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Lions Roar : March 2010
61 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2010 the ecological truths about the things we’re considering buying. one hair dye may have lead in it, while another doesn’t—that means something. one sun block might have a chemical that be- comes a carcinogen if it is exposed to the sun. An “organic” dairy product might come from an industrial-strength dairy that em- ploys some of the worst feedlot practices. The moment you realize the bigger picture surrounding your purchase, the moment you find your preference for a brand turning to disgust, you are led to a more mindful buying decision. for example, i’ve taken to using a stainless steel water bottle rather than buying plastic bottles of water and then throwing them away. The new math of industrial ecology helps me to un- derstand the impact of such a decision. if you bought a stainless steel bottle and used it only sparingly, from an ecological stand- point it would be better to buy the plastic, because the stainless steel is very ecologically intensive at first. The steel is made from a combination of pig iron, nickel, and chromium, all of which have to be mined or obtained from recycling. Also, raw chrome ore, it turns out, is itself a carcinogen, and tends to be mined in parts of the world such as kazakhstan, south Africa, and india where the workers may not be well-protected. you have to calcu- late that into the karmic load of the stainless steel bottle. however, if you use the bottle repeatedly, each time saving a disposable plastic bottle, the math will switch over in favor of the stainless at a certain point. At various points along the way, the ecotoxicity becomes less for the stainless, the greenhouse gases less, and so on. By five hundred or so uses, there is no measure left that favors the plastic bottle—including overall metal deple- tion, which is surprising for something made of metal. Where is any metal depleted in making a plastic bottle? The industrial ecologists include the metal used up in the machinery that man- ufactures the plastic, which gives us an idea of just how finely industrial ecologists make these measures. By drawing on the ongoing work of industrial ecologists and using the guides and indexes that are increasingly available for products, we can become mindful shoppers, not only decreasing our acquisitiveness through mindfulness, but also taking into ac- count the bigger picture when we do buy. i see three key steps to mindful shopping. step one: pay attention to your impacts. step two: buy the ecologically better product. step three: share what you know as widely as you can. Any organized group could collec- tively improve their buying habits and create a broader impact. To the extent that more people shop mindfully, it will have a tell- ing impact on the market. Market share will shift toward the more ecologically virtuous products. Brand managers will pay attention, creating a virtuous cycle whereby our choices based on sound, trans- parent information shift the market. it will pay for companies to in- novate, to change their practices, to go after our dollar by upgrading the ecological impacts of what they’re trying to sell us. finally, our mindful shopping habits could shift the debate within the corporate world about sustainability, which is stalled right now. Most voices for corporate social responsibility say that companies should pay attention to ecological impacts because it’s the morally and ethically correct thing to do. The counter- argument is that the first duty of corporations is to their inves- tors. But if doing good also becomes what is most economically advantageous, that debate will be over. They will make the better choice because we’ve made the better choice. ♦ adapted from “mindful Shopping: How Smart Consumption Can Benefit Beings,” a webinar presented by Daniel Goleman based on his book ecological intelligence, and sponsored by the Center for Contemplative mind in Society (www.contemplative mind.org) and the association for Contemplative mind in Higher education (www. acmhe.org). Goleman’s audio conversations on ecological awareness can be heard at www.morethansound.net Bunnies vs Goldfish An example of the ratings offered at goodguide.com. The guide is also available as an iphone app that allows you to scan barcodes. ratings are out of 10. Annie’s Organic Baked Real Cheddar Bunnies goodguide rating: 6.1 health: 3.9 environment: 8.0 society: 6.5 nutrition: low in saturated fat sugar, cholesterol; medium in sodium Above average working condi- tions and benefits Above average charitable giving Average workplace diversity Above average efforts to reduce energy use Average water management Average product quality, safety, and performance Goldfish Baked Whole Grain Cheddar Snack Crackers goodguide rating: 4.2 health: 3.8 environment: 3.8 society: 5.1 nutrition: low in saturated fat, sugar, cholesterol; medium in sodium Above average working conditions and benefits Average charitable giving Average workplace diversity poor rating in energy use reduction poor water management violates Clean Air Act violates Clean Water Act Average product quality, safety, and performance