Adventures in Ethical Consumerism

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

G-Wiz! Low emission cars

If I had around £7000 to spare, I know exactly what I would spend it on. The G-Wiz is the latest low-emission, or no-emission, car on the road. Being completely electric, the G-Wiz is 100% emission-free, provided you use a renewable energy source to charge it up. Even if you don't have access to green electricity, The G-Wiz still only uses "one quarter the energy of the average petrol car (the most energy efficient car on the road according to the Energy Saving Trust)".

The benefits of driving a G-Wiz are seemingly endless, with no need to worry about road tax, congestion charge, parking (it is a mere 2.6 metres long), clutch, gears exhaust, oil filters, sparkplugs; it doesn't even have an engine! This is purely an electric car, though, so you have to make do with a max speed of 40mph and max range of around 40 miles on one charge.

That would be quite enough for me, with my daily, city-based antics, but if you feel the need for something with a bit more range and power you might like to check out the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight. These are both hybrid cars - they use a combination of petrol and electricity to maximise fuel economy while minimising harmful emissions. You have all the power of a normal petrol-engined car combined with the option of running on electricity when the hard stuff is not needed, such as when you're sleuthing through the city or idling at the lights. You don't even have to charge up your electric battery as the car does this for you when you're running on petrol.

Both these cars give consumers the option to produce less waste, less emissions, and go much further for your money. Besides saving on fuel costs, owners of hybrid cars are also entitled to a reduced rate of road tax and, as with the G-Wiz, are exempt from having to pay congestion charges. The bad news is: you can expect to pay around £17,000-20,000 for a hybrid. And though you're saving money all the time, you're still contributing to global pollution, albeit less so than if you were driving a conventional car.

If you're interested in buying any of these cars, check here to see if you're eligable for a Powershift Grant, which could knock around £1000 off the purchase price...

Happy motoring!

Saturday, September 18, 2004

M & S coffee goes Fairtrade

High street retailer Marks & Spencer have switched to using 100% Fairtrade coffee in their "Café Revive" coffee shops. This is another big step forward for the Fairtrade movement.

According to the BBC, this move alone will roughly double the amount of Fairtrade coffee on sale in Britain's coffee shops. And the move is especially impressive considering there has been no rise in the retail price of the coffee as a result of the switch.

Hats off to M & S for taking this very significant step, and to the Fairtrade Foundation, and all the others who lobbied for this change. Well done!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Ethical cola

If you are a cola drinker, you may be interested to know about a couple of alternatives to the big-brands such as Coke and Pepsi. Both Mecca-Cola and Qibla Cola are claiming to be an ethical alternative to their more well-known competitiors. Mecca-Cola claims to give 10% of profits to charities operating in the Palestinian territories and a further 10% to European NGOs, while Qibla Cola is promising 10% of profits will go to good causes in each country that the product is distibuted.

Presumably, there will be no violent or underhanded repression of trade unions from these companies, either.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Super Size Me

The film Super Size Me is excellent. Really funny, and quite informative too. Don't miss it!

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Great news!

Financial Times: "Coffee producers and four of the world's largest coffee companies will on Friday seal a far-reaching agreement to improve working conditions and environmental standards across their volatile industry... If fully implemented by all the parties involved, the code would cover an estimated 80 per cent of the international coffee market. But industry officials have warned that its impact may take years to be realised." Full story.

This is incredible news!

I'm sure there is still plenty more progress that can be made in terms of ensuring a fair deal for all the world's coffee producers, but this has to be seen as a major step forward.

I will continue to boycott the manufacturers in question (Nestlé, Sara Lee, Kraft Foods and Tchibo) and stick with products carrying the mark of the Fairtrade Foundation. This is because the Fairtrade mark is a guarantee of so many more things than what is being proposed by these other companies. Still, it goes to show what can be achieved...

Thursday, September 09, 2004

World Carfree Day

World Carfree Network: "September 22 is World Carfree Day, when people from around the world gather together to show alternatives to the automobile."

The WCN works tirelessly to promote the benefits of keeping cars out of our city centres. Just imagine: clean, quiet streets for people; more room to walk, cycle, skate or blade; breathable air; quick and efficient public transport services; more space for kids to play safely.

When will the masses start to realise how cool this would be?

I think what really prevents such things from moving forward is money. Not so much a lack of money to invest on the part of our local councils... I think it's more to do with the fears of city centre traders who believe their whole business is going to shrivel up and die when people are no longer able to drive into town. Not to mention the hugely powerful motor companies who probably would have to shoulder some losses if people suddenly found they had decent puplic transport to rely on.

Of course, the motor companies could turn their attention to develpoing environmentally-friendly public transport systems that they could profit immesely from in the long-term. But in the short-term it would mean investment and therefore reduced profits which, of course, is not acceptable.

Here is the EU's page for European Mobility Week, which operates in conjunction with World Carfree Day.

In Britain, the project is called "In Town Without My Car". The website has some useful information, but if you want to know what's actually happening in your area you'll get more information from the European website above.

If, like me, you're in Edinburgh, you can go here for a rough outline of what's going to be occurring.

Here is an interesting article from the Edinburgh Evening News about the evolution of the event and how people feel about it.

Finally, if you want more information about carfree cities in general, go here.


Today I needed to buy a new pad for writing. I wondered into one of the Edinburgh Uni stationary shops to look for one. I like these shops: a good, comprehensive range of stationary, some reasonably healthy food and a range of Fairtrade products.

I use A5 pads to write on. They had loads of different kinds in different designs at different prices. Naturally, I looked for a recycled one, but there was none. So many pads and not one made from recycled paper. I took a look at the A4 pads. Again, there were lots on offer, and this time there was a recycled option. I didn't take it because I can't fit an A4 pad into my bag, and besides, I've got plenty of A4 pads already.

I was impressed to note, however, that one of the brands was offering a recycled A4 pad at the same price as its conventional A4 pad. This looks very much like progress to me, since the last time I compared paper prices.

The brand in question was Rhino. So I bought an A5 pad made by Rhino. Not recycled, but functional, and the price was good compared to the others.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Fairtrade update

The Fairtrade movement has got its rollerblades on. Sales of poducts carrying the Fairtrade mark are now running at around £100 million a year, compared with £16.7 million in 1998.

Acoording to a MORI poll, "A tracking study of public awareness" in March 2004, 39% of UK shoppers now recognise the Fairtrade mark, up from 25% last year (full story). There are now over 250 Fairtrade products on the market from more than 100 different suppliers.

Oxfam and One World shops are helping to bring these products into our high streets, as are health food shops, supermarkets and even local, independent traders. Edinburgh University sells a selection of Fairtrade products in its cafeterias.

One of the latest Fairtrade products to hit the market are Tesco's Fairtrade roses from Kenya. More details. Why not surprise that special someone in your life?

Monday, September 06, 2004


I'm going to do some commenting on supermarkets. For now, I'll keep it fairly general. I wanted to do some research and check some facts, but I ended up realising just how little I really know. So here is where I stand currently:

Supermarkets are not completely evil. They have been accused of many things. Here are some that spring to mind:

- putting friendly local traders out of business
- destroying communities by taking shopping away from the high street
- restricting choice by deciding what you can and cannot buy
- unethical treatment of suppliers
- pollution
- poor treatment of staff

I'll look at each of these in turn.

Putting friendly local traders out of business

Don't think so. My local high street is still thriving with little shops. During the time that supermarkets have been springing up all over the place, I haven't noticed any real changes in the local shopping scene except that the choice of stuff available has increased. Maybe our friendly, local traders look like saints next to the multi-nationals, but if the supermarkets had not been around offering a much greater level of choice to the customer, would local traders ever have thought about finding out what it is people want before stocking their shops?. Belive it of not, your friendly local trader, like the supermarkets, is interested in one thing: money. If the supes had not offered us more choice, I don't think local traders would have bothered to even try.

Destroying communities by taking shopping away from the high street

Ditto above. My community is thriving like it hasn't done in decades. I lived in Leith ten years ago, when supes were in the ascendency. It was a dump then. Recently I moved back. Now there is a lot of regeneration in Leith and, yes, even community spirit. All this taking place while the supes are supposedly walking all over us. Mmmm, not sure about that...

Restricting choice by deciding what you can and cannot buy

This just isn't true. Supermarkets, I think, have vastly increased the consumer's ability to choose. Maybe I will turn out to be wrong on this one. My experience, however, tells me that supes offer a great deal of extra, 'marginal' stuff that may not be available elsewhere. When I was trying to eliminate wheat from my diet, I would have been lost without the supes. Being allergic to a great many other things, I was really struggling to find anything at all to eat after I was advised to give up wheat. At the same time, some of the major supermarkets (Sainsburys imparticular) were busy responding to the demands of people for more allergen-free products. They listen. When you ask for something they will try to stock it. They know they have to listen to their customers, or their customers will desert them.

Unethical treatment of suppliers

This is a serious one. Room for a huge amount of improvement here, methinks. Supermarkets can - and do - use their immense buying power to force prices, and therefore staff working conditions, down to apalling levels. I'll report more when I know more.


This is pretty major as well. Flying apples in from New Zealand on a daily basis and filling our roads with delivery trucks cannot be considered ethical when you look at how much pollution these things are responsible for. Trust me, it's a lot. Supermarkets are not solely responsible for this trend, however, though they could potentially do a lot to help put things right.

Poor treatment of staff

Supes probably aren't as bad as, say, McDonalds on this one. I don't think they're brilliant either, though. Lots of room for improvement.

A major issue at the moment is unethical treatment of animals for the supermarket trade. Again, I don't think the supes are necessarily the cause of this, but they could possibly help to sort it out. When a supe is named and shamed for accepting animal products from a supplier that brutalises its livestock, they pretty much have to act. The suppliers are used to being anonymous, but the supes have no choice. As long as we keep letting them know how we feel, we can force more changes in the way things are done.

There is a lot more to know about supermarkets, and I'll be posting whatever I find out. I'll try to post some positive things too, though, so we don't all have to slit our wrists.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

South Korea

I’ve just been reading an excellent article in the e-journal of the Worldwide Democracy Network. It seems South Korea is fast becoming a world leader in the democracy stakes. Who would have thought it? It doesn’t seem so surprising, though, when you learn that 75% percent of households have broadband internet access, and the web’s popularity as a source of independent news is growing rapidly. See the whole article here.