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Shopping the Virtual Global Marketplace

8/13/2008 11:08:34 AM

Tags: global marketplace, shopping, green, going green, wise purchasing decisions

In a recent office conversation, an interesting subject popped up. Is going green just about feeling good about the stuff we buy? To be sure, making informed product decisions is at the core of what we at Natural Home would call "green." And it's at the heart of our editorial mission: to give our readers the information they need to be wise, earth- and health-conscious homeowners, citizens and consumers.

But is buying the right stuff really what the green movement is all about? My honest answer: Kind of...if you extend buying the right stuff to include why we're buying the right stuff...and not buying stuff at all. The fact is, everyone on this planet is a consumer and is going to stay a consumer...of food, goods, homes, clothing and a myriad of other items we need or desire. Being "green" is really about understanding how our own consumerism fits in with the global economy and ecology. It's about taking a moment to think about our purchases: How was this item made? How were others affected by its manufacture? Do I really need this item? What will I do with it when I'm done with it?

Yes, sometimes that means feeling good about the purchases we've made: If I buy a tomato from a local, organic farmer, I feel good about the fact that I'm supporting my local economy and that it wasn't grown by people exposed to unhealthy pesticides then shipped unnecessarily long distances to my grocery store. I also feel good about the fact that I'm not going to be eating those unhealthy pesticides. But it would be even better if I grew my own tomatoes. More than buying the right stuff, I would be supporting self-sustainability, not using up any transport fuel and know exactly what went into the crop.

As a general rule, the greenest thing to do is not to buy anything at all. But we're not all going to stop buying things...so that's when we should think about an item's manufacturing process, the materials and people who went into making it, its longevity, its durability, its reusability...it sounds complicated, but once you get into the green state of mind, it's easy to alter your choices. Our publisher Bryan Welch, in his frequent excellent presentations and speeches, sometimes discusses the idea of a global marketplace. He talks about how, in the past, if you lived in a village environment and there were two blacksmiths in town, you would choose the blacksmith who you liked more, the one who was more honest, kinder to others, a friendlier type of guy.

In the "global village," Bryan proposes that this type of mentality will take over again: With literally countless options and easier-than-ever ways to access information about a company's work, manufacturing and environmental practices, why wouldn't we start choosing based on the quality of the company again? Rather than in the past when a company's product was its only representative to the consumer—if the product performed well, that's all you were likely to know about it— we can now discover so much more information about companies we buy from and the products they make. If I can find "product A" from 50 manufacturers, all within a similar price and quality range, why wouldn't I make my product decision with the village perspective? Does this company support principles I find important? Do their manufacturing practices honor human rights?

Here's another way I like to think about this when I'm shopping at the store: I imagine I'm actually IN a marketplace (in my mind, it's like a traditional Indian market) instead of at Target, for example. I'm walking up and down the aisles of this imagined marketplace, and I see one booth with happy, well rested employees chatting as they go about their work. I see another booth with obviously overworked, undernourished and underaged children toiling under an unforgiving supervisor...which one would I buy? Clearly, if I were seeing this in person, even if the happily produced item were more expensive, I would opt for that one.

Same thing with food: If I were walking by farmers' stands just outside their fields, and one was standing there wearing a gas mask and spraying chemicals all over his crops and another was growing with organic compost and natural methods, which one would I purchase? How much of a price difference would I be willing to pay if I could actually see these practices at the time of purchase? My answer would be quite a bit. Now, I am not saying I always make perfect choices...few people do. A lot of going green is about compromising and prioritizing which issues are most important to you and work with your life. But imagining this "virtual global marketplace" sometimes helps me pony up the extra $3 for the better product, even when I'm watching my budget. So...is going green about feeling good about the stuff we buy? Yes, but it's also about choosing more carefully when to buy and why.



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