Retailers are listed by state at the unclemilton.com manufacturer’s Web site.
10. Don’t buy on impulse.Dare I say: Tame those shopping demons. OK, it’s spring. You want something new; that’s “in.” You think about it at night. You gotta have it. But “do you need it?” Sometimes, you do. Just to feel better about yourself or the world itself. So go ahead and indulge. But other times, control the urge to splurge and save some natural resources in the process.
Happy Earth Day and remember every day is Earth Day!
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