Green Guide

Dishwashers

The upfront costs of some highly efficient dishwashers can be daunting, but while all appliances designed for efficiency cost more, the long-term savings are significant. They can reduce total water use by one-third, which translates to an annual savings of $95.

The following are basic criteria to use when choosing a new unit:

Energy Star qualified models typically use one-third less water and 41 percent less energy than non-qualified models. The percentage above indicates the percent more energy-efficient each dishwasher is; Energy Star does not currently factor in water savings for their ratings.

Consumer Reports rates dishwashers based on their performance in washing ability, energy use, noise, loading flexibility and ease of use. The numbers on the chart indicate the score each appliance was given based on a scale of 0 to 100.

If your current model is at least 10 years old, it likely uses between eight and 15 gallons of water per cycle (gpc) when set on “normal,” while the average new Energy Star-rated dishwasher uses four gallons per load. A newer model can save more than 1,000 gallons of water annually.

Compact capacity models hold eight place settings plus six serving pieces, while standard capacity models hold more. If your home sees a lot of dirty dishes, a compact model will use more energy and water if it’s run more frequently to handle multiple loads.

Look for models with several cycle selections. If your dishes don’t need heavy-duty washing, you can use a light or energy-saving cycle and less water.

At the store, compare the energy- and water-consumption costs of one model to another using the yellow “EnergyGuide” label on the product.

Choose a model with an air-dry feature, which cuts down on energy use.

Air Purifiers

Americans spend 90 percent of their time inside, where air typically contains two to five times more pollutants than the outdoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Because of all our indoor air quality problems, the EPA ranks indoor air pollution as a high-priority public health risk.

For the purposes of this guide, we looked at portable air purifiers, which can move from room to room. Consumer Reports (CR) has found them more effective than whole-house filters for an individual room or rooms, particularly if your house doesn’t have forced air heating or cooling. Furthermore, they’re the only air purifiers rated by Energy Star (see below).

What To Look For

Type of Filter

Portable room air cleaners trap particles in either a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, or, for electrostatic models, electrically charged metal collector plates. HEPA filters must be replaced over time, while electrostatic filters are washable. Furthermore, electrostatic filters do produce some ozone as a by-product, and high ozone levels can exacerbate respiratory problems.

Some models also contain carbon filters to eliminate odors, reduce humidity and filter larger particles, but “carbon filters have not been very effective in our tests,” CR says. Finally, ionizing air purifiers clean the air by releasing ions into the room, but again, these have been found less effective in product tests than HEPA filters and may produce ozone.

Energy Star Rating

Energy Star rates air purifiers based on their “Clean Air Delivery Rate” (CADR) a measurement established by the Association of Home Appliance Manufactures. The CADR measures the removal of dust, pollen and tobacco smoke and represents the number of cubic feet of clean air a unit delivers each minute. Each purifier must remove dust at a rate of 2.0 square feet of air per watt of power used. Also, all Energy Star-rated purifiers, regardless of filter type, must meet the UL requirement for ozone (50 ppb).

Room Size

You want to be sure you buy a purifier that’s suitably sized to your room. A machine that’s too large will pose a drain on your energy bill, while one that’s too small won’t be effective.

Annual Filter Replacement Costs

Operating costs carry just as much weight as upfront costs when it comes to affordability. Whether purchasing one of the models on our Product Comparison page or one of your own personal choice, be sure to ask about replacement filter costs.

Shopping & Usage Tips

Antimicrobial Filters

In some systems, filters are treated with antimicrobials. Since these chemicals are often undisclosed by the manufacturer, it’s best to replace antimicrobial-treated filters with untreated ones.

Energy Efficiency

Consumer Reports’ testing has found that portable air purifiers set on low clean just as well as they do when set on high. Choosing the low setting helps to save on your energy bill.

Clean reusable filters, or replace disposable ones, as directed by the manufacture to ensure optimal performance.

Air Purifiers to Avoid: Ozone Generators

Virtually all electronic appliances emit very low levels of ozone as a by-product, but some purifiers emit large amounts of ozone intentionally as a way of cleaning the air. Some air purifiers have been found to elevate indoor ozone to levels to 20 times the federal health limit of 50 ppb. California recently banned the use of ozone generators, and the EPA states that “At concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is generally ineffective in controlling indoor air pollution.”

The Best Air Purifier: Proper Home Maintenance

In addition to their steep purchase price ($200-500 on average), air purifiers can raise energy bills as much as $200 for certain models, although the best models average close to $60. Proper cleaning and maintenance are free and often more effective.

-Eliminate smoking indoors.

-Keep your house ventilated by opening windows (when outdoor air quality is acceptable) and using ceiling or box fans.

-Damp-wipe surfaces and vacuum regularly (optimally with a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum).

-For those with asthma or allergies, carpets–which trap dust, pesticides and other pollutants–may need to be removed entirely and replaced with washable area rugs.

-Wash bedding and curtains in hot water to kill dust mites.

-Use a dehumidifier if mold is a problem (most air purifiers don’t reduce humidity).

-Switch to eco-friendly cleaners, less-toxic pesticides and other low-VOC paints and sealants to reduce exposure to formaldehyde and other chemical indoor-air contaminants.

-If you live in an apartment, cut down on secondhand smoke or other odors from neighbors by caulking baseboard cracks, using clear silicone sealant on floorboard cracks, and duct-taping holes around radiators.

-Keep up the maintenance on appliances that run off of natural gas, such as water heaters, gas stoves and gas fireplaces, to decrease exposure to carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.

Even if you purchase an air purifier, continue to practice proper source control and ventilation; air purifiers don’t entirely eliminate gases or household chemicals.

Air Conditioners

If your current air conditioner is more than eight years old, it’s time for a new one. Over the life of the product, the amount you’ll save in energy bills will more than likely exceed the cost of the new unit. An added bonus: for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity you save, you prevent the release of 1.34 lbs. of carbon dioxide (CO2) from your power plant. Over a summer season, this could result in a CO2 reduction of several hundred pounds and energy savings of about $65, when compared to an older model. See Before You Buy below before investing in a new system.

The following are basic criteria to use when choosing a new unit:

Energy Star Rating

The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Energy Star” ratings indicate that an appliance is at least 10 percent more energy-efficient than the minimum federal standards.

ACEEE Rated

The nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recommends central air conditioners that represent manufacturers’ most efficient models. For maximum energy savings, ACEEE recommends purchasing units with a SEER of at least 14.5.

BTUs

The cooling capacity of an air conditioner is measured in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr). A good rule of thumb is to multiply the square footage of the space by 10 and then add 4,000. A room that is 500 sq. ft. would require at least 9,000 BTUs/hr: (500 x 10) + 4,000 = 9,000. Make sure you get the right size model for your needs. Choosing an air conditioner that is either too large or too small creates an unnecessary energy drain.

SEER (Maximum)

Central air conditioner efficiency is rated by its Seasonal Energy-Efficiency Ratio (SEER). The federal SEER requirement is 13 or above, and Energy Star requires SEERs of 14 or above. The units listed in the table are series of appliances, designed to outfit homes of varying sizes. The SEERs listed represent those of the most efficient units in each series.

Before You Buy

Many government agencies are offering rebates and trade-ins of older models to encourage the purchase of energy-efficient units. Find out if your state energy office or local utility offers any such deals. You could end up saving $75 or more on your purchase.

Even so, the greenest method of cooling your home involves creative home design rather than an energy-hogging appliance (get “The Back Story” about air-conditioning’s environmental impacts here). According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, about 50 percent of all electricity used in the United States during peak summer months is devoted to powering air conditioners. So before you start your search for a new, more efficient unit, consider the following simple home improvements:

Buy a ceiling fan or window box fan.

If you live in a dry climate, install a whole-house fan in your attic; it consumes one-tenth as much power as an air conditioner.

Close your blinds and windows during peak sunlight/heat hours and open your windows at night. Circulate cooler evening air into your house using fans.

Plant shade trees or trellised vines on the western and eastern sides of your home to reduce heat absorption.

Use energy-efficient landscaping to help cool your home’s exterior. Dense clusters of plants and bushes close to a home’s exterior walls have a greater cooling effect.

Install awnings and roof overhangs.

Add light-colored, textured or reflective roof and wall materials.

Choose energy-efficient indoor lighting and appliances to reduce the amount of indoor waste heat produced by these devices.

Seal and caulk walls and windows to prevent cold-air leaks.

Add low-emittance (low-E) glazing to windows to prevent heat transfer.

Shopping and Usage Tips

Avoid buying a used air conditioner or attempting to fix an older model. Unless it is a fairly new unit, the upfront savings will end up costing you more in higher energy bills, not to mention the negative impact on the planet in the form of increased CO2 emissions.

If you live in a very humid climate, look for models that are good at removing moisture. Because keeping condenser coils warmer improves efficiency, some high-efficiency models may not dehumidify as well as less efficient models. Manufacturers usually report the rate of water removal in pints per hour. Compare the rates of various energy-efficient models to find the best one for your needs, and consider adding a carbon filter to reduce humidity.

At the store, compare the energy consumption and usage costs of one model to another using the yellow “EnergyGuide” label on the product.

When determining your BTU needs, consider your local climate (both heat and humidity), window placement and the average heat level of the space directly above the room you want to cool, whether it’s your roof or a neighbor’s apartment. For a more accurate assessment, use the free sizing worksheet on Consumer Reports’ web site, www.consumerreports.org, where you can input various factors to calculate your BTU needs. Or see the BTU equivalency chart at www.energystar.gov.

When installing a central-air unit, hire a reliable contractor. Even the most efficient model will perform poorly if not installed correctly. Make sure your contractor calculates your required cooling capacity, and be sure to negotiate a maintenance plan with him/her as part of your contract. Check with your local Better Business Bureau and consumer-affairs office to find out if there have been any major complaints against a particular contractor before you sign, or consult the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (www.acca.org) to find a North American Technician Excellence (NATE) and Energy Star-certified contractor.

If you are replacing an old unit, make sure to safely dispose of the old one to prevent harmful refrigerants from entering landfills. When purchasing a new room air-conditioner, look for manufacturers and dealers that offer a take-back or end-of-life collection program. In general, they will safely dispose of your older model, often regardless of the maker, when you purchase one of their new appliances. Otherwise, contact the public works department in your city and ask about home-appliance recycling or refrigerant-recovery programs. Your contractor should be equipped with a refrigerant-recovery system, and a certified mechanic can safely remove refrigerants from the old equipment.

Usage Tips

After you purchase a new unit, improve its efficiency by doing the following:

Install a programmable thermostat so you can better control usage.

Set the to 78?F (or higher, particularly if you have a ceiling fan).

At night, use your air conditioner’s fan-only mode

Use the recirculate option instead of constantly cooling hot air from outdoors.

Turn the air conditioner off when you’re out and close vents in unused rooms.

Check your filter every month, especially during the summer when usage is high. Clean reusable filters, or replace disposable ones, every three months, or whenever they look dirty.

Have the contractor do regular inspections to ensure that there are no refrigerant or duct leaks, and clean the coils and drainage system.

What To Look For

If your current air conditioner is more than eight years old, it’s time for a new one. Over the life of the product, the amount you’ll save in energy bills will more than likely exceed the cost of the new unit. An added bonus: for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity you save, you prevent the release of 1.34 lbs. of carbon dioxide (CO2) from your power plant. Over a summer season, this could result in a CO2 reduction of several hundred pounds and energy savings of about $65, when compared to an older model. See Before You Buy below before investing in a new air conditioner.

Many government agencies are offering rebates and trade-ins of older models to encourage the purchase of energy-efficient units. Find out if your state energy office or local utility offers any such deals. You could end up saving $75 or more on your purchase.

The following are basic criteria to use when choosing a new unit:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Energy Star” ratings indicate that an appliance is at least 10 percent more energy-efficient than the minimum federal standards.

Not only are most Consumer Reports rated models relatively energy-efficient, but they also outperform other models on the market. Consumer Reports scored models based on their comfort level, noise level and how well they start and restart in brownout conditions of high heat, high demand and reduced voltage. Models given the Consumer Reports “Best Buy” distinction have received high scores and come at a reasonable price.

The cooling capacity of an air-conditioner is measured in British thermal units per hour (Btu/hr). For a room air conditioner, a good rule of thumb is to multiply the square footage of the room by 10 and then add 4,000. A room that is 500 sq. ft. would require at least 9,000 BTUs/hr: (500 x 10) + 4,000 = 9,000. Make sure you get the right size model for your needs. Choosing an air conditioner that is either too large or too small creates an unnecessary energy drain.

A room air conditioner’s EER, or Energy-Efficiency Ratio, is the ratio of the cooling output divided by the unit’s power consumption. The higher the EER, the more efficient the model. Energy Star’s minimum EER requirements for a room air conditioner vary depending upon capacity, casement type and whether or not the model has louvered sides. For a model with louvered sides and a capacity of 14,000 to 19,000 BTU’s, the product must have an EER of at least 10.7.

Most room air conditioners come with pre-installed, reusable electrostatic filters. In some systems, those filters are treated with antimicrobials such as triclosan, which may be released into rivers and streams during manufacture, harming aquatic life. If purchasing a unit with an antimicrobial filter, ask the manufacturer (or retailer) to replace it with an untreated electrostatic filter. The latter may also be supplemented with a carbon filter that removes larger dust particles, odors and reduces humidity.

Before You Buy

The greenest method of cooling your home involves creative home design rather than an energy-hogging appliance (get The Back Story about air-conditioning’s environmental impacts here). According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, about 50 percent of all electricity used in the United States during peak summer months is devoted to powering air conditioners. So before you start your search for a new, more efficient unit, consider the following simple home improvements:

Buy a ceiling fan or window box fan.

If you live in a dry climate, install a whole-house fan in your attic; it consumes one-tenth as much power as an air conditioner.

Close your blinds and windows during peak sunlight/heat hours and open your windows at night. Circulate cooler evening air into your house using fans.

Plant shade trees or trellised vines on the western and eastern sides of your home to reduce heat absorption.

Use energy-efficient landscaping to help cool your home’s exterior. Dense clusters of plants and bushes close to a home’s exterior walls have a greater cooling effect.

Install awnings and roof overhangs.

Add light-colored, textured or reflective roof and wall materials.

Choose energy-efficient indoor lighting and appliances to reduce the amount of indoor waste heat produced by these devices.

Seal and caulk walls and windows to prevent cold-air leaks.

Add low-emittance (low-E) glazing to windows to prevent heat transfer.

Shopping and Usage Tips

Avoid buying a used air conditioner or attempting to fix an older model. Unless it is a fairly new unit, the upfront savings will end up costing you more in higher energy bills, not to mention the negative impact on the planet in the form of increased CO2 emissions. Plus, older window units may be fire hazards. As of July 2004, all units have safer plugs that automatically shut down power if they sense that the power cord has been damaged.

If you live in a very humid climate, look for models that are good at removing moisture. Because keeping condenser coils warmer improves efficiency, some high-efficiency models may not dehumidify as well as less efficient models. Manufacturers usually report the rate of water removal in pints per hour. Compare the rates of various energy-efficient models to find the best one for your needs, and consider adding a carbon filter to reduce humidity.

At the store, compare the energy consumption and usage costs of one model to another using the yellow “EnergyGuide” label on the product.

When determining your BTU needs, consider your local climate (both heat and humidity), window placement and the average heat level of the space directly above the room you want to cool, whether it’s your roof or a neighbor’s apartment. For a more accurate assessment, use the free sizing worksheet on Consumer Reports’ web site, www.consumerreports.org, where you can input various factors to calculate your BTU needs. Or see the BTU equivalency chart at www.energystar.gov.

If you are replacing an old unit, make sure to safely dispose of the old one to prevent harmful refrigerants from entering landfills. When purchasing a new room air-conditioner, look for manufacturers and dealers that offer a take-back or end-of-life collection program. In general, they will safely dispose of your older model, often regardless of the maker, when you purchase one of their new appliances. Otherwise, contact the public works department in your city and ask about home-appliance recycling or refrigerant-recovery programs.

Usage Tips

After you purchase a new unit, improve its efficiency by doing the following:

If your unit has a thermostat, set it to 78?F (or higher, particularly if you have a ceiling fan).

At night, use your air conditioner’s fan-only mode

Use the recirculate option instead of constantly cooling hot air from outdoors.

Turn the air conditioner off when you’re out.

Clean the filter often (biweekly or as needed), and where possible, hose down the back of the unit to remove debris that can clog cooling coils.

Make sure window models are installed as tightly as possible to prevent hot air from seeping in around the unit’s edges.

Clothing

When shopping for clothing, choosing natural, organic and recycled materials is your best bet.

Organic Cotton:

Each 100 percent organic-cotton T-shirt that you purchase saves a third of a pound of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that are used to grow the same amount of cotton in a conventional T-shirt. Organic color-grown cotton offers an eco-friendly alternative to harsh synthetic and chemical dyes, and one company, Earth Creations, has even used clay mixed with water to dye its organic cotton, hemp and linen clothing.

Organic Wool: Organic wool producers cannot use chemical pesticides on their sheep, and farms can only carry to capacity, preventing land degradation from overgrazing. Untreated wool, moreover, is naturally fire-resistant and a good choice for children’s sleepwear, which is required by law to be flame-retardant.

Hemp: Hemp’s bark contains some of the strongest, longest soft fibers on the planet, and they provide more insulation than cotton fiber. Best of all, hemp requires few, if any, of the insecticides or herbicides that are used to ward off pests on conventional cotton. Only a small number of companies claim to manufacture organic hemp, and fewer still mention certification. It should be noted that until there is an international certification program for organic hemp, consumers should not assume that hemp has been grown entirely without the use of pesticides.

Linen: Linen is a naturally durable fabric made from the flax plant. Certified-organic linen isn’t used often in clothes from the U.S., but European clothing is available online using linen certified by Quality Assurance International (QAI) and the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).

Silk: Ahimsa Peace Silk is made from the cocoons of semi-wild and wild moths in India. By allowing the pupae to emerge from their cocoons on their own, this process produces silk without chemicals or cruelty. Additionally, wild-crafted silk helps maintain the forest habitat of moths by linking the livelihood of tribal spinners and weavers to the existence of these trees.

Bamboo: Praised for its natural softness and sheen, bamboo has been compared to silk and cashmere. Bamboo is a prolific plant that can be harvested every three to four years. Plus, bamboo will break down in landfills and can be grown without pesticides or chemicals. Unfortunately, some questions have been raised about the environmental soundness of the manufacturing process involved in turning the bamboo stalk into fiber. Because most of it takes place in China, the process is not transparent to consumers, nor is the environmental regulation stringent. This viscose process is thought to involve harsh chemicals in a process similar to the production of rayon. However, much of the bamboo, including that used by Bamboosa and Shirts of Bamboo, goes through a strict Swiss certification known as Oeko-Tex, which ensures that fabric made from bamboo fibers is chemical-free.

Soy: Soy fiber was developed in China by extracting soybean protein from the dregs of tofu production, meaning no additional soy had to be grown and no additional pesticides were used. The proteins are added to other compounds to strengthen the fibers and turn them into yarn.

Recycled Fibers: Increasingly, clothing manufacturers are creating polyester from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soda and water bottles. The process diverts billions of bottles from landfills annually, but it has been criticized for taking recyclable plastics out of the recycling stream. Nevertheless, some companies, such as Patagonia, have recycling programs in place for recycled PET clothing items to close the recycling loop.

Recycled clothing: Probably the greenest of all options, turning old clothes and fabric scraps into new garments prevents usable clothing from going to landfills, and it saves resources needed to make new raw materials.

Labels and Certifications

In the apparel world, there are a lot of facts to consider besides that certified organic label. Who made those clothes? Where did they come from? Were the laborers fairly paid and fairly treated? Here are a few labels to look for when choosing your duds:

Made in the USA: Although sweatshops do exist in the United States, clothes that are “Made in the USA” (but bear no union label) are generally more likely to have been created under better environmental and working conditions than are usually found in developing countries. It rewards companies that provide better wages and conditions to workers and minimizes environmental impacts, as First World countries have better environmental laws and more effective enforcement. However, avoid clothing labeled “Made in the Mariana Islands, USA.” Approximately 90 percent of garment workers there are young women lured in from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand and elsewhere by false promises of well-paid work in the U.S. Because the Northern Mariana Islands are a U.S. commonwealth, garment makers there do not have to pay U.S. tariffs or abide by U.S. quota laws. There is also no U.S. minimum wage law. See www.usstuff.com for clothing and products made in the U.S.

Union-Made Garments: The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!, www.uniteunion.org) and the Union Label and Services Trade Department of the AFL-CIO (www.unionlabel.org) both provide directories of goods made in North America with union labor. The garment-trade unions in the U.S., UNITE! in particular, are working to pressure consumers and government agencies to boycott sweatshop-made products and to mandate disclosure of manufacturing circumstances, so dollars spent on union-made goods also contribute to these efforts.

Unfortunately, no reliable label yet exists to certify clothes made elsewhere. Both the Fair Labor Association (FLA) and Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP) (www.wrapapparel.org) monitor apparel factories, although some groups concerned with labor rights have questions about their credibility. Furthermore, unless you reference individual company websites, it’s difficult to know which companies and products meet their criteria.

Fairly Traded: So far, there is no “Fair Trade” certification for clothing, although TransFair and the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations have begun the process of establishing a certification program for clothes similar to that of coffee and chocolate. Often, clothes manufactured in accordance to fair-trade standards are labeled “fairly traded,” although there’s no independent verification of the process. The membership-based Fair Trade Federation offers an online directory (www.fairtradefederation.com/mempro.html) of member producers and stores, who have agreed to certain standards such as living wages for workers and reducing environmental impact

Shopping and Usage Tips

Before you shop, there are a number of things to consider and a lot of research to do. The apparel world has a big impact on the environment, people, animals and your health (See “The Backstory”). And remember that one of the most eco-friendly things you can do is to reuse what you already have. Add a vintage belt to an old dress, mend a tear with a patch, and remember that old styles usually come back!

Buying used clothes is, in and of itself, a form of recycling, and frequenting thrift stores will help you avoid supporting exploitative corporations.

Sewing or knitting your own clothes takes a lot of patience, but if you’re a creative person, it’s a good way to guarantee that the only sweat that goes into those clothes is your own.

When it is time to shop, by carefully choosing the right companies, the right materials and the right policies, you can make a positive impact on the world and protect your own health.

Jewelry

Environmentally sound options for brand-new jewelry may not be available at your corner jewelry store, but fortunately, there are a number of companies with high ethical standards that allow you to shop with the assurance that your new accessories come with an earth- and people-friendly bill of health.

Materials

Antique, vintage or pre-owned (usually referred to as “estate”) jewelry pieces–or family heirlooms–are the most ecological choice, simply because no new materials were mined to make them. Diamonds rarely depreciate in value, and you can add sparkle to old rings simply by boiling them.

Recycled metals reduce the need for destructive mining. According to the environmental nonprofit WorldWatch Institute, 80 percent of gold mined from the earth is used for jewelry. Also look for recycled silver, titanium and platinum and other recycled materials, like glass and leather, used in more casual pieces.

Buy diamonds from Canada and Australia.

Buy gemstones from Kenya, Madagascar, Israel, India, Belgium and South Africa.

Pearls have a relatively low impact on the environment. Cultured (or farmed) pearls have even been used to clean water and reduce heavy-metal pollution.

Diamonds

When buying new, always buy from reputable retailers that you trust and who can attest to the origins of the gold, diamonds and gemstones they sell. Ask your jeweler if he or she can provide a “Certificate of Origin” stating that the diamonds for sale came from government-controlled areas where conflict diamond mining is at a minimum. If a certificate of origin is not available, ask your jeweler which company supplies the store’s gold and diamonds, and research that particular supplier’s standards and policies before purchasing.

If your jeweler sells African diamonds, ask for the supplier’s name and if he or she can provide a Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) certificate of origin. Shipments of diamonds from Kimberley Process participating countries are shipped with a certificate of origin, and participating countries only trade with other Kimberley Process participants.

Socially Conscious Companies

A February 2007 survey by Amnesty International and Global Witness found that Helzberg Diamonds, Sterling Jewelers and Tiffany and Co. had the most comprehensive policies in place (including internal and third-party auditing) to combat conflict diamonds. The survey also noted that Birks and Mayors, Finlay, Fred Meyer Jewelers, Samuels Jewelers and Zales had, to a lesser extent, implemented measures to prevent conflict diamonds from entering their supplies. Tiffany and Co. has also been a vocal opponent of destructive mining, and the company is a member of Jewelers of America, which has taken a hard-line stance against human-rights abuses in Burmese gem mines.

Most recently, in February 2008, Tiffany signed a pledge, along with Helzberg Diamonds, Fortunoff Jewelers and Leber Jewelers (a Chicago-based jeweler also committed to selling conflict-free diamonds and gemstones), refusing to buy gold from a controversial gold-and-copper mine under development in Bristol Bay, Alaska. If developed, the mine could prove devastating to some of the world’s most productive salmon fisheries.

Trigem Designs, a division of Columbia Gem House, supplies ethical jewelers with fairly traded gem stones. Eric Braunwart, CEO, has adopted a set of criteria he’s named the “Fair Trade Gems Protocol,” which include fair labor conditions, environmental protection standards and transparency in the supply chain. Look for jewelers that use Trigem gemstones on the Product Comparisons page.

Corporacion Oro Verde, or Green Gold Corporation, is a gold mining company dedicated to reversing the harms of large-scale gold mining on the diverse ecosystems of Columbia. It has adopted 11 criteria to reduce a mine’s environmental impact, among them, forbidding the use of mercury, cyanide and any other forms of toxic pollutants and requiring all areas mined to achieve ecological stability within three years of the end of their useful life. Look for jewelers that use their gold on the Product Comparisons page.

Footwear

Shoes contain an array of synthetic, petroleum-derived materials, ranging from polyurethane to polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the manufacture of which releases carcinogenic dioxin into the atmosphere. Also problematic are the harmful glues and, in the case of leather, tanning agents to which factory workers are exposed. When you’re buying new shoes, try to find those made with more eco-friendly materials.

Materials

Hemp: Hemp requires few insecticides or herbicides, doesn’t require a lot of water and is a fast-growing, renewable resource.

Recycled Materials: Recycled rubber is a popular, durable material, used in the soles of shoes and in more casual footwear, like sandals and flip-flops, and more and more shoe manufacturers are using recycled plastic.

Water-based glues: Traditional shoe-making requires glues that contain volatile solvents such as toluene (read more in The Backstory). Look for water-based glues when possible.

Vegan: For those concerned about using animal products and who wish to avoid leather, look for vegan shoes, which are made without leather or other animal products.

Buy:

Products labeled “Made in the USA” (or anywhere else in the First World). While sweatshops do exist in the United States, clothes that are “Made in the USA” (but bear no union label) are generally more likely to have been created under better environmental and working conditions than are usually found in developing countries. Avoiding products manufactured in the Third World may seem like a policy of punishing poor and powerless foreign workers, but at the very least this strategy rewards companies that provide better wages and conditions to workers. It also minimizes environmental impacts, as First World countries have better environmental laws and more effective enforcement. U.S. Stuff (www.usstuff.com) has listings for various categories of clothing and coats made in the USA.

Union-Made Shoes. The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!, www.uniteunion.org) and the Union Label and Services Trade Department of the AFL-CIO (www.unionlabel.org) both provide directories of goods made in North America with union labor. Both organizations provide a variety of labels indicating that a product was made with union labor. The garment-trade unions in the U.S., UNITE! in particular, are working to pressure consumers and government agencies to boycott sweatshop-made products and to mandate disclosure of manufacturing circumstances and independent monitoring of subcontract garment and shoe factories, so dollars spent on union-made goods also contribute to these efforts.

Unfortunately, no reliable label yet exists to certify that clothes made elsewhere were made by workers earning a living wage and working in nontoxic conditions. The Fair Labor Association (FLA) is currently monitoring apparel and shoe factories, and will soon be certifying and labeling goods that meet its standards, but there is debate about the acceptability of their standards for factories and the reliability of their methods for ensuring that factories meet these standards. Other labeling efforts include Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP), which grants factories a “Good Factory Seal of Approval,” but Global Exchange and other labor-rights groups have called WRAP’s standards and certification procedures into question.

Avoid:

Shoes labeled “Made in the Mariana Islands, USA.” Approximately ninety percent of garment workers there are young women lured in from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand and elsewhere by false promises of well-paid work in the USA, paying high fees to recruiters then working for years to pay them back on meager earnings–a form of indentured servitude. Because the Northern Mariana Islands are a U.S. commonwealth, garment makers there do not have to pay U.S. tariffs or abide by U.S. quota laws. There is also no U.S. minimum wage law, and workers in the Marianas are required to make only $3.05/hour. Although negative publicity has led some manufacturers to more accurately label their clothing as “Made in the Northern Mariana Islands, USA,” clothing made there can still legally bear a “Made in the USA” label.

Leather from Endangered Species or Inhumane Farms. Internationally made

leather goods may contain leather from threatened and endangered species. Avoid the following products:

-All sea turtle products

-Products made from black caiman, American crocodile, Orinoco crocodile, and Philippine crocodile

-Almost any lizard skin originating in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, India, and Nepal

-Many snakeskin products originating from Central and South American countries

-Sealskin products

-Leather products made from the pangolin (anteater) originating from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia may not be brought into the United States

-Any fur from spotted cats (leopard, cheetah, etc.)

Money-Saving Tips

Buy used! Thrift stores and vintage clothing shops often carry a wide selection of shoes for a small fraction of the price of a new pair. By buying used, you’ll save shoes from taking up landfill space, while avoiding the labor and environmental questions that accompany purchasing a new pair. And when you’ve tired of them or worn them out, donate gently worn shoes to charity thrift stores. Salvation Army and Goodwill, for example, typically appreciate donations of used shoes. For grubby athletic shoes that are beyond repair, give to Nike for recycling (their website offers an online directory of collection locations.

Visit your friendly neighborhood shoe repair shop to fix and beautify the shoes you already have. For just a few dollars, your shoddy shoes can be revived to live again, at least for another season.

202 Spring Street, Marion, MA 02738 • (508) 748-0816 • info@southcoastenergychallenge.org
© Copyright Marion Institute, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit • Provided by New Bedford Internet

seeal