Adventures in Ethical Consumerism

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Is your town a clone town?

The new economics foundation is conducting a survey to find out how Britain's high streets are doing in terms of diversity.

Clicking here will download the survey form in PDF format to your computer. Print it out and take a stroll down your high street, scoring points according to the type of shops you pass. Then add up the points, see how your town is doing for homeliness (or 'cloneliness'), and pop the form in the post to the nef (the address is on the form).

I was thinking about this type of thing earlier when I was on Princes Street - Edinburgh's high street - waiting to catch a bus. The scene was beautiful. A full(ish) moon was hanging brightly in the sky, gentle wisps of cloud were complementing the deep blue backdrop and the old clocktower of the Balmoral Hotel was, as ever, watching benevolently over us all. I looked at the lights in the trees and one or two other seasonal decorations, thinking of how they were succeeding at being both pretty and inoffensive. Next to the tall, elegant Scott Monument was a small, temporary fun-fair complete with ferris wheel and bright, neon lights... a pleasant juxtaposition of old and new, classical and sensational.

As the last minute shoppers strutted around, and the buses jostled for position with the few cars that had managed to squeeze inbetween them, I had to admit it - the city was looking good!

It was when I turned my head towards the shops that my vision was bombarded with a load of santas, snowmen, tinsel, fake trees and fairy lights: all this stuff that just looks more and more tacky and sad with every year that goes by. It became more clear to me than ever that the most pathetic thing about christmas is the desperate commercialisation of it by companies that are out to make a profit.

Have a good 'un!!!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Green = clean

Research at Bristol University has indicated a link between chemicals in the home and development of asthma in young people:

“Experts looked at families' use of a range of products such as bleach, paint stripper and carpet cleaners.

Children born into the 10% of families which used these products the most were twice as likely to suffer from wheezing as those who used the least.”

Click here for the full story.

I decided to go chemical-free at home a couple of years ago. I definitely feel this was a positive decision for my health, and haven’t had any concerns about lack of hygiene. I would say my home smells a lot more natural than it did when I had small chemical plant under my sink and, as a highly allergic person, I believe my skin and breathing are less irritated as a result of the change.

Try these brands for a natural, biodegradable cleaning experience:

Clear Spring
Earth Friendly

The Co-op is working to remove hazardous chemicals from its range of own-brand household cleaning products, among other things. Click here for more information.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

GM debate continues

Here’s an interesting wee story about GM (genetically modified) food safety from the Organic Consumers Association in America.

“The glufosinate herbicide, used in large quantities on Bayer's GM herbicide-resistant crops, has been found to have adverse effects on the brain.”

The story is a bit of an anomalous one for ethical consumers. On one hand, it strengthens the argument of those who favour organic and GM-free farming techniques. On the other hand, sadly, the information was obtained from experiments on lab rats.

Click here for an explanation (from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) of why animal experimentation is an unreliable method of gathering scientific information.

As for GM, the debate is far from over. Anti-GM campaigners have had a tendency to whip up hysteria about the subject, successfully convincing many people that GM foods will never be completely safe. With the European Union now saying that decisions about GM crops should be based on science instead of public opinion, the road ought to be clear for proper experimentation. The problem is that in the absence of public outrage, the biotechnology companies are likely to walk all over our governments, who will be either powerless or unwilling to stop them from doing whatever they want. This could have some very nasty consequences for you and me.

Visit the Soil Association’s pages on GM.

GM Watch doesn’t mess around. This is especially interesting.

Here’s a good story from the BBC on GM.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Suite Vollard, Curitiba

suite vollard
News of the Suite Vollard housing development in Curitiba, Brazil has got me in a spin. It's a high-rise apartment block with quite an unusual feature: each flat can be rotated a full 360 degrees, independently of all the others.

Click here
and here to read more about Suite Vollard.

Innovation or excess? Post a comment...

Curitiba is renowned as a world leader in city planning and sustainability. Click here to read more about Curitiba.

Thanks to Beyond Brilliance, Beyond Stupidity.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

How to have an ethical xmas

From the Guardian Unlimited website: this article on ‘How to be good’ during the festive season.

"In the coming weeks, we will put up 7.5m trees, use 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and stuff our faces with 10m turkeys. But does Christmas need to be so all-consuming?"

The article - which covers everything from parsnips to presents - is part of the Guradian’s excellent ethical living guide, written by Leo Hickman and Jane Crinnion.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Local abattoirs

Today Eleanor Scott (of the Scottish Green Party) introduced a debate on the subject of rural abattoirs to the Scottish Parliament.

The number of small, rural abattoirs in Scotland is falling rapidly. This is mostly due to the costs of keeping up with health regulations and inspections, especially since the outbreak of foot & mouth disease in 2000. Now, many farmers are having to transport their animals for slaughter, a practice which brings with it a number of disadvantages.

One concern is the spread of disease, which occurs much more quickly and easily when animals are moved around. Another, perhaps more obvious, reason is animal welfare. While there are still some who deny that transporting animals for long distances before slaughtering them is detrimental to their welfare, I don’t think there can be much doubt that such things are stressful for animals, as they are for humans.

Other good reasons for encouraging more rural abattoirs rest on the philosophy that keeping food local is the best thing for ordinary people. Consumers benefit from fresher food, and the money they spend on it is retained within the community. There is also less money and resources wasted on transporting the food, and less pollution as a result. Food tourism is an expanding movement; people like to experience local food in the places they visit. And it was pointed out by Rob Gibson (of the Scottish National Party) today that “more tender meat [is obtained] from local animals killed locally”.

Lewis McDonald, Deputy Minister for Environment and Rural Development, said the Scottish Executive recognizes the need to support small abattoirs, and went on to list a number of relevant complications. These included the investment required to meet stringent hygiene standards, the fact that all abattoirs need to be commercially viable, the fact that consumers want and expect safe food, and that staff working conditions need always to be taken into account.

It was great to see this topic being given an airing in the Parliament today. Many MSPs spoke in favour of having more rural abattoirs in Scotland, though I think it will fall to the individual farmers and butchers to make things happen in their own areas. This has already been happening in Scotland, and it would be great for everyone if we could develop more of the same. is an excellent resource for tracking down good quality, well-priced and ethically sourced shoes, boots, slippers, belts, wallets and recipes.

One of the things I love about this site is that it gives you relevant information in language you can understand, instead of fancy names for fancy innovations that don't necessarily mean anything. Their 'about us' page is a particularly interesting read. The fair labour policy is a little vague, I feel, but commendable all the same.

This is a site that focuses on the products and the processes that bring them to you. Its lack of sales pitch is highly refreshing.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Rough Guide to a Better World update

If you've been having trouble getting hold of the book Rough Guide to a Better World, you can now view it online or order a free copy here.

AMT goes Fairtrade

AMT coffee has switched to Fairtrade!

From the Fairtrade Foundation:
Commuters in a rush, and anyone on the go, can easily grab a Fairtrade certified coffee as AMT Coffee takeaway coffee company has switched to 100% Fairtrade coffee in its 46 coffee kiosks in busy stations and airports around the UK.

This is largely down to you! AMT Coffee say that customer feedback forms have shown that their customers want Fairtrade coffee and that, as a company loyal to its customers, they feel the switch to Fairtrade is necessary to honour their pledge of quality, value and service to their customers.

Deputy Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, Ian Bretman, says: “This is how Fairtrade works – if people ask for Fairtrade, then companies will supply it... We estimate this will increase sales of Fairtrade coffee in the coffee bar sector by 30 percent, thereby bringing improvements to many more people in the developing world.”

Friday, December 10, 2004

"Better to remove things"

Here's a great article from Wired Magazine. This is a must-read for anyone who's interested in having safer, more efficient and user-friendly streets.

'Hans Monderman is a traffic engineer who hates traffic signs. Oh, he can put up with the well-placed speed limit placard or a dangerous curve warning on a major highway, but Monderman considers most signs to be not only annoying but downright dangerous. To him, they are an admission of failure, a sign - literally - that a road designer somewhere hasn't done his job. "The trouble with traffic engineers is that when there's a problem with a road, they always try to add something," Monderman says. "To my mind, it's much better to remove things." '

Monderman's method, which focusses on sensible road design and concepts of shared space, is simple and effective. By doing without the jumble of signs and street-markings, he forces all road users - motorists, cyclists and pedestrians - to pay more attention to each other and their surroundings.

Sound ridiculous? Tom McNichol's excellent article may convince you otherwise.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Cleaner cars update

Honda seems to be setting the standard for cleaner, more efficient diesel engines.

But their new TV ad seems to be getting all the headlines.

The excellent Green Car Congress blog praises Honda's alternative fuel strategy in America here.

Also from Green Car Congress, this about new entrants into the fuel-efficient Smart Car segment of the market.

Biodegradable bottles

What an excellent development! Biota Spring Water is packaged in a compostable plastic bottle. Unfortunately it's only available in America, for now. From

"Biota is the first spring water to be packaged in a compostable bottle. The bottle is made of a corn-based bioplastic, which was exclusively created for Biota by Naturework PLA. The bioplastic is an alternative to PET which is the petroleum-based plastic commonly used to bottle beverages. PET takes about a thousand years to decompose.

The bottle will break down completely in 75-80 days but only when conditions are right. It will not decompose even if you leave the bottle in a hot car for weeks. The decomposition only takes place when exposed to constant heat (120-140°) and humidity. The bottle label is also biodegradeable, but unfortunately the bottle cap is not, although Biota hopes to change that.

Another advantage to the bottle is that it will not leach unhealthy residues into the water, and thus the water never gets a "plasticky" taste to it.

The water itself comes from a spring in Ouray, Colorado. Biota is currently only available in Colorado, California and Nevada. It is priced as a premium spring water."

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Rough Guide to a Better World

This is the best example of a PPP (Public/Private Partnership) I've ever come across. Rough Guides, in conjunction with the Government's Department for International Development, have produced the Rough Guide to a Better World.

This book is free and you should be able to get one at your local Post Office. If you live outside the UK, you can send an email to and ask nicely. Alternatively, download the (rather large) PDF here.

I haven't read the whole book yet, but it looks like a pretty decent effort. It covers many topics including: what is development?, speaking out on behalf of poor people, making trade ethical and ethical tourism. There are lots of useful references, and tips on how to go about making a difference.

Rough Guides have also recently produced the book Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping. If you're thinking of buying one of these (or anything else) from Amazon, maybe you could do it via Kids International Net Donations, which ensures a percentage of every purchase gets donated to the charity of your choice. Or why not order one from your local, independent bookstore?

On the subject of books, there's also the Good Shopping Guide, which is an excellent source of ethical info and has just published a new edition.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Selfridges suck

The Coalition to Abolish the Fur Trade are currently campaigning against Selfridges for continuing "to make profits from the brutal fur trade". If nothing else, I would suggest you don't go shopping at Selfridges until they sort themselves out.

Also from CAFT, how to be a fur detective.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Ethical deaths

Here's a nice little piece about Alternatives to Traditional Burials.