My Conscious Choices, Your Conscious Choices

Which one should I choose?Why do you do what you do? What flipped your switch and helped you realize that you could make a difference in the choices you make for your children and for your family? Or, was it a gradual dawning realization that you didn’t have to do what everyone else around you was doing?

So many of the subjects dear to us at Eco Baby Steps are about personal choices—often about personal changes. How do we open ourselves up to change then reach that moment of action in a new direction?

I’ve been thinking, as Earth Day is coming and everyone has a pitch, how do each of us make sure that we are doing what we think we are doing? How do we make sure that we look at our environmental choices or our parenting choices or any choice in our lives while in a state of wakefulness, looking at implications, meanings, and contexts without getting so wound up that we shut right back down again?

Stay awake! Check your own consciousness.

If you don’t want to fall for just any tip or buy anything because it is labelled “green” or “natural,” you need to know why you are making the choices you are.

For me, for example, renewable resources are very important. When I looked at cloth diapers for my children, it wasn’t just a matter of being satisfied with reusability. I wanted to use materials that were natural, with at least a chance of disintegrating in the compost and returning to the Earth. The value that drove me was natural materials. Waste or low water use or cost might drive the cloth diaper choices of others.

Ask Yourself a Few Questions

Take a deep breath, open your eyes wide, and ask yourself a few questions as you hear the Earth Day pitches.

  • Do I want to do this?
  • Why?
  • Really?
  • What priority does it have in my life?
  • OK, when? Should I do it immediately, phase it in, or should it go on a wish list?

Here are a few examples of choices we might make as we engage ourselves. The menstrual pad conversation is hypothetical, since I made the switch a long time ago, but the fair trade chocolate conversation happened only a couple of months ago.

Amy wrote last week that it is easy to use cloth menstrual pads.

  • Do I want to use cloth pads, too? I think so. It doesn’t sound too bad.
  • Why? I feel bad throwing out disposable products when I am so committed to reusable products in other areas of my life.
  • Really? Yes, I’m going to do it.
  • What priority does it have in my life? The cost is low, so I am going to make this a high priority.
  • When? I am going to switch completely this month. I can try it and see if this is a choice I want to make long term.

I wrote in February about shocking labor conditions for children with non-fair trade chocolate.

  • Do I want to switch to only fair trade chocolate? Absolutely.
  • Why? I just can’t take a chance that I take pleasure in a product that caused so much pain to another in its production.
  • Really? Yes. I just don’t look at a bag of M&Ms the same now.
  • What priority does it have in my life? Highest, though I don’t want to spend too much money. I can go without chocolate if necessary. I won’t buy non-fair trade chocolate at all.
  • When? Immediately.

We did make this switch completely and immediately. Calming my biggest chocolate-related worry, I found fair trade milk chocolate (Sunspire), and tonight, as I write, my children and I are going to make chocolate chip cookies with fair trade semi-sweet chocolate chips that come in bulk in our local conscious grocery. (What do we call those now? Used to be a “health food store,” but it is just our grocery store.)

Where Is The Truth In Environmental Claims

Engage yourself in a short conversation before you follow marketing pitches this week to “green your life” or “lower your impact” or “don’t listen to those other guys because we’re telling you the truth.”

The truth in your choices is in your values. It doesn’t work to just say that everyone should make the same choices. Yes, there are observable, material impacts to our actions that should be taken into account. Yes, laziness can often drive our values. If we can overcome our tendencies to avoid change (“Oh, I just don’t know if I could use reusable toilet wipes.”) or difference (“If I wear my baby in a sling, people might look at me.”), we ought to land somewhere in the area of choices that will actually lower our impact. I might add insulation to my walls and attic while you take the train. I might buy a reusable water bottle while you turn your compost. These aren’t comparable choices. We each have to make our own choices, and we won’t know which are the right choices unless we wake up and ask ourselves.

May your resolve be strong and your consciousness engaged this week so you don’t fall for every call.

Image © Vladmax |

Marketing Food to Kids – FTC Report

The Food Renegade posted today on an FTC report on hearing about food marketing to children.

Conclusion of the report? Voluntary standards for advertisers.

I want to give the benefit of the doubt, but I’m just too cynical. As long as there is profit to be made from marketing sugar, fat, and salt—and long-term profits from hooking children early—won’t advertisers continue? Tell me NO if you must, but I require proof on this one.

Forum on Food Marketing to Children

Since our post last week on what parents can do about children and consumerism, I see crazy and questionable marketing to children everywhere. Granted, tis the season to sell to children, but I’ve been really surprised what I see now that my eyes are open wider.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission will hold a public forum in Washington, DC, on December 15th that will include impact of food marketing on children, self-regulatory efforts of food and entertainment industries, and recommended nutritional standards for marketing to children. Read more at Parents for Ethical Marketing.

While you are there, learn about this great group and check out their fabulous list of resources on (resisting) marketing to children.

Green Certifications: Do Consumers Care?

half-leaf-300The same day I posted the whys and meanings of green certifications, I caught a link to a report that says that consumers pay little or no attention to the certifications. Consumers don’t trust the trustmarks. That is disheartening for those who are trying to do right by consumers—or even those who are looking for an effective marketing tool.

For familiarity, three U.S. government seals rank highest:

  • Recyclable (89% familiar),
  • Energy Star (87% familiar), and
  • USDA Organic (62% familiar).

Familiarity is one thing, but does the seal influence purchase? Some do:

  • Energy Star (31% always),
  • Recyclable (20% always),
  • USDA Organic (8% always), and
  • Smart Choice (7% always).

The most interesting point to me was the fact that most trustmarks fail to drive sales—most. To which consumers do the seals and certifications connect? To the “Enlighteneds.” According to this particular segmentation of consumers, there are: Enlighteneds (10% of consumers), Aspirationals (20%), Practicals (30%), and Indifferents (40%).

Enlightened consumers are the most driven by their values when making purchasing decisions and will go out of their way to reward companies who align with their social goals. Aspirationals are more likely to balance their ideals with convenience and often switch between social concerns, availability and price when making purchasing decisions. Practicals are looking for convenience and prioritize products based on price, quality and energy efficiency. Indifferents are the least motivated by social concerns and prioritize price, quality, convenience and products manufactured in the United States.” From Food Marketing Institute.

Want to hear the rest of the story? You can order the Conscious Consumer Report for only US$2,495. Knowledge can loses its appeal when you check the price tag.

Given the 400+ seals, there is a danger that seals and certifications will become so diluted that they are meaningless. Maybe they already are. When I saw the row of seals on a booth at the ABC Kids Expo, I thought, “Wow, they have a lot of certifications.” When I checked more closely, there were NO certifications. The seals represented memberships and affiliations. This isn’t meaningless, of course, but it was a let down.

There are times that certifications matter. As an example, coffee growers and marketers have made it really clear that there are three relevant certifications: organic (important for the health of the fields and the workers), fair trade (which indicates where profits go, that workers are owners not serfs on plantations), and shade grown (which is important for the workers). In this case, consumers who are concerned tend to be well educated about the three important seals to look for.

What seals and certifications matter in buying products for your family? As I wrote earlier, this will depend where your own values lead you, but it is worth seeking out those products that meet your expectations and aspirations. It may be worth it to you to reward those companies who make an effort to let you know more about themselves and their products through memberships and pledges as well as certifications.

In the next installment, I will go through some of the seals you may see when buying products for your baby and family.

See also:

Image © Budda |

Do I Want This Green Thing?

I guess you can’t fault WebMD for their transparency. In a recent article on baby diapers, they found that neither reusable cloth diapers nor throwaway disposable diapers is a clear winner. This article is framed by five logos and banners and two funding statements. Who sponsors WebMD? Huggies. They are very open about it. And they still found it a toss up? If they had asked Real Diaper Association or Real Diaper Industry Association to sponsor their article (I asked—they didn’t), I wonder how that would have tipped the balance.

Sources unfamiliar with real diaper choices

Part of the problem comes in seeking opinions from those who favor throwaway diapers. Especially in a difficult economy, when they receive funding or samples from only one type of product, which do you think they would favor? Would you ask a pediatrician pushing free baby formula samples whether you should breastfeed or formula feed your baby? Breastfeeding advocates are working to educate those health care providers to rebel against choices that are clearly not better for babies. Cloth diaper advocates have started a similar project to expose childbirth educators to cloth diapers. If health care providers are going to be the source for so much parenting advice, they need to be educated by more than big business with an interest in high turnover and big profit.

The faulty logic of comparing apples to oranges

Just because two different products are both called diapers does not make them comparable. You can’t even really compare a reusable polyester pocket diaper with a microfiber insert to an organic cotton diaper and a wool soaker. They have a similar intended end result, but they are not the same product. This has been a problem with studies and superficial articles that attempt to make comparisons between any two kinds of diapers. What works for any family depends on their own values and needs.

It also amuses me when I see people try to put transportation on cloth diapers as an issue. The new article falls prey to the failure of follow-through logic when it claims that “commercial diaper service delivery trucks consume fuel and create air pollution.” I’m thinking the person who wrote this might be thinking back to another era. Most diaper services today are small and lean. Ask around and see if they laugh when you ask about “commercial delivery trucks.” May I just ask, how did those plastic bags of disposable diapers arrive on store shelves. Did the delivery guys carry them in giant reusable bags on public transit? Were they flown in on the wings of eagles? Uh, no. Massive pallets of disposable diapers are shipped from their offshore manufacturing facilities by sea freight and by commercial delivery trucks. You get the picture, right? Any time you buy a product in a store, you need to add transportation costs. If you use a diaper service, diapers are delivered long-distance one time to the service. The rest of the deliveries are local, which means there are fewer environmental costs to the transportation than deliveries of disposable diapers, since every bag of disposable diapers a parent buys have to be shipped very long distances. The argument that cloth diapers require more energy to transport begs a reader to be blind to the manufacture and delivery of disposable diapers the way they are to the waste of disposable diapers. The argument is tired to the point of being worn out. I would expect more education and clarity from a health care provider.

Another part of the problem is in seeing all cloth diapers as equal. Studies in the UK a few years ago fell into this trap. They took the highest impact cloth diapers and compared them with the lowest impact disposable diapers, found an overlap in environmental impact, and called it a tie. Obviously, that kind of logic is flawed as well. If you want to lower the impact of your cloth diapers, you can easily pull cloth diapers far out of reach of disposable diapers where the environmental impact doesn’t come close to overlapping.

The question about cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers isn’t about logic, though. It isn’t even a question except among those who want to push disposable diapers or those who buy into their terms. This is a question of marketing, branding, money, and profit. Where is the big money? You know the answer. The big money knows that if you make an advertisement a nice, light spring green and put a leaf on it, the part of your brain that bypasses logic will associate that product with nature. That’s nice, isn’t it? Your not-quite-conscious voice says, “I like nature, so I’m going to buy that bag of plastic diapers because it contains some organic cotton somewhere deep inside with the superabsorbent polymers and other petrochemical products.” Well, your voice might stop short of that, but it might get halfway there to say, “I’ll buy the green thing.” That’s why it’s a good idea to bring this into your all-too-conscious mind to ask, is that green thing really green or have I just been a sucker for greenwashing, what SourceWatch calls “unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue.”

If you are looking for facts about cloth diapers, check the people who know about cloth diapers. Look at Real Diaper Associations real diaper facts, all from published studies. They are a nonprofit dedicated to cloth diaper education. If you want to know about disposable diapers, ask the people who make them what they are made out of. If a product says natural, figure out what that means and how much of the product it represents. Check out their MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) for all of the ingredients, and ask if these are the materials you want to put on your baby’s sensitive bottom. Pull it all into your logical mind and ask, what is this green thing and do I really want this for my baby?

Thanks to Real Diaper Association Executive Director Heather McNamara, who tweeted about this article yesterday. From there, the news spread quickly. (If Twitter is still a foreign language to you, look for a quick Twitter intro in our post last week.)