Sunday, December 30, 2007

Keeping the heat off & other ways to save money by competing against yourself

The calendar is about to switch into 2008, and I still have not turned on the heat in the apartment this winter!

This has certainly been helped by the fact that Washington DC is warmer than Chicago. (And that since it's an apartment building, I don't have to worry about freezing pipes.) But it has not always been easy. There've been more than a few days when not only blankets, but also sweaters, fuzzy slippers, and tea or hot chocolate have been needed to keep me warm. And getting dressed in the morning is usually a bit uncomfortable.

But it's worth it. It's not so cold that I'm miserable. I kind of like the experience of snuggling up cozily in a quilt that protects me from the chilly air. The coldness in the morning does a good job of getting me out the door, rather than dawdling and being late to work. I like saving money. I like improving my environmental impact. And... I want to see how long I can keep this streak going!

I'm hoping I can go the whole winter. Then maybe two. Someday I'll be telling people "I haven't turned on the heat in years!" Or if I don't make it, I'll certainly remember the date I gave in, and will try to beat that next winter.

Maybe I'm more strangely competitive (with myself!) than others, but this same approach has helped me do better in other ways, too, from bringing my lunch into work to staying on track with exercise. It's harder to give in to a temptation and tell yourself "Well, just this once won't hurt!" when it ends a streak and starts you over again from scratch.

I've done this on my own for awhile, but it reminds me of something I read recently at LifeHacker-- Jerry Seinfeld's Productivity Secret-- which involves marking an X on a calendar every day you reach your goal, and then telling yourself "Don't break the chain!" I typically track my success in my head rather than visually, but I can see the attraction of watching your streak grow before your very eyes.

Sooooo... 1) Do you keep the heat off/low during the winter, and if so, do you have any tips for keeping warm and keeping your hands off the thermostat? 2) Is it only me, or do you also try to motivate yourself through streaks/chains/records you can be proud of and then try to top?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What to do with those unwanted holiday gifts

[I'm enjoying the company of family this week as well as trying to take some time to relax, so I know my posting's a little light.  In the meantime, here's a rerun of a post from last year.  The goal of having "less stuff" in your home and in the world doesn't end with the gifts you give-- it also means figuring out how to make good use of the unwanted stuff you receive, which would otherwise be pure waste and clutter.]

'Tis the season to be staring at a pile of gifts that make you go "Huh?" or "Ugh!" If you're like me, they're usually destined to end up in a bag or box or the top shelf of some closet getting dusty, to be forgotten or ignored save a cursory look-through in Decembers to come. But this year I'm trying to be proactive, so I'm thinking through the best ways to deal with unwanted gifts:
  • Return them. The lines may be long, but if you know where your gift came from, you can trade in that odd-looking sweater for one you'll actually wear, or switch the 4-in-1 gadget for something you might use. And if you have a gift receipt (or get lucky at a store with a generous return policy) you can even get cold, hard cash in return. Just be careful to check the return policy at the store in question-- it's tempting to wait and skip the post-holiday returns rush, but there may only be a limited window in which returns will be accepted (especially if you don't have a receipt).
  • Regift them. Ah, re-gifting, a frugal favorite. But unless you have a wonderful memory, now is the time to write down who gave you what this year! It's sad but true that in a year's time, when you're sorting through your regift stash and thinking, "Oh, this doohickey is just Cousin So-and-So's taste, she'd love it," it's probably because Cousin So-and-So was the one who picked it out for you. If you mark the names down-- use Post-Its, make a list, whatever-- then you'll know not to give the gift back from whence it came, and you don't have to deal with either a) the embarrassment of a mistake or b) the nervous brain-wracking-- "Did Grandma give this to me or was it Jane, or Chris?"-- that holds you back from regifting the items to anyone at all.
  • Sell them. I've never tried this myself, and I'd hate to get caught by the giver, but I hear that there's a growing trend of selling unwanted gifts on eBay or other auction sites.
  • Donate them. Instead of or along with the above, there are of course many fine charities that will appreciate many of the things you'd like to get off your hands. For example, I don't know if I'm the only one who gets endless bath-and-body sets at the holidays, but there are many girls and women out there who'll get much more pleasure and use out of them than I will, so I can direct them towards low-income families, imprisoned women, domestic violence shelters, or elsewhere. Maybe the decorative tchotchkes could brighten up a shelter or the home of a dislocated person. Clothing is always a great donation, especially when it's brand new. And places like Goodwill will take all sorts of things.
(Of course, ideally you should stop the problem before it starts by talking to repeat offenders about ending your gift exchanges altogether, or communicating your preferences and tastes more clearly. But you probably agree that it's a lot easier said than done!)

What do you do with unwanted gifts? Do you have any good tips on trying to avoid getting the darn things in the first place? And if you have any funny stories about terrible gifts or regifting gaffes, leave them in the comments and we'll all enjoy them!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Give me your feedback about Money and Values!

As we head into the new year, I want to make some blogging-related New Year's resolutions, but instead of deciding for myself what I should be trying to do in 2008, I'd rather hear from you about what you'd like to see.
So please, tell me what you do and don't like about business-as-usual here at Money and Values, and what changes you'd like to see in the future.
What do you think about the topics I write about?  Which are your favorites, and which do you skip over?  Do you want me to write more (or less) about socially responsible investment?  Living more frugally and buying less stuff?  Being a conscious consumer?  (And what issues specifically... fair trade?  the environment?  buying local? something else?)  General financial topics?  Are there things I've written about already that you'd like to read more about-- and are there things I haven't covered that you'd like to see?
What style of posts do you prefer?  Informational posts about a topic?  Personal thoughts and musings about issues?  Relevant links to news or other blogs?  Short posts, long posts, or something in-between?
How about the frequency of posts?  I know I write less often than most bloggers-- is that a problem for you?  I'm never going to be the blogger who posts every day, but I can try to do shorter posts more often-- or mix in some link roundups-- if that's important to readers.
I really hope you'll comment and tell me how I'm doing, and what I could be doing better!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Greener shipping for online shopping

I was looking around Global Exchange's fair trade store online and came across some tips for greening your online shopping. Two of them were things I'd never really thought about before, but will be keeping in mind from now on, and hopefully you will too:

  • Choose ground shipping. According to Global Exchange, air shipping generates five times the emissions as shipping by truck. (Six, says the Natural Resources Defense Council.) And according to this New York Times op-ed, overnight shipping is especially bad because nighttime flights cause twice the pollution of daytime flights.
  • Ship your packages to your workplace. If you're in an office of reasonable size, there are probably other deliveries scheduled every day, which will mean less emissions than a truck making an extra trip to your house.
And as to whether it's worse for the environment to shop online in the first place? Apparently it depends-- the physical warehouses for online "stores" use less energy than traditional stores, and many cars driving to a mall can be worse than one truck hauling goods a couple hundred miles. On the other hand, many of these products will be traveling quite a distance. According to one study, if the package is coming from more than 750 miles away and/or your brick-and-mortar alternative is less than 2 miles away, it's better to drive the store in person. (And if you can walk, bike, or take public transit, that'll increase the in-person advantage.)

Something else to keep in mind: online purchases tend to use more packaging than similar products at your local store, which means more energy and resources to create the packaging and more waste in the end. So try to look into the packaging practices of online retailers (many socially conscious online stores are better about it), and be sure to reuse or recycle the materials you receive-- for packing peanuts, there's even a hotline you can call (800-828-2214, or visit the website) to find one of 1,500 sites nationwide that will accept the peanuts for reuse.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Socially Conscious Online Shopping Guide: Sites and Sales

Disclaimer: If you're looking to order gifts online, please take a good long moment to consider if you can substitute one of a dozen other ways to give more meaning and less stuff-- which will almost always be more socially conscious than ordering new stuff online.

However... if you're going to end up buying new stuff anyway, there are a growing number of great sources online for gifts that are socially conscious and can connect with your values, whether those values are about the environment, fair trade, local business, etc. Read on!

  • Click here to jump to a list of almost 40 sites currently offering holiday sales, out of the almost 3,000 businesses listed in Co-op America's National Green Pages.
    • To be listed in the Green Pages, businesses must demonstrate that they: "Actively use their businesses as tools for positive social change; Run "values-driven" enterprises that operate according to principles of social justice and environmental sustainability; Are socially and environmentally responsible in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their offices and factories; And are committed to developing and employing extraordinary practices that benefit workers, customers, communities, and the environment." To browse the whole National Green Pages, click here. You can use it to find both websites and brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Click here for sites that focus on workers/producers rights-- sites selling products that are fair trade, union-made, sweatshop-free, made in worker cooperatives, etc.
  • Rather than Borders or Barnes and Noble, why not buy from local bookstores? If you can't do it in person, you can order online at, which links small local bookstores, and even offers a gift card that the recipient can use at any of the hundreds of participating stores. (Or if you really must shop corporate, at least install Rovr so 4%-10% of your purchase goes to charity.)
[FYI: Out of the 50+ links on this page, there are four that I have affiliate codes for, and those links will use my affiliate codes. I hope you don't mind!]

What's On Sale

Justice for Workers/Producers
  • Fair Trade (just a few of many, many options)
  • Worker Co-ops and/or Union-Made (via SweatshopWatch):
    • DeMoulin Brothers is an all-union manufacturer who makes band uniforms, as well as formal menswear, including tuxedo pants, jackets, shirts, and bow ties. Their workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 546.
    • Fuerza Unida was founded by former Levi's workers in San Antonio, Texas. They formed a unique women's sewing cooperative that makes shirts (huipiles), pillows and canvas bags.
    • Fair Trade Zone/Nueva Vida is a worker owned cooperative in Nicaragua, which produces t-shirts and camisoles. You can buy their women’s wear products through Maggie Organics
    • HatCo's workers are members of UNITE HERE Locals 128H and 129h
    • Just Shirts sells “quality thoughtfully–designed clothing produced under sweatshop free conditions.” Just Shirts sources all of their products from a worker-owned cooperative in El Salvador.
    • Justice Clothing is a one-stop shop for union-made and sweatshop free apparel. They are constantly on the hunt for new lines, styles, and manufacturers who meet their strict criteria, and hope to add an expanded line of house ware products in the near future.
    • Kenneth Gordon makes men's dress shirts. All with Made in USA labels are by members of UNITE HERE Local 2647.
    • Leather Coats Inc. is your home for leather outerwear and accessories. Check out the USA Union Made section. Their workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 73.
    • Protexall is one of the only union-made uniform companies around. They also carry a line of casual men's wear, including pants, shirts, and jackets. Their workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 920.
    • Rage Baby, ALL of Rage Baby's t-shirts are made by the Fair Trade Zone/Nueva Vida a worker-owned cooperative in Nicaragua.
    • Sterlingwear of Boston makes Navy style pea coats. All products are union made by members of UNITE HERE Local 1.
    • Traditions Fair Trade is based in Olympia, Washington and sells men’s dress shirts, sneakers and leather shoes made in four worker-run factories in Argentina.
    • Union House sells union-made clothing made in the U.S., and offers hundreds of clothing items, from denim, golf shirts, jackets, overalls, sweats, underwear, to socks. Screen printing and embroidery available.
    • Union Jeans has a wide selection of your everyday needs including denim shirts. Their workers are members of UFCW Local 1099.
    • The Working World sells buttoned shirts, shoes and other products made in democratic cooperatives in Argentina.
Want other options, including a wide, wide variety of eco-friendly, organic, recycled, etc products? Please search Co-op America's National Green Pages. And if you have great recommendations for other sites, list them in the comments!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Holiday Gifting: 14 Ways to Give More Meaning and Less Stuff

Now that we're in the middle of Hanukkah, and Christmas is right around the corner, it's the time of year when gift-giving is on everyone's mind. I don't know about you, but it drives me nuts to give and receive so much meaningless stuff, just out of tradition. It's bad for the environment, it's stressful to have extra clutter in the house, and it emphasizes material objects as the way to show people you care about them. Ugh!

So I keep trying to figure out different ways to keep the good parts of holiday gifting-- the spirit of generosity, the expressions of love and friendship and appreciation to those we care about, the desire to make others happy-- while trying to decrease the commercialism and materialism and excess "stuff" as much as possible. (Which often goes hand in hand with a more frugal, less costly holiday, too!)

Here are a wide variety of different approaches:

Give to fewer people

  • Make no-gift agreements: If you and a friend or relative are on the same page about not wanting gifts, you can take the simple approach of crossing eachother off your gift lists. (This can also be adapted into a pact to take any of the approaches below, like agreeing to give to charity on eachothers' behalf, exchange favors, or share an experience.)
  • Give gifts to fewer people in your circle: In a family circle or a group of friends, you can pull names out of a hat so that everyone gets and gives one gift each, rather than shopping for everyone. This cuts down on the number of gifts dramatically, while still maintaining some of the traditional gift-exchanging feel.

Give to a good cause
  • Give donations in others' names: If there are causes that are important to your gift recipient, how about making a donation in their name? Often you can get a card sent as an acknowledgement of the donation. Sometimes your donation can translate into a gift membership to the organization. And an increasing number of non-profits are set up so that your donation is the equivalent of a tangible "item" like a cow, a stack of blankets, a water treatment kit, etc-- try standalone organizations like Oxfam (one of many!) or check out the multi-organization site Changing The Present, just for starters.
  • Give a charity gift certificate: If you don't want to pick the cause, you think your recipients would rather select the organization themselves, or you just want a gift certificate to hand over, try Just Give, a pretty TisBest charity gift card, or other sites where you pick the amount and your recipient picks the non-profit which benefits. (Be sure to shop around to check out the fees and administrative costs at each place, so you know how much of your money's actually getting passed on to the organization.)
  • Give a product connected to a donation: You just know that some of your intended gift recipients won't be satisfied with a "look, I made a donation for you!" card or receipt. But you can still buy them a product where the proceeds go to a good cause, or make a donation that comes with something as a thank you. The World Wildlife Fund is a great example; you can make a donation and in exchange your recipient gets to "adopt an animal," complete with cute stuffed animal, photo, and certificate. A number of places like UNICEF sell gift items and use the proceeds for their organization's mission.

Give non-"stuff" gifts
  • Give experiences: There are all sorts of experience-based gifts that will be just as appreciated as physical items, or even more so. From tickets to concerts, movies, and plays, to admission (one-time or yearlong) to museums, national parks, and theme parks, to spa visits, to gift certificates for restaurant meals, and more, your options are only limited by your creativity. And these kinds of gifts are often especially meaningful if you plan to share the experience with the gift recipient, because you're giving the gift of quality time together as well.
  • Give favors: From babysitting to cooking to back massages to crafting lessons, offering your skills and assistance is a great way to give something that will be truly appreciated but that doesn't involve buying physical stuff. And since it costs you your time rather than money, it has the bonus of being super-frugal.
  • Give expressions of your love and friendship: It really depends on you and your recipient, but a heartfelt letter, poem, song, etc can be profoundly meaningful and appreciated, expressing your thoughtfulness and caring directly rather than trying to do it indirectly by purchasing something.
  • Give food and drink items: Consumable items may be "stuff" when they start out, but eventually they're used up, leaving less clutter and less waste. This is one of my favorite type of gifts as a recipient, especially when it's in the form of treats that I wouldn't buy for myself. A nice variation on stand-alone food and drink items is the "package-the-ingredients-for-a-recipe" route, which can be really fun and creative. And of course, you can bake or cook items yourself.
  • Give online/electronic gifts: To give credit where it's due, I never would have thought of this if I hadn't read it at, but it's an interesting idea. Gifts like a Flickr pro account, iTunes songs, or access to subscription-only websites don't involve any clutter or waste.

Give non-purchased stuff
  • Give used: Whether it's toys and clothes for kids, outfits that don't quite fit you, books you've read and are done with, video games you've beat, or anything else you've already used but others would appreciate, give a thought about whether it's an appropriate gift. Obviously the condition of the item will make a big difference, but we have these cultural ideas about the importance of ripping open the packaging of something brand-new, and that could use a lot of debunking. For example, there's no reason that the holidays have to be about new store-bought gifts for kids, with hand-me-downs relegated to backroom exchanges. And one of my favorite sweaters was passed to me by a relative who it didn't fit anymore; if it had been an official holiday gift, it would have been just as appreciated as any new sweater I've gotten.
  • Re-gift: As long as you keep good records so you don't give gifts back to the people who gave them to you (or were there when you got them), there's no shame in re-gifting. Why should you buy something new while perfectly good gifts waste away on a back shelf somewhere (or worse, get tossed in the trash)? Of course, you shouldn't do it if you think it will be as unwanted by the recipient as it was by you, but people's tastes differ, and some people will use things others find useless.
  • Give homemade: Okay, so homemade gifts often rely on a certain amount of purchased materials, and can be just as clutter-y as any other gift, but they usually involve less waste and less expense than other items and have a lot more meaning attached to them. And there are some great ways that the crafty can actually recycle products into homemade gifts, too-- This Recycled Life is one place to get some ideas.

Give better stuff
  • Give fair trade, organic, recycled, sweatshop-free, green, non-corporate, etc: If in the end you do decide to buy new things to give certain people, why not try to give items that fit your values (and those of your recipients)? Take a look at this post, which links to a ton of great websites where you can find these sorts of gifts, including discount codes for holiday sales!

What am I missing? What are your favorite ways to give greener, saner, more frugal gifts during the holidays? Please share!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance

Hi, and welcome to this month's Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance! I hope you enjoy the posts below, share them with your friends and blog readers, and get more involved with the Carnival by linking to it on your blog, submitting posts for next month's edition, and signing up to host. Now, without further ado...

That concludes this edition. Submit a post to the next edition here! And have a wonderful holiday season...

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Almost 90% of Americans see themselves as socially responsible/conscious consumers

According to a recent survey by BBMG, 88% of Americans say the labels "conscious consumer" or "socially responsible" fit them well (and more than a third say the labels fit them very well)-- much higher than I would have guessed. (PDF here; article summarizing some results here.)

Of course, there's a difference between thinking of yourself in a certain way and actually acting on it. BBMG estimates that only about 30% of Americans actually involve their values and ideals in their purchasing-- 10% who go out of their way to do it consistently (the "Enlighteneds," as they title the group, which is a little silly-sounding); and 20%, the "Aspirationals," whose social and environmental priorities sometimes win out and sometimes are sacrificed to concerns like price and convenience.

Still, 30% is no small segment of the population. And the survey found that a much larger percentage of adults would choose to buy from a more socially responsible company if the products' price and quality were the same. 90% would do so if the company manufactures energy efficient products, 88% if the company promotes consumer health and safety, 87% if the company commits to environmentally-friendly practices, and 87% if the company supports fair labor and trade practices. (That last one surprises and pleases me-- I am used to hearing people talk a lot about the environment, and a lot less about buying fair trade and not exploiting the workers who make our products. I'm really glad to see evidence that most Americans care about that too, even though "price and quality being equal" is a big caveat, )

How do consumers decide which products are socially and environmentally responsible? According to the survey, 52% of consumers use certification labels to help them be socially responsible, 53% use magazines and newspapers, 24% get information from family and friends-- and 41% use the internet (hey, that's me!)

On a personal level as a blogger about money and values, this is a very motivating sort of survey to discover. Being a conscious consumer is really important to me, and so I really enjoy writing about it and sharing it with others, but sometimes I feel like I'm shouting in the wilderness here... that there just aren't many other people who care the way I do. But if it's true that almost 9 in 10 people want to be conscious consumers, that a third of people are really committed to putting that into practice, then it's so exciting to think about how many people are open to these ideas and what I can do here at Money and Values to spread information and build community around it!

So what do you think? Do these results surprise you as much as they did me, or do you think that 88% of people calling themselves conscious consumers is about right? Does that label fit you?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance = 1st Thursday of the Month

The Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance will be posted the first Thursday of every month from now on. (I think that makes more sense than "every fourth week," if you were wondering why it wasn't up today.)

Check out past editions, and submit your posts for future editions...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

PF Blogger running for Co-op America board!

Attention Co-op America members-- Betsy Teutsch (of the great blog Money Changes Things, which I bet anyone who likes Money and Values would enjoy) is running for the board of directors of Co-op America. Look for your ballot in your latest mailing (you can vote until December 31, but the ballots are arriving now.) You can also read her candidate statement and more at this post of hers.

Oh, and if you aren't a Co-op America member, why haven't you joined yet? Their tagline is "Economic Action for a Just Planet." They have a ton of awesome projects, articles, action alerts, and guides on issues from fair trade to green energy to recycled paper to buying less. They also have the incredible National Green Pages with hundreds of screened and approved socially and environmentally responsible businesses. (Anyone can access it online, and you can get a hard copy if you're a member.) In other words, they're doing a lot of great work around the issues central to my blog (and Betsy's) and I highly encourage you to get involved. (If you're not ready to join, you can always just sign up for their e-mail list...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Fancy, Frugal Favorite: Eggplant Parmesan Made Easy

As I've said before, one of my best strategies for resisting dining out too much is to learn to make my favorite fancy restaurant dishes at home.  One meal that I love but have struggled with is eggplant parmesan. 
Now, I know how to make eggplant parmesan at home, but it's such a hassle that I find myself avoiding it.  Cut the eggplant, drain the eggplant for an hour or more, dip the eggplant in flour and then egg and then bread crumbs, fry the eggplant, bake the eggplant... I've done it occasionally, but it's just a lot of work, and I end up feeling like I'd rather go out to a nice Italian place where they'll do it for me.  
Until I discovered the most wonderful shortcut: Trader Joe's eggplant cutlets!  They are pre-breaded, can stay in your freezer until you need them, and only take a few minutes to cook.  All you need to do is add sauce, cheese, pasta (or bread if you're doing a sandwich) and you're done! 
"So what?" you say. "Why are you so excited?  There are lots of pre-made options that make cooking easier.  They are also much more expensive.  It's all about the trade-offs."
Well, these delicious cutlets are also dirt cheap, at least in my opinion: $2.59 at my local store for a one pound package, which typically provides four or more portions.  That's not even much more than for a fresh eggplant (which is, what, about $1.50 to $2 a pound?)  Plus, it's only partly pre-prepared, which means I can use my own sauce, etc.  Total no-brainer for me.
Okay, now I sound like a shill for this particular product, but it just seems like such a rare find.  I'd love to hear from the rest of you: what food options have you found that are time-savers without being significantly more expensive?  If we come up with good ones I'll edit them into this post or do a follow-up post.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Socially Conscious Gas Guide, Part 3: Human Rights

Without further ado, I'm finishing my Socially Conscious Gas Guide by compiling some info for you on the international human rights records of some gas companies. This adds onto the info in Parts 1 and 2 on workers' safety and rights (which are also human rights, of course!) and the environmental records of the companies.

Here are human rights incidents involving various companies, in no particular order:

  • Shell
    • Nigeria: More than 10 years after nine local activists involved in protesting Shell's environmental and human rights violations in Nigeria were framed for murder (allegedly with Shell's assistance) and executed, Shell continues to contribute to violence in the Niger Delta. For example, Amnesty International documents how in 2005 the Odioma community was burnt to the ground and many community members (including children and the elderly) tortured and/or killed; the violence was over the disputed ownership of oil-rich land which Shell had purchased from one community while bypassing the other.
  • Chevron:
    • Nigeria: Chevron is also involved in violence in Nigeria. In one example from 2005, locals came to a Chevron oil terminal to protest (apparently peacefully) Chevron's failure to live up to their agreement to provide jobs and development projects for residents; in response, government security forces killed one and injured 31 others, while Chevron did not report the incident or provide medical aid. Chevron is also being sued for an earlier incident in which security forces fired on and killed protesters.
    • Burma (Myanmar): While most U.S. companies do not invest in Burma because of U.S. sanctions, Chevron was grandfathered in. Chevron is a major investor in the Yadana pipeline project; Unocal (which is now part of Chevron) paid $30 million in 2005 to settle claims of murder, rape, and forced labor as part of the pipeline's construction. Chevron continues to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties to the brutal regime for its share in the project.
    • Ecuador: Chevron is accused of intentionally dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon over several decades; aside from the environmental damage, illness and cancer are increasing, and some indigenous groups from the areas where the dumping occured are on the brink of extinction.
    • Chad and Cameroon: Along with Exxon-Mobil, Chevron is a key stakeholder (25%) in the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project, which is causing environmental damage and increasing poverty along its path, while enriching the cruel and corrupt government of Chad. Not only that, but the legal agreements signed between the companies and the governments of Chad and Cameroon provide financial disincentives for the governments to intervene if the human rights of their citizens are being violated.
  • Exxon-Mobil
  • BP
    • Colombia: BP has a partial stake in the Ocensa pipeline; in the late 90s it allegedly helped arm a notoriously brutal army unit to defend its interests.
    • Indonesia: BP's Tangguh project is being developed in West Papua, which was annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s and whose people generally do not support Indonesian rule; BP's dealings have been with the Indonesian government, and human rights groups worry how the project will effect the already violent and volatile region.
    • BP also previously owned a portion of PetroChina, which was involved in human rights violations in Tibet; it sold its shares in 2004.
The case of Venezuela and Citgo:
  • This will depend on your perspective; Citgo is owned by Venezuela, which may be a good thing or a bad thing in your book. Its profits go to the Venezuelan government/the Venezuelan people (depending on how you look at it), which could be seen as good, bad or mixed for human rights-- I personally think it's mixed but on balance a good thing, but make up your own mind (based on reading as much as you can about Venezuela from a variety of different perspectives, I hope!)
Am I missing anything? Please comment and I'll add it to the post. This research has taken a lot longer than I expected, and yet I still feel like I'm missing stories. Sadly, there are probably all sorts of human rights violations out there that I haven't documented, but I think I've done a pretty good job at compiling those generally thought of as the most egregious...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Avoiding the food rip-off at convention centers (and other places they overcharge you when you're trapped!)

Apologies for the light posting lately. Between trying to write a novel in a month, and traveling to a conference for work, I've had trouble finding the time to write.

The conference reminded me once again about the power of near-monopoly. In this case, there were maybe 5-7 restaurants in a convention center that must serve 40,000 or more people at once. As a result, not only were the lines extremely long, but the food was ridiculously overpriced. We're talking $5 for a slice of pizza, $11.50 for a small veggie wrap, and $4 for a 12-ounce bottle of juice.

Now, when you're stuck in a place like this for work, you may just get reimbursed for whatever you pay and so the price doesn't matter to you. (In fact, that's probably part of why they get away with it.) But a) I get a per diem, so saving money is in my own interest, and b) it bugs me to overpay in general, especially when the food is so mediocre. So I tried to find ways around paying the exorbitant prices:

  • Buying food the night/morning before. Stopping in a grocery store is always a good bet. Even overpriced convenience stores are often a better deal than the convention center prices.
  • Saving leftovers from dinner. This is easy for me since I have a smallish appetite and often have leftovers anyway. But if you don't, you can try to order big and/or fill up on appetizers or bread.
  • Looking outside the convention center. Many convention centers will have restaurants (or grocery stores or convenience stores) somewhere within reasonable distance, but they may be hard to find. Ask various members of the convention center staff for help and directions; sometimes the official Information people won't tell you because they're not supposed to, but guards, coat check staff, and others are typically much more helpful.
  • Bringing snacks and a water bottle. Even if you have to buy your main meal at the convention center, filling up a water bottle can save you from overpaying on drinks, and having snacks on hand mean that you can order a relatively small meal. And if you've got a long day, snacks can be crucial in tiding you over so you can wait to buy dinner until you're out of there.
Do you have any other tips to avoid being trapped into paying high prices for food? I think some of the same principles apply whether it's a convention center, an airport, a stadium, or anywhere else they overcharge you because you have no/limited choice...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Go Bananas for Fair Trade: getting them in your grocery store!

Like other fair trade products I've written about before, certified fair trade bananas guarantee that the people involved in growing them-- small banana farmers and workers on banana plantations-- get decent pay and humane, respectful working conditions. And while many fair trade bananas are also certified organic, even those which aren't still must use less pesticides and more sustainable farming practices, which is good for the workers, the environment, and you. (You can check out the details of fair trade standards for bananas and other products here.)

Bananas are actually a really great product to go fair trade on. Because they're already so cheap, paying another dime or two per pound for the fair trade version doesn't break the bank-- but that makes a big difference to the farmers and farm workers, who get around 18 cents a pound instead of as little as 2 cents, partially thanks to the higher prices, and partially due to cutting out middlemen who take cuts of the profit. (The 18 cents figure is from Ecuador; prices vary by country, but Ecuador grows 33% of the world's bananas.)

But fair trade bananas are relatively new to the U.S. market, and many supermarkets don't sell them. (Europe has had them for much longer, and they've become very popular; in Switzerland, almost half the bananas sold are fair trade!)

If you want to look for U.S. stores that do sell fair trade bananas, try this search (it brings up around 100 stores that sell fair trade fruit-- including pineapple, mangoes and grapes-- but I'd be surprised if many of them have the other fruit but not bananas.)

But if you want to get fair trade bananas in more stores, get involved in Co-op America's campaign. You can sign on to a letter to major grocery store chains, which Co-op America will deliver to demonstrate consumer interest, and hopefully have an impact on those chains (many of which are already stocking other fair trade products). You can also print out the letter (or write your own) and bring it to your local stores.

Have you seen fair trade bananas in stores near you yet? I haven't, but hopefully this will help change that!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance

It's time for the Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance once again...

Please click here to submit for next month! The next edition will be up on November 29th. Contact me if you're interested in hosting...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Carnival of the Green # 101!

Welcome to the Carnival of the Green! If it's new to you, read up about it and how to submit at TreeHugger, and check out all the previous editions. You can also visit last week's edition at The Good Human; next week, it's at Natural Collection. (If you're new to Money and Values, check out some of my highlights here.)

The personal (tips and stories):

The global (news and collective action):

The kinda-green (posts with environmental implications):

That's it. I hope you enjoyed the Carnival, and thanks for visiting!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I don't think God gives very good financial advice...

... but thank goodness for the Utahraptor! (I meant to post this when it came out a few weeks ago, but am only getting around to it now.)

See also The Motley Fool's take; as they point out, God doesn't seem to know there are high-yield savings accounts that offer 5% APY and beat inflation...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

All about co-ops & how to find one near you

So it turns out that October is not only Fair Trade Month, but also Co-op Month!

Co-ops are businesses that are owned and controlled by their members/customers/workers. There are actually a lot of different kinds, more than I'd realized: a wide range of consumer co-ops (from grocery co-ops to credit unions to child care co-ops to telecommunications co-ops) to housing co-ops to farmer co-ops (Land O Lakes and Florida's Natural are examples of really big ones, but they vary widely in size) to my favorites, the worker co-operatives. (Apparently there are even patient-owned health care co-operatives; anyone use one of these and see a difference?)

Co-ops are pretty awesome because generally they're really rooted in the community, and are more interested in good products/services, good working conditions, and good relationships with the community than companies that are owned and run by shareholders and distant CEOs. (Obviously there will be some variation in how this happens in practice!) There are actually seven core principles of co-ops that you can read about, including democratic member control and member economic participation.

I'm a member of a local co-op grocery store, which means I can run for the board and vote in board elections, and there's a different kind of accountability to member-customers than there is to ordinary customers at a big chain store. (My current campaign is to get certified humane dairy products stocked; I'll keep you posted!) I am a fan of co-ops in general.

So I was really excited to find this search engine for U.S. co-ops on the Co-op Month website. You can narrow it down by type or just search for all co-ops near you. My search brought up tons of credit unions, but also a few worker co-ops that I hadn't known about, more grocery stores, several agricultural co-ops, a few preschools, and even an electric utilities co-op (not covering my immediate area, though.)

Do you use co-operatives? Why or why not? What are your experiences with co-ops of different kinds?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 Blogger Challenge

Better late than never, I'm pointing you towards the personal finance bloggers' entry into the October Blogger Challenge at lets users fund specific projects proposed by public school teachers for their students. I'm somewhat conflicted about it, because funding these projects almost feels like support for the idea that charity can just pick up the slack when our students are denied their right to sufficient public funding for a good education. But on the other hand, while our funding system remains skewed and unfair, there will be schools and students that are underfunded, and this website helps us do something about it.

Anyway, enough of my soul-searching. The point is, we are all teaming up to donate to some personal finance-related classroom projects, and are over $2000 (and 100 students impacted) so far! There are still a few left on our list to be funded, so go check them out-- or search the site and donate to another project-- or donate to something else altogether (my offer to match donations to Oxfam still stands!)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Little decisions: minutes or cents?

In Washington DC (and many other cities, I'm sure) public transportation has tiered pricing, which means that fares during rush hour are higher than non-rush hour fares.  Usually this doesn't make much difference to me; I pay whatever the fare costs when I need to ride. 
But every so often, I find myself standing at the entrance to the station just before 7pm (when the prices switch over), thinking:  "Do I catch this train, or wait 5-7 minutes for the next one and save 80 cents?"
Of course, $0.80 is not much money at all to be concerned about.  But on the other hand, how much difference does a few minutes make?  I usually have a book to read or something else with me to occupy my time. 
In the end, I usually make different decisions on different days, depending on how tired I am and if there's a particular reason to get home quickly.  I'm more likely to just get on the train and pay a little more, but there are certainly times that I've waited the few extra minutes.
Do you pay attention to little trade-offs like these, or do you figure they're not worth worrying about? 

Monday, October 15, 2007

Green Electronics Guide: how do companies address the e-waste problem?

Greenpeace has put together a consumer guide on how environmentally friendly various electronics companies are. Drawing attention to the serious and growing problem of discarded electronics (e-waste), it ranks the companies based on their use of toxic chemicals and their policies and practice around take-back and recycling of their products.

According to their latest update (9/07), Nokia leads the pack and Sony Ericsson is not far behind; both companies have stopped using some of the most hazardous chemicals (PVC plastics) and are in the process of phasing out others (BFR flame retardants). Both companies also support Individual Producer Responsibility (the concept that manufacturers should take back their electronics products and be responsible for their recycling and/or safe disposal) and have take-back policies in most countries where they sell products, but get dinged for a lack of information about how successful these policies are in practice.

The worst? Panasonic, HP, and Apple. All three have problems with take-backs and recycling; plus, Panasonic has no timeline to phase out the chemicals, while HP is planning to get rid of them in some components (internal wiring) but not others.

The full list:

  • Nokia: 8 (of 10)
  • Sony Ericsson: 7.7
  • Dell: 7.3
  • Levono: 7.3
  • LGE: 7
  • Fujitsu Siemens: 7
  • Samsung: 6.7
  • Motorola: 6.7
  • Toshiba: 6
  • Acer: 5.7
  • Apple: 5.3
  • Hewlett Packard: 5.3
  • Panasonic: 5
You can read the whole report here(PDF), with more details about what each company is and isn't doing. If you're an Apple customer, send an e-mail to Steve Jobs to ask him to do more.

Does this sort of information affect what electronics you buy? I'd like to try to keep it in mind next time I'm shopping for them. But the biggest thing I'm taking out of this report is how much of a problem the e-waste from discarded electronics really is, and it strengthens my intention to get the very most out of my devices before I buy new ones.

(This is my post for Blog Action Day 2007!)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

New Savings Account: 5% APY Plus Social & Environmental Impact

Big news! ShoreBank, the oldest and largest socially conscious bank in the U.S., has just unveiled a no-minimum high-yield online savings account with 5.00% APY. They'll use your money to strengthen low-income communities and help the environment; you get an interest rate that matches or beats almost all your other options.

This is huge, in my opinion. I've written before about several money market accounts and CDs where you can support a variety of good causes at interest rates that rival anything else out there, but getting a competitive interest rate from a no-minimum savings account was always the missing piece. Now anyone with $1 and an interest in supporting ShoreBank's mission can put their money where their heart is by opening an account.

How this kind of banking works

When you deposit money at a bank, they take your money and lend it out so they can earn enough to pay you interest and make a profit. Most banks do this based solely on financial criteria, which means your bank could be using your money to do things you don't approve of (maybe it's funding cluster bombs or enriching the Sudanese government, for example). But mission-based financial institutions target your money to accomplish social and/or environmental goals. (Read more from me or from The Community Investing Center.)

ShoreBank's mission-based lending

ShoreBank, which was founded in 1973, works in the Midwest (Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit) and the Pacific Northwest making loans that support community development in low-income neighborhoods and/or a healthier environment.

ShoreBank furthers community development in low-income and financially underserved neighborhoods by providing financing for locally-owned small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations. ShoreBank also funds affordable housing construction and rehab, and offers mortgages and financial education to community members. They lent $365 million in 2006 for community development (62% of total lending), including $129 million to small businesses.

ShoreBank's environmental lending funds the construction and renovation of energy-efficient homes and businesses, clean-up of contaminated sites, financing changes in business processes to improve energy efficiency and decrease waste, and much more. In 2006, $202 million (35% of their loans) were for these purposes.

5.00% APY-- helping others and yourself

As you probably know, 5.00% is a fantastic annual interest rate for a no-minimum savings account. According to, as of 10/12/07, there are only three accounts with higher rates that don't require $500 or more to open, and even the best of those,, is offering 5.17% APY-- a pretty small difference, less than $2 per $1,000 over a year.

Spread the word!

This is big news for everyone who's been wanting to use their banking dollars for a good cause but were worried about earning too little in interest-- and those people who never thought about the option, too! I am really excited about the potential for this savings account to put a lot of our money to work in socially and environmentally beneficial ways. If you think this is as awesome as I do, please write about it, link here or to the account sign-up page, or do anything else you can think of to spread the word.

Also, keep an eye out here at Money and Values; I'm in the process of opening an account, and I'll post a review of how user-friendly the online banking interface is as soon as I get access!


  • If you're interested in other socially conscious banking options-- including CDs and money market accounts that fund causes from international microcredit to fair trade to child care to independent media-- read more here.
  • If you're interested in mutual funds that do socially responsible investing, check out my series starting here or use this handy tool/search engine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fair Trade Sales, Promotions and Contests (Fair Trade Month, Part II)

Yesterday I wrote about some fair trade events going on this month around the U.S., and how you can get involved in making Halloween a Fair Trade holiday. Today, here are some sales, promotions, and contests in honor of Fair Trade Month. (Read more about fair trade here.)

  • eConscious Marketplace is a site selling fair trade and other socially conscious products-- with 50% of the profit going to the non-profit org of your choice! Here's their Fair Trade Month deal: 10% off their fair trade products and a free year's membership if you use the promotional code "moneyvalues." (You don't need a membership to shop there, but it gets you extra discounts throughout the year; it's a $30 value.)
  • Frontier Natural Products is running a 15% sale this month. They sell a huge variety of fair trade teas, plus cocoa, vanilla, and some interesting baking mixes that use fair trade sugar.
  • Despite their big talk, it's usually tough to get fair trade coffee at Starbucks-- but this month they're featuring their only fair trade blend (Cafe Estima) as coffee-of-the-week three weeks straight. So if you're a Starbucks drinker, be sure to ask for your fair trade coffee this month! (You can ask for the Cafe Estima the rest of the year, too, but they'll have to French-press it especially for you and the baristas sometimes refuse because they don't know it's company policy... try the Starbucks Challenge year-round anyway.)
  • has a Fair Trade video contest with a prize of a trip to Peru. They also have a sweepstakes where you can win a gift certificate for $100 of fair trade products. The site includes information about fair trade and stories about its impact, fair trade recipes, and more.
  • Divine Chocolate is running a recipe contest through December 15th; scoring will be 60% based on the recipe and 40% on a written statement about why you believe in fair trade.
  • Keep your eyes peeled if you live in a city; apparently there are some rush-hour fair trade giveaways in the works this month.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Trick-or-Treat for Fair Trade; Farmers & Free Samples (Fair Trade Month, Part I)

October is Fair Trade Month, and there's all sorts of great stuff going on! Below are actions you can take and events to participate in. Check in tomorrow for a list of Fair Trade Month sales/promotions and some contests you can enter. (What is fair trade, you ask? Click here!)

Take Action for Fair Trade

  • Try reverse trick-or-treating for fair trade! Children and/or their parents can do this going door-to-door, spreading the word about fair trade chocolate and other fair trade products.
    • If you apply by October 12, you can get free kits complete with fair trade chocolate if you're with a school, church, or other organization working with children, and you're willing to work with the media-- click here.
    • You can order free Halloween fair trade cards by mail at this link before 10/12-- or print out your own here.
    • Global Exchange is selling their annual Fair Trade Trick-or-Treat Kits for Halloween; for $15 you get 42 pieces of fair trade chocolate to give trick-or-treaters and informative Halloween cards to go with them (plus hand-crafted fair trade Halloween streamers!)
  • Celebrate the launch of Fair Trade Towns USA; download the free toolkit and start a movement to make your town a Fair Trade Town.

Attend Events and Meet Fair Trade Farmers
  • Equal Exchange is coordinating a Faces of Fair Trade tour this month with events in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Boston, New Haven, NYC, Philadelphia and Washington DC-- international and local farmers will speak about fair trade, and most events include tastings.
  • Divine Chocolate, one of my favorites because the farmers not only get fair trade prices for their cocoa but are also part-owners of the company, is also holding events with fair trade farmers (and free, tasty chocolate giveaways!) Most of them are in the midwest (Chicago, Twin Cities, Madison) but they'll also be in Baltimore on October 20. Click here for details.
  • Check out this page at the United Students for Fair Trade site to see what the college students in your area are coordinating for Fair Trade Month.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Oxfam: fighting poverty and injustice around the world

This post is part of ProBlogger's Birthday Bash; as part of the festivities, FreeMoneyFinance is generously sponsoring a $1,000 donation to the favorite charity of a randomly selected winner who has written about the organization on their blog (and submitted the link by 9am EST Sunday.)

It's hard to choose my favorite non-profit organization-- there are so many that I love supporting-- but Oxfam is right up there and it's one that I think everyone should know more about.

There are two reasons that Oxfam really stands out to me. One is that it addresses an incredibly broad range of issues and needs in international development. And the other is its commitment to addressing problems by empowering ordinary people to improve both the symptoms and the causes of poverty.

It never ceases to amaze me how much Oxfam is doing. They do important day-to-day development work, like providing microfinance (and helping communities grow their own banks to save and lend); helping small farmers diversify their crops, improve production, organize into cooperatives, and access higher-paying fair trade and organic markets; supporting women in increasing their education, empowerment, and rights; and helping indigenous people and other minorities.

They also respond to emergencies, like hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, and violent conflicts, by addressing immediate needs quickly and effectively and then supporting communities in rebuilding. (They have a special Global Emergencies Fund that does this.)

But Oxfam also really works on getting to the roots of poverty. They work hard on issues like fair trade, trade agreements, foreign aid and debt forgiveness, access to affordable medicines, helping local communities share in profits from and decisions about their land and resources, and much more. Two of their big umbrella campaigns are Make Trade Fair and Health and Education for All. They're a co-founder of the ONE Campaign against poverty.

In short, Oxfam does pretty much everything I could want from a non-profit organization, and I trust them to take a large percentage of my yearly giving budget and put it in the right places around the world to make a difference.

I donate through Oxfam America. But Oxfam is actually a network of 13 affiliates headquartered in different countries (find yours here). I strongly encourage you to read more about Oxfam and consider giving-- if you do, please let me know, and I'm willing to match your donation! (They also have the great Oxfam Unwrapped program if you want your donation to be a gift to someone.)