START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
Oct 22, 2007
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Various
Location: United States

Make Your House a Green Home!

Up to this point, we've focused on the most basic features of your living space: those elements designed to keep you protected from the elements and comfortable. The places where we live, though, are more than shelter: they're also a reflection of ourselves. Now that you're in the process of greening your life, you'll want to choose furnishings, wall coverings, window treatments and other items that mirror your commitment to living well while living green.

You'll want to think about (and ask about) the following elements when choosing home decor:

Materials: Decor items often include a range of materials: wood, cloth, and metal are among the most common, In each case, find out what you can about:

  1. The source of these materials (i.e., Is the wood from a sustainably managed forest? Is cloth made from eco-friendly fibers like organic cotton, hemp, or bamboo.
  2. The amount of reused recycled materials (reclaimed wood from a variety of sources is very popular), and the amount of material that can be reused or recycled.

Durability: Quite simply, are the items made to last? Are they things that you could resell or give away, rather than throw away, if you decided you wanted to go for a different look?

Chemicals: What kinds of finishes and treatments are used on the materials? Will they offgas toxic fumes into the air in your home?

Your Action for Today:
Go Browsing for Green Furnishings and Decorative Items

You have lots of choices when it comes to greener decor. EcoBusiness Links has a comprehensive listing of green furniture makers, natural paint manufacturers, sustainable flooring retailers, and more. We've got more information in the Green Life Guide. Of course, you don't necessarily have to go online - you may have stores in your area that sell new green decor, or "vintage" items.

Find something you like? Make note of it in your Green Journal.

Tomorrow: We've got to get ourselves back to the garden...


Green Options

The GO Team

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Posted: Oct 22, 2007 5:29am
Feb 13, 2006
Type: Tribute (for the living)
To Honor: Other
Location: , United States
Fashion goes green High-street retailers are rushing to introduce ethical clothing ranges, which delights the eco-activist Woody Harrelson. James Hall reports

'Wow, Marks & Spencer, I'm really proud of them," says Woody Harrelson, the Oscar-nominated actor, ethical activist, vegan, raw foodist, yoga devotee and party animal, in his low Ohio drawl.

"I am amazed by these percentages. Seventy-eight per cent of people say they would like to know more about the way clothes are made, including the conditions in the factory, where they come from and the use of chemicals in their manufacture. Seventy-eight per cent! Fifty-nine per cent avoid buying food they think is not up to scratch. These are major percentages," he says between mouthfuls of crunchy roughage from Fresh & Wild, the organic food shop.

Harrelson, who is starring in the West End production of Night of the Iguana, is reading from an M&S press release about its new "Look behind the label" campaign to inform customers about how its products are sourced and made. It also includes details of a new, 60,000-item range of Fairtrade cotton clothing that M&S will launch next month.

"This is the first major retailer I've ever known do this. This is great news," Harrelson says.

Ethical clothing is very much Harrelson's home ground. The actor, who wears hemp or bamboo grass clothing most days ("I haven't always been the most stylish fella but certainly I've felt clean on a moral level"), could fairly be described as both a celebrity and an eco-warrior.

But his steely glare - used to such great effect in Natural Born Killers, the blockbuster film - breaks into a grin when he hears about what M&S is doing. Next he hopes that M&S will move into organic cotton, which requires no pesticides (the majority of Fairtrade cotton is not organic).

And spring-summer 2006 is certainly the season that will see ethical clothing moving from the underground into the mainstream. Topshop, the retail chain that is part of billionaire Philip Green's Arcadia empire, is launching a raft of organic cotton babywear ranges in April. The retailer even has a buying executive dedicated to sourcing ethical clothing.

Others are at it too. Last month Bono, the U2 singer, launched Red, a fashion label that will sell ethically sourced products and give a slug of its revenues to fight Aids in Africa.

Gap, Giorgio Armani and Converse are among the large companies signed up. Bono's wife, Ali Hewson, also designs a separate ethical clothing line. The list goes on.

Green is fast becoming the new black. The market for ethical clothes rose by 30 per cent to £43m during 2004, according to the Co-operative Bank's Ethical Consumerism Report 2005. Boycotts of companies because of consumers' concerns about sweatshop labour or animal welfare rose by 8 per cent.

But can mainstream chains make money from ethically sourced and manufactured clothing, or are they just jumping on a conscience-cleansing bandwagon that is populated by celebrities and eco-warriors?

According to Harrelson, the retailers' move into ethical clothing is more than a marketing ruse. He believes the public is more concerned about what is going on behind the scenes than it ever was, and this goes for what they wear, eat and are told by people in power.

"This is part of a bigger picture. Fahrenheit 9/11 [the film about America's war on terror] was the real proof that people are concerned with progressive ideas. It was the most watched documentary of all time," he says.

Safia Minney, the founder of People Tree, one of the ethical clothing manufacturers that will supply Topshop, says retailers are responding to a new consciousness among consumers. She believes shoppers have "had enough" of not knowing where their clothes come from, and says 50 per cent of people reassess a purchase if they doubt a garment's provenance.

She thinks there is a backlash against store groups' recent move into so-called fast fashion - in which cheap clothes are sourced at short notice from factories close to the UK. Retailers are starting to rework their supply chains to respond to these criticisms., she says.

But do the economics stack up? Ethically sourced clothes cost more to produce than conventionally sourced garments. This is because of the extra work, special processes and checks that go into manufacturing the products.

But retailers pass this extra cost on to the consumer. A Fairtrade T-shirt from M&S's range, for example, will cost £7, £1 more than an equivalent normal T-shirt. Given that customers appear happy to spend more to buy such clothes, the extra cost is not really an issue.

There is little profit advantage either. M&S sells its Fairtrade clothing at the same margin as its other fashion lines. Indeed, it has made a policy commitment not to take additional margin from its Fairtrade clothes.

In other words, the economics of selling ethically sourced clothing are the same for M&S as selling normal clothes - it just charges more because the products cost more to make.

So far, so inconclusive. Where the economic argument for big retailers selling ethical clothing begins to falter is in the labour-intensive manufacturing process and the re-engineering of the supply chain that such a move requires. The whole process remains hugely inefficient.

For example, for the Fairtrade cotton that M&S sources from its farmers to be spun, huge cotton mills have to stop their production runs of conventional thread and be cleared for the Fairtrade batch. Economies of scale are lost.

There is also an issue with volumes. M&S uses 50,000 tons of cotton a year in all its products, yet the total volume of Fairtrade cotton produced globally is between 600 and 1,000 tons. This again limits production.

People Tree's Minney says it takes a lot of time, money and work to establish a truly ethical supply chain. It took People Tree's Japanese arm eight years to reach profitability, against five years for the UK business. Such delays are unlikely to be tolerated by big retailers' shareholders.

Nevertheless, baby steps are being made in the right direction, says Stuart Rose, M&S's chief executive. He admits that M&S's ranges will be limited because of supply limitations, but is hopeful that ethical clothing will grow as part of the business. "All the signs are that this is something we will want to build on," he says.

Harrelson points out that when organic food was launched in the UK it was dismissed as a fad. It now accounts for 3 per cent of the market. He says there is a clear business case for mass market retailers to move into ethical clothing and that they simply wouldn't do it if it did not make financial sense.

"The reason M&S is doing this is because of the bottom line, because customers are interested in that kind of thing. These guys are at least on the pulse."

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Posted: Feb 13, 2006 7:25am
Jan 9, 2006
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Other
Location: United States

Press Relations: How green printing can make a good impression
Article By Joel Makower - Jan 05 2006

Look around your workplace, and you'll likely find plenty of printed material, from business cards to brochures to books. Printing words and images on paper may seem like one of the more environmentally benign things your company does, but that isn't necessarily the case.
If you examine the life cycle of printed matter — from turning trees into paper through the witch's brew of chemicals involved — professional printing takes on a decidedly non-green hue.

The explosion of web and digital technology doesn't seem to have changed things — as one pundit put it, the paperless office has turned out to be about as practical as the paperless bathroom. But if you still have to print, go green.

Green printing is on a roll, moving beyond small, do-good companies and activist groups to larger corporations and government agencies that have mandates to purchase greener goods and services. As demand for green printing has grown, so too has the number of printers offering such services — or, at least, claiming to.

It's about time. The mechanics of most types of printing haven't changed much over the past half-century. Lithography and gravure — the methods typically used to print books, magazines, and catalogs — employ plates, which are used to apply ink to paper. Typically, the process involves a variety of inks, solvents, acids, resins, lacquers, dyes, driers, extenders, modifiers, varnishes, shellacs, and other solutions. Only a few of these ingredients end up directly on the printed page. The balance are used to produce films, printing plates, gravure cylinders, or proofs, or to clean printing plates or presses.

Many of the ingredients are toxic: silver, lead, chromium, cadmium, toluene, chloroform, methylene chloride, barium-based pigments, and acrylic copolymers. And that's not all. Chlorine bleaching of paper is linked to cancer-causing water pollutants. Waste inks and solvents are usually considered hazardous. Bindings, adhesives, foils, and plastic bags used in printing or packaging printed material can render paper unrecyclable.

And you thought it was just ink on paper.

I Ink, Therefore I Am

Not everyone defines "green printing" the same way, and there is no standard or certification for what makes a printer — or a given project — green. For example, some printers use conventional techniques for most customers, breaking out the recycled paper and soy-based inks only when a customer asks. But others go all-out as a matter of course.

Among those in the latter category is GreenerPrinter, based in Berkeley, Calif., whose customers include Clif Bar & Co., Hewlett Packard, and the San Francisco Giants. The company uses high post-consumer recycled content, non-chlorine-bleached papers from New Leaf, one of the leading environmental paper companies. GreenerPrinter customers can receive an "environmental benefits statement" detailing the water, energy, and emissions saved for a given print job. And the climate impact of shipping finished jobs is offset through investments in renewable energy. (Full disclosure:, the nonprofit website I founded, has an affiliate relationship with GreenerPrinter.)

Then there's Quad/Graphics, one of the nation's largest printers, with more than 12,000 employees. For more than 30 years, Quad, based in Sussex, Wis., has been a pioneer in green-printing practices, from reducing ink and paper waste to making sure print-shop air quality far surpasses legal guidelines. The company recycles more than 98 percent of its waste and has won numerous awards for environmental leadership, though it doesn't market itself as a "green" printer.

It's not hard to suss out who's green and who's not, says Priscilla Martin, print buyer for Clif Bar. "When speaking with a new potential vendor, their views or positions on environmental considerations are generally apparent within the first few minutes," she says. "If I'm not hearing a green message, rather than asking about it, I tell them what is important to us and see how they respond."

And what about price? Green printing can cost a little more — but it doesn't have to. "The major trade-off we thought we'd experience was a price increase," says Andrea Stupka, marketing and promotions manager at Homegrown Naturals, Inc., purveyor of Annie's Homegrown products. "But after doing a cost comparison between four printers, one of them green, we were pleasantly surprised. The slight cost increase to go green was so insignificant it was worth it."

In fact, a green printer worth its salt will help you find ways to make projects more economical. "We spend a lot of time educating customers to show them that green printing isn't just more environmentally responsible, it's often better quality and more affordable," says Josh Maddox, sales manager at GreenerPrinter. "By taking the time to show them the least wasteful way to design and produce (projects), we often save clients money over conventional printing costs. We win a lot of business that way."

Image Consciousness

So how do you make your printing greener? Since there's no official standard, you're on your own to determine who's really committed. In general, an environmentally minded printer should: use the most eco-friendly papers available; reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals, waste ink, and solvents; be willing to use soy or other vegetable inks without any price premium; educate customers about how to reduce a project's environmental impact; and provide safe working conditions for employees, including using the most advanced air-filtration systems.

Here are three questions to ask when scoping out your particular job:

1. Can the job be printed on paper containing a high percentage of post-consumer recycled fiber?

The answer will help determine whether the printer has practical knowledge about the characteristics and advantages of different types of recycled paper. Don't just accept "sure, we can use recycled" as an answer. Specify paper with at least 50 percent post-consumer content.

2. Can it be printed with low-polluting inks?

In most jobs, soy- or vegetable-based inks work just fine (90 percent of daily newspapers use them routinely for color printing). Avoid inks containing heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury, which are commonly used to produce some bright colors. Printers should be willing to swear off heavy-metal inks and suggest alternatives.

3. What is being done to improve the recyclability of the print job?

Coatings, laminates, inks, foils, adhesives, labels, and paper selection can all affect the recyclability of a printed document. A printer should be able to find alternative ways to get the desired effect — through innovative paper sizes and newer glues that won't inhibit recycling, for example.

As with so many things green, the more you know, the better decisions you can make. In the end, the best option may be not to print at all. "It is always good to question, 'How important is this item to print?'" says Bryan Mazzarello, art director at Organic Bouquet. "Many times companies can offer the same information online and update it cheaper and faster. Maybe a postcard invitation to the website would be more effective than a brochure that will end up in the trash."

As Mazzarello makes clear, green printing isn't your only option. The greenest document of all is the one you never commit to paper.
Good resources for green printing include: GreenBiz Green Printing Resource Center, the Bay Area Green Business Program's Top 10 Green Printing Practices, Dynamic Graphics' Printing Green: 12 Things You Need to Know, and Environmental Considerations for the Print Buyer
from the Minnesota Environmental Initiative.
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Posted: Jan 9, 2006 11:04am


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