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Green Purse Alerts!

Why My Purse is Green

Because I believe…

  • the fastest, most effective way to stop polluters is by pressuring them in the marketplace
  • women can be the world’s most powerful economic and environmental force if we intentionally shift our spending to the best green products and services
  • women have the power right now to solve many of our most serious environmental problems by using our green purses to make a difference
  • women must act – intentionally, collectively, and with the full force of our purse power behind us – if we hope to leave our children and grandchildren a better world.
  • September 04, 2008

    What's Convincing Companies to Go Green? Consumer Demand.

    What should you do if you want companies to go green?

    Demand it, of course.

    It's a strategy that makes perfect sense, given that companies themselves say consumers are the biggest drivers of the sustainability changes they're willing to make. In a recent study conducted by Ernst & Young and reported on by Mary Hunt at In Women We Trust, executives from the finance, consumer goods and manufacturing industries acknowledged that consumer demand was a far greener "carrot" than environmental regulation, legislation, or competition, among other factors.

    Readers of Big Green Purse won't be surprised. Our mantra is all about ways you can make your money matter to protect yourself and the planet. But it's great when the very targets of our spending decisions acknowledge how much power we really have!

    August 28, 2008

    Check out Maggie's Organic for Back-to-School Fashions

    Even after you've cut your shopping budget to the bone, you may still need to get a few things to cover your kids as they head off to school. If so, take a look at Maggie's Organics.

    Maggies_boys_socks_3The company integrates certified organic cotton or wool in all its products and manufactures according to fair trade principles. They sell a terrific collection of socks, scarves, tights, loungewear, legwarmers, tees, baby clothes, new sock monkeys and fashionable tops.Maggies_girls_tights_2

    Conscious of energy consumed by transporting products across the globe, Maggie's has developed supply chains as close to home as possible. The company uses a minimum amount of packaging to save energy during transportation and to reduce waste.

    Thumb_green Thumbs up, Maggie!

    August 22, 2008

    Should you use up cosmetics you already have before buying new, safer products?

    When do you use up products you already have, and when do you either try to return them or just opt to throw them away?
    I got that question today. Here it is in full, along with my answer:
    "I would like your opinion. Before I heard you on Martha Stewart on Sirius, I was purchasing my normal stuff.  I would do recyclable as much as possible, didn't know much about free trade or organic or all that.  Then I bought your book. Now, I've read your book and would like to do what I can to protect myself and the environment.  What would you suggest I do with several unopened cosmetics, or the rest of already opened cosmetics?  I've got half bottles of shampoo and conditioner that I would gladly replace with organic.  I've got unopened bars of Neutrogena soap and unopened bottles of Neutrogena acne wash.  I've got unopened Neutrogena cosmetics (powder, under eye concealer). Should I use up what I have already opened?  Dumping it and just recycling the bottles doesn't sound right. If you would share your opinion, I'd appreciate it."
    Here's how I responded:
    "Is there any chance of returning the unopened products? The easiest would be to take them back to the store where you bought them. I called the Neutrogena customer service line ( ) and they said that as long as the products are unopened, the store should take them back, even if you don't have a receipt.
    "Re: the opened and half used shampoo, conditioner and soap, I would go ahead and use them up, since if you throw them away you have probably a worse effect because you're dumping more concentrated materials down the drain or in the dump than diluting them somewhat with water. Also, these are products that don't usually penetrate your skin. There is the least health risk in using soaps that only stay on your body for minutes, as opposed to products like make-up and deodorant that are designed to penetrate the skin over time.
    "With the opened cosmetics, honestly, I have an old cosmetics bag that I've unwanted dumped lipstick, blush and mascara into. I no longer want to put these products on my body, but I don't want to throw them away either. Someday, I'll include them in my city's hazardous waste pick-up. They don't really qualify as hazardous material, but that just seems better than tossing them in the trash (though, if you didn't want to bother with that, you could double bag them and throw them away. Most things don't degrade in a landfill, so they'd probably remain intact, especially since they're also in a case)."
    Anyone have any other ideas?

    August 21, 2008

    We need sustainable standards so consumers know what to buy.

    One of the biggest obstacles green consumers -- or green "wanna-bees" -- face is knowing what's really "green" and what's just being hyped, or greenwashed, so businesses can make a buck.

    Woman Reading Label - USDA PhotoA recent poll shows just how confused consumers are.

    Called Eco Pulse, the national study, which was reported in Brand Week, asked shoppers open-ended and multiple-choice questions about green issues. The results are disheartening for those of us who spend our time trying to help clarify marketplace and lifestyle choices.

    According to the research, many people still don't have a clue whether what their purchases actually make a difference. Neither can they vouch for the eco-status of the companies whose products they buy. If you ever wondered whether the certification efforts of the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability and other organizations were worthwhile, studies like these leave no question: certified green standards would help hold companies accountable while shining a bright green light on choices that actually are as eco-friendly as they claim to be. 

    Specifically, here's what EcoPulse found:

    * Half (49%) of respondents said a company's environmental record is important in their purchasing decisions. But only 21% said they had actually chosen one product over another because the company was a good eco-citizen. And it gets worse: only 7% could name the environmental product they purchased.

    - Despite the intense efforts of the past few years to educate people about climate change, only 57% agreed that "Global warming, or climate change, is occurring, and it is primarily caused by human activity." At this point, shouldn't that number be closer to 100%? 

    - The study also asked consumers to name which features a home should have for them to consider it green. Four in 10 (42%) said they didn't know, while 28% said solar, 12% said compact fluorescent light bulbs and 10% named Energy Star appliances. Nothing else really registered. In a second survey that listed 17 features, consumers were asked to check those a home must have before they'd deem it green, reported Brand Week. The average number was 10.4.

    - People weren't even sure what makes a cleaning product green. Though the top-rated answer - "no harmful toxic ingredients or chemicals" - is essentially correct, the runner up  - "the packaging is made of recycled or recyclable materials" - is important, but secondary to the product's actual ingredients.

    The survey posed some juxtapositions that are inherently false, such as whether people would put their personal comfort ahead of the environment. Of course, most respondents answered yes, even though quality of life usually improves, not diminishes, the greener one's life gets.

    And it should be no surprise that 40% of those queried felt "skeptical," "irritated," and "guilty" when the media focus the spotlight on people's environmental impact. No one likes to acknowledge they've screwed up. The good news is that fully 60% said they were "better educated" or "glad" to be aware of the crisis the planet faces and what we can do about it.

    Overall, cynicism seems to reign in the mind of the green consumer. When asked why companies adopt environmentally friendly practices, the most common response (47%) was "to make their company look better to the public." Only 13% believed it was "because their owners/shareholders care about the environment."

    Businesses that actually go to the trouble of ensuring that their products and services meet independent, certified sustainable standards could go a long way towards reversing these numbers. They'd also help out consumers, who increasingly need a straightforward way to avoid the greenwash that is keeping them from parting with their greenbacks.

    July 25, 2008

    Sustainable Seafood is Coming to a Supermarket Near You

    Fishing_boat  Consumer demand for seafood has been depleting fish and shrimp populations for decades. The Marine Stewardship Council has helped protect marine animal populations by creating standards retailers and consumers can follow to choose wild-caught fish from better-managed fisheries. Wal-Mart and Whole Foods are among the retailers that sell MSC-Certified seafood.

    "Farming" fish and shrimp has helped meet consumer demand, but at a cost. The fishmeal salmon eat, for example, is often loaded with dangerous PCBs. Farmed salmon can contract sealice, which can spread to wild salmon. Shrimp aquaculture can destroy the mangrove swamps that protect barrier islands and coastlines from hurricanes.

    Now some retailers - including Whole Foods Market, Wal-Mart, and Wegman's -  are using their marketplace clout to demand seafood that's farmed more sustainably. Their goal: protect sensitive marine habitats, reduce or ban antibiotics, treat waste water, and mimize or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals. Whole Foods will also require its suppliers to pass independent, third-party audits to ensure they are meeting sustainable seafood standards.

    Here's a good overview from the Washington Post.

    Seafood_alliance_2Meanwhile, the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions is working with fishermen, retailers, environmental organizations and consumer groups to increase understanding of the nation's fisheries and make more sustainable seafood available in the marketplace. As a result of its work with the Alliance, the Giant supermarket chain said it has recently started selling Pacific long-line cod, which is relatively abundant, and that it will stop selling shark, orange roughy and Chilean sea bass until their populations rebound.

    Greenpeace_2  Greenpeace recently issued a state-by-state scorecard to let consumers know whether their grocery store has instituted a sustainable seafood policy. Check out your favorite grocer here.

    V1_3   USE YOUR PURSE:  Most grocers are falling far short in offering shoppers sustainably raised or caught fish and shellfish. Don't hesitate to let the manager at your favorite fish counter know you expect retailers to support sustainable seafood standards. And do your part by buying seafood that's sustainably certified.

    July 02, 2008

    Best Electronics Create Least E-Waste, Climate Change

    Ewaste8 Greenpeace has just issued its annual electronics guide. Given that women buy 14% more electronics than men, the guide can help female consumers make their money matter by favoring the mobile phone, computer, TV and games console manufacturers that have the best policies and practices on toxic chemicals and equipment take-back. Consumers can also favor electronics companies that do the best job reducing their climate change impact.

    According to the Greenpeace website, "Companies are scored on disclosure of their greenhouse gas emissions, commitment for absolute cuts in their own emissions and support for the mandatory global emissions reductions that are needed to tackle climate change. On energy efficiency, a selection of each company’s product range is assessed to see how far they exceed the current de-facto global standard, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star. Energy Star sets minimum standards for energy efficiency for many types of electronic products. The overall percentage of renewable energy in a companies total energy use is also assessed.

    The climate impact is important, since the information and communications technology sector currently accounts for two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, equal to the aviation industry. Notes Greenpeace, "As one of the most innovative and fastest growing industries, the biggest electronics companies must show leadership in tackling climate change by reducing both their direct and indirect climate change footprint."


    Philips scores well on chemicals and energy criteria, but scores a zero on e-waste since it has no global take-back polices. Greenpeace recommends that Philips establish an effective global take-back program to reduce the environmental impact of its e-waste. 

    Thumb_green The best performers on energy efficiency are Sony Ericsson and Apple, with all of their models meeting, and many exceeding, Energy Star requirements. Sony Ericsson stands out as the first company to score almost top marks on all of the chemicals criteria. With all new Sony Ericsson models being PVC-free, the company has also met the new chemicals criterion in the ranking, having already banned antimony, beryllium and phthalates from models launched since January 2008.

    On the other hand, according to the Greenpeace analysis, Apple "missed a big chance" to advance its score by not improving the environmental performance of the new version of the iPhone.

    Thumb_brownbmp_2  Some companies that promote their "green" policies come up short when measured against global standards of measuring impacts on climate change. Dell scored relatively poorly and Toshiba, Samsung and LGE scored close to, or zero, on climate change criteria.

    Among the games console makers, Microsoft dropped to second bottom of the Guide with a low score on climate criteria. Nintendo’s score increased slightly over last year with some improvement on toxic chemicals and climate policy. However, even Nintendo’s relatively energy efficient Wii console does not meet Energy Star standards that cover minimum energy efficiency standards for PCs and consoles.

    Notes Greenpeace, with most companies now scoring less than 5/10, only a company that phases out toxic chemicals, increases the recycling rate of e-waste, uses recycled materials in new products and reduces its impact on climate change can seriously hope to make the claim of being green. Companies that undergo life-cycle analysis of their entire production, distribution, and reclamation policy have the best shot at meeting this goal.

    Read a snapshot of the report here.

    Or peruse the full Guide to Greener Electronics report.

    June 21, 2008

    Carrots and Sticks are Greening the Marketplace

    Consumers are showing increasing ingenuity in using their money to protect the planet.

    The original marketplace campaigns revolved around boycotts (think Cesar Chavez, farmworkers, and grapes) -- an effective "stick" if there ever was one, considering the whipping grape growers needed to take before they were willing to treat their employees fairly.

    Carrots_bunch_2  Big Green Purse has been more focused on a "carrot" approach. Too get product manufacturers to reduce pollution and limit their contribution to global warming, Big Green Purse encourages consumers to favor the products that offer the greatest environmental benefit (think compact fluorescent bulbs over incandescents, or organic food over conventionally grown fruits and vegetables). The rationale? Consumers can strategically use the money they spend on eco goods and services to create incentives for companies to produce even more eco options. Though there's been virtually no forward environmental motion in the legislative arena over the past decade, the marketplace has been greening like gangbusters. Consumers -- especially women, who spend $.85 of every dollar - can accelerate the trend by being even more intentional about the products they buy. Choosing goods that are certified sustainable (like lumber made from FSC-certified wood, or tile made from SMaRT-certified linoleum) sends an even bigger, louder message to companies that there is more money to be made in going green.

    (This idea has gained so much traction, it's got its own conferences. Sustainable Brands '08 just concluded - read an excellent summary by Mary Hunt over at In Women We Trust.)

    Carrotmob Another way to dangle the "carrot" is to persuade retailers that their entire business -- not just sales of one or two products -- will increase if they transition to a more environmentally responsible operation. CarrotMob has proven that this approach can be pretty tasty to shop keepers. The organization queried several liquor stores in San Francisco about their interest in saving energy. The one that vowed to save the most - 22% - received not only CarrotMob's blessing, but the benefit of an organizing campaign that increased store sales more than three-fold -- on just one day! Customers could buy whatever they wanted; the store donated 22% of its sales to energy-saving measures that would reduce its own healing and cooling costs, among other benefits.

    As legislators increasingly fall prey to polluting political action committees, or the confounding complexity of dealing with so many different party leaders, it's increasingly apparent that real environmental change can and must be driven by the marketplace. And what makes the marketplace so powerful? All of us green consumers -- and the "carrots" we're dangling.

    April 29, 2008

    California Business Women Go Green

    As a guest speaker at the annual Conference of the Professional Businesswomen of California, I shared the stage today with Gary Hirschberg. Gary's the "CE-Yo" of Stoneyfield Farms, the organic yogurt company that revolutionized the making and marketing of organic dairy products. Together, we talked to hundreds of women about becoming "CEOs" - chief environmental officers of their households, the organizations they volunteer for, and the companies where they work.

    Our message seemed like news to most of the audience. The way women spend their money matters; women can use their money to protect the planet; and women need to lead the way because ... who else will? Most of the audience seemed surprised to learn that they, collectively, spend $.85 of every dollar in the marketplace - even though they acknowledge being the chief shoppers for their household. Gary passionately argued for consumer intervention with manufacturers sooner rather than later, given how quickly time is running out on our chance to reduce climate change and protect dwindling water supplies.

    The audience asked informed questions that got to the heart of some of the issues they find most challenging about going green. When one woman asked how she could reduce all the packaging waste her shopping generates, most of the rest of the crowd nodded in agreement. Everyone is tired of throwing away so much paper and plastic when they shop. I reminded folks about the options they have to buy products in concentrated versions or in bulk. Gary noted that, because plastic packaging is made primarily from petroleum, the increasing costs of a barrel of oil may at some point make plastic wrap unaffordable for anything but premium products.

    An equally critical issue for the audience had to do with greenwashing. People want to buy the best green choice, but often can't figure out what it is, given all the superficial claims manufacturers make that their products are "natural" or "biodegradable." I reminded people to look for third-party verification of the manufacturers claims -- organic to substantiate growing processes, Green Seal to verify claims in cleaning products about ingredients -- and noted the up-and-coming availability of life cycle analysis efforts like the SMaRT standard, which looks at the eco-impact of a product from the beginning of the manufacturing process through the product's use and ultimate re-use or disposal.

    During lunch, Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State under the Clinton Administration, spoke of the need for women to help other women understand the critical issues of the day and make changes that will make their lives -- and the world -- a better place. Said Albright, "There's a special place in hell for women who DON'T help each other." That was probably the best applause line of the day!

    March 08, 2008

    Sustainable, or a Sham? SMaRT Standards Can Help You Figure it Out

    Everyone seems to be grappling with what’s “sustainable” and what’s a sham.

    The Federal Trade Commission held hearings in January to examine green marketing claims, and has slated another set of hearings for April to look at green packaging.

    Dora Meanwhile, the Senate has passed a consumer-safety bill that would reduce the presence of toxic materials (like lead and phthalates) in toys. The measure would also increase the staff and budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission so the government could better track how manufacturers are really producing the toys sold in the U.S. (the House has already passed a weaker version of this proposal that is favored by the Bush Administration and manufacturers) and determine whether claims of sustainability or "eco" friendly are accurate.

    Green marketing maven Jacquelyn A. Ottman asks,  What is “sustainable?”

    “Those in the know,” she says,  “know that sustainable development relates to the triumvirate of “environment,” “economy,” and “society”? Can a package meet all three of these criteria? Not!”

    Ottman predicts “lots of confusion over claims such as “renewable,” “biodegradable” “compostable” and “natural.” Packages made with a blend of traditional and natural or renewable ingredients, e.g., cornstarch, can’t always be counted on to compost either in backyard or even professionally-managed municipal facilities.”

    Hunt_t230_2 Mary Hunt, an expert on marketing to women who has thrown her clout behind a campaign to promote sustainable standards, is working to clear away the confusion by promoting the SMaRT standards developed by the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability (MTS).

    As she points out at Sustainable Life Media,  “It wasn’t a slam-dunk decision to back SmaRT,” noting that working in business for ten years “left me leery of any standard or claim. I wasn’t about to push a standard onto my peers that didn’t cover all the things that we care about, nor would fall short in the manufacturing or investment worlds. The standard had to serve many groups - well.”

    So, says Mary, “I started at square one and asked Mike (Italiano, of MTS) to list all the criteria that SMaRT addresses and why. He came back with 24 criteria broken into three sections, Pollution Reduction Minimums, Reporting and Labeling requirements, and Certification Process. With that list I then compared the top dozen standards that affected home furnishings on an Excel spreadsheet. I focused on furnishings because of a client I was advising and because the majority of our CO2 problems are tied to the building/furnishing world. Furnishings are also where women buyers meet sellers. Their decisions will make a difference.

    "The Excel chart gave me the answers I needed at a glance. It told me:
    • Which standards supplied a workable matrix for comparison of climate risk factors?

    Which standards were really “standards” created via ANSI guidelines and which were process templates created to sell consulting services?

    Which standards used ISO LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) practices and which ones used LCA “thinking.” ISO LCA requires evaluation of 12 environmental impacts over product’s entire lifecycle and pollution reductions from a LCA baseline. I didn’t want just climate change numbers, I wanted to see all water, Earth, and air pollution accounted for.

    Which ones looked at the triple bottom line of environment, economics and social equity? As a woman representing women, the environment and social equity is a deal breaker. I wanted a standard that would support the issues we care about. If it didn’t, women consumers wouldn’t/shouldn’t champion it. As someone working with the social media market, the standard had to be blogger proof - or as we say now - greenwash-proof.

    Which standards are third-party audited globally? I walked factory floors for ten years. If anyone knows how manufacturing will cut corners when no one is watching, it’s me.”

    Mary also examined standards from a common sense point of view.

    “If the clock on climate change is ticking,” she asked, “what are the issues that would hold back adoption?”

    Here are the sensible questions she came up with:
    Is it scalable? How fast can it be replicated? How accessible is it to everyone?
    Is the cost reasonable? Becoming certified is painful for manufacturer in both time and money.
    Is it all-or-nothing, or can manufacturers ease into compliance? Having multiple steps solves that problem.
    Which had the highest level of sustainability? That’s where industry always ends up.

    Smart_4 In total, Mary compared the different standards across all 24 criteria points - and SMaRT came out on top.

    She hasn't been alone in thinking so. SMaRT has been adopted by major manufacturers like Forbo flooring; Wall Street has shown an interest; and municipalities struggling to get green and avoid "green washing" are getting on the bandwagon, too. Our new book, Big Green Purse, also encourages consumers to "get SMaRT" when shopping for green products and services.

    "The faster we put sustainable standards such as SMaRT in place, the faster we give consumers something to cheer," says Mary.

    And "when consumers cheer and buy certified sustainable products, the world wins."

    December 17, 2007

    Big Green Purse Principles Can Help You Make the Right Eco-Choices

    When should you spend your money to protect the planet – and when should you keep it in your purse?

    Given the thousands of green products being introduced these days, and the vague marketing claims being used to sell them, you don’t want to blow your budget just to keep up with the newest “eco,” “herbal,” or “biodegradable” fad – especially if the claim turns out to be more greenwashing than green.

    On the other hand, genuinely earth-friendly products do help minimize your environmental impact. Every organic cotton T-shirt you buy, for instance, helps reduce the use of toxic agricultural chemicals, protecting the air and water. Moreover, the same tee waves like a bright green flag in front of conventional cotton producers, reminding them that your money is filling their organic competitors’ coffers -- and giving them an incentive to switch to organic practices if they haven't already done so.

    The challenge is in knowing how to avoid the “greenwash” so you can promote more green. A few clear principles, excerpted from the upcoming Big Green Purse: Use Your Spending Power to Create a Cleaner, Greener World, will help you identify an ecobargain from a rip-off, while getting manufacturers to transition as quickly as possible to the most earth-friendly practices available.


    1) Buy less.
    2) Read the label.
    3) Support sustainable standards.
    4) Look for third-party verification.
    5) Choose fewer ingredients.
    6) Pick less packaging.
    7) Buy local.

    1.  Buy less. This should be a “no brainer.” Consumerism – buying what we don’t need, over and over again – drives unnecessary manufacturing that fuels climate change, pollutes the air and water, and destroys the places in Nature we love. Remember “reduce, reuse, recycle”? It still makes sense. Plus, when you’re not buying, you’re not getting fooled by dubious marketing claims. If you don’t trust the source, don’t buy it.

    Chlorine_3   2.  Read the label. We read food labels to avoid trans fats, sugar, salt and carbohydrates. We can read product labels to avoid greenwashing words like “natural” and “planet friendly” that aren’t backed up by standards or third-party verification (see below). When it comes to cleansers and other household  goods, avoid products labeled “caution,” “warning,”, “danger,” and “poison,” all of which indicate the item is hazardous to you and the environment.

    3.  Support sustainable standards. An increasing number of companies are proving they’re green byBuy SMART Certified manufacturing according to sustainable standards that govern the product’s “life cycle,” beginning with the raw materials and ending with its disposal or re-use. The SMART standard, for example, covers flooring, lighting, building materials, and other consumer products.

    Fsc_logo_2  4.  Look for third-party verification. In the absence of universal sustainable standards, if a company says its product is good for the earth, your first question should be, “Who else says so?” Reliable eco claims are backed up by an independent institution or nonprofit organization that has investigated the manufacturer’s claim so you don’t have to. Look for labels from groups like Forest Stewardship Council, Energy Star and the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Organic.

    5.  Choose fewer ingredients. A long list of ingredients often indicates the presence of questionable chemicals that may be harmful to you or the environment. This is especially true for personal care products, food, and cleansers. Simplify what you buy.

    Earthtotetan 6.  Pick less packaging. Regardless of the marketing claims a product makes, you can make an immediate impact by buying goods that come wrapped as simply as possible. For starters, buy in bulk, choose concentrates, and pick products in containers you can easily recycle (hint: glass and cans are more easily recycled than plastic). Carting home your packages in your own bags helps reduce packaging, too.

    7.  Buy local.  Avoid the higher energy costs involved in transporting goods long distances. Supporting local farmers and businesses also increases the likelihood that U.S. environmental and health laws and regulations will be followed.

    Bottom Line: Ignore boasts that a product is eco-chic, earth-safe, or planet-neutral. Stick to the principles above to ensure that your Big Green Purse has the kind of big green impact that will make a difference both in the marketplace and on the environment.

    EcoCentric Mom
    Everbuying led light
    Green by