Category Archives: shopping

5 Reasons to Attend Green Festival

Green Fest Banner NYCWhen we think of festivals, we oftentimes think of a community celebration – typically centered on music, food, or art. So it’s apropos that the “largest and longest-running sustainability and green living event” in America is the Green Festival®. Attendees enjoy music, food, and art as well as education and “green” products/services. Over the past 13 years it’s grown into more than a festival – it’s Festival Plus.

Green Festival visits five U.S. cities each year: New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. Chicago’s Navy Per is the next stop, with more than 250 businesses showing their wares over three days. We’ve attended several times in Washington.

Here are the five reasons it’s worth going.

 1. Green Festival Exhibit Floor DCSustainable Stuff. I’m always amazed at the range of exhibitors and presentations as well as the quality of the food and products in the marketplace. On the exhibit floor, there’s everything from Ford showing its latest electric and hybrid cars to a small natural soap maker called The Fanciful Fox. You’ll see brands you know, such as Clif Bar, and many you don’t. We talked with some of the vendors who were still operating out of their homes. And there are many free samples!

2. Ideas. The event is also a great chance to learn new things about living sustainably. The upcoming Chicago event, for example, has almost 50 speakers – including authors, filmmakers, politicians, musicians, and scientists. Ralph Nader spoke at the Washington event. There were 83 speakers at the recent Los Angeles festival. Topics range from gardening to yoga to solar power.

GFCommunityAward3. Awards. Green Festival offers a Community Award at each location – a $5,000 grant awarded to a deserving local non-profit, chosen by the public on-site at the festival and online. Selected at the Washington D.C. event was The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, which is dedicated to creating a more equitable and sustainable local food system in the Washington, DC area.

4. Low Cost. Admission is reasonable and family friendly at only ten bucks per person (16 and under free, discounts to seniors and students). Volunteers enjoy free admission.

Kids Activities NYC5. Children and Adult Friendly. There’s a play area, puppet shows, dancing, plus plenty of products geared to children. And with kids (and adults like me) it’s always great to have a ready source of inexpensive and tasty food (some spicy!) nearby. Plus fashion shows, musical performances, and more for the grownups.

Green Festival is a fun way to learn more about sustainable living, through food, music, art, shopping, and discussions.

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Happy Green Year!

14472145-new-year-2013-on-the-beachIn this new year, about half of adults make resolutions; many of us have resolved to lose weight, exercise more, and otherwise make improvements in ourselves.

According to history.com, the practice of making resolutions began about 4000 years ago, with the ancient Babylonians. They figured resolutions to pay off debts and return borrowed equipment would help them fare better with the gods.

The blog 43Things shares that, “a University of Washington study found 47 percent of the 100 million adult Americans who make resolutions give up on their goals after two months. This figure has grown to 80 percent in the past decade, according to recent research completed at the University of Minnesota.”

How can we keep resolutions? One of the Washington study’s lead researchers suggests:

  • Have a strong initial commitment to make a change.
  • Have coping strategies to deal with problems that will come up.
  • Keep track of your progress. The more monitoring you do and feedback you get, the better you will do.

Of course, there’s also an app for helping you keep resolutions.

And you are likely to fail when you are:

  • Not thinking about making resolutions until the last minute.
  • Reacting on New Year’s Eve and making your resolutions based on what’s bothering you or is on your mind at that time.
  • Framing your resolutions as absolutes by saying, “I will never do X again.”

What about green resolutions? None of these will change the world, but we can all help. I scoured the Internet for decent green resolutions, but none of the lists caught my attention. I’m not big on making resolutions – I try to live every day in a mindful way as much as I can. It’s better to do a little bit than nothing at all. So here is my reluctant list that I think is reasonable for about anyone to easily achieve in 2013:

  1. Grow something. Plant a tree or a tomato plant. It’s simple. Of course plant the big garden if you can; the food we grow ourselves is the best food we can eat.
  2. Educate yourself and others. Maybe you worry about climate change. Perhaps your passion is organic food or fighting GMOs. Learn something and teach others; you will benefit and so will others.
  3. Eat less meat. Better for the planet and for your health.
  4. Think of water as gold. Water is the key to our survival yet many of us take it for granted. Related to this – ditch bottled water because the plastic used for them is staggering.
  5. Buy less. What can be easier than not doing something?
  6. Of course, you have to buy some things. Buy fair trade and local. Go to the farmer’s markets and Join a CSA. And bring your own bags to the store!
  7. Read this blog.

Start whenever you want. Let others know what you’re doing. Let us know about your progress at themindfulconsumer [at] gmail [dot] com or on facebook.com/themindfulconsumer.

 

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HallowGreen

It’s a few weeks until that unique holiday that somehow relates warding off death with costumes and candy. A head-scratcher for sure, yet Halloween purportedly has its origins 2000 years ago in an ancient Celtic festival celebrated on the night of October 31. That night, Celtics wore costumes to ward off what they believed were ghosts returning from the dead. They also built large bonfires to offer sacrifices to the Celtic gods.

Now, largely secular, Halloween is a significant boo-ming business for costume and candy companies. According to a History.com article, in the U.S. people spend an estimated $6 billion annually on Halloween, making it the country’s second largest commercial holiday. With all of this consumption, what about the affects on the environment?

Besides the obvious challenges of candy and its affects on health, candy presents challenges to consumers concerned with fair trade and sustainability. Chocolate is particularly troublesome, with ties to slave and child labor in the harvesting of cocoa. GoodGuide uses scientists and other experts to provide “the world’s largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of consumer products.” Its candy evaluations show you options that might be greener than your normal choices.

Costumes are sold in the large box stores as well as specialty retailers. There are of course even costumer-only stores open in the weeks preceding the holiday. Like wedding dresses, many of these costumers get worn once. Children “need” to be different characters each year or the costumer from last year just doesn’t fit. However, these store-bought costumers and masks can be spooky in other ways. The EcoWaste Coalition tested a variety of Halloween products and results showed high levels of heavy metals such as antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury in some of the samples. Fortunately, one can make their own costume. There are many do-it-yourself costume ideas online. You could also arrange a costume swap with other parents to trade. Or find a swap event on the National Cotume Swap Day site. Consignment and thrift stores might be sources of costume parts. Some communities hold costume design contests with focus on using recycled and sustainable materials. Finally, don’t throw it away when there are people who want but can’t afford costumes for their children.

Pumpkins are great fun to carve and see lit up. Buy those grown at a local farm if you can, rather than those shipped from distant lands. Using beeswax candles is more environmentally friendly than using paraffin-based candles. You can use the innards of the pumpkin to eat – both the seeds and pulp can be tasty. When it’s all over, the shell can be composted rather than thrown in the garbage; some communities even offer pumpkin recycling. So don’t just throw it away – there are many things you can do instead.

So while it can be intimidating to get ready for Halloween, don’t be scared about trying to be green on this black holiday.

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Moving Day

Moving can be green!

Ron and I have had to move every year for the last three years and I think I’ve become quite an expert at it. We are always trying to find more eco-friendly ways to move, so here are a few ways we saved money, and practiced sustainable ideas at the same time.

1. Packing supplies. Besides using our old newspapers, we also used some of the things we move as padding! Things like towels, blankets, and other things we need to move helped as padding for the packages- its free and it saves space. If you use a moving service, watch out for the ones that wrap everything in that non-reusable plastic wrap. Not only is it a hidden extra cost, it is not needed and gets thrown out immediately after you unpack.

2. Boxes. There are some really cool companies that rent plastic boxes, deliver them to your home, and pick them up at the new place. I would have loved to try one of these services, but I started packing a month before the move, so this wasn’t a viable option for me. There are lots of places to get free boxes, from Craigslist and Freecycle, to recycling bins behind shopping centers, to grocery and liquor stores. Some of my favorite size boxes are wine boxes from the liquor store, and I usually get quite a few good, free, used boxes from there. It may look to my neighbors that I am quite the party animal, as I carry wine box after wine box in the house, but I’m just being green! When you are done with your boxes, recycle them, or even better- pass them on to someone else who is moving.

3. Paring down. You will save your back, your space, and your sanity by using moving time as a way to get rid of stuff you don’t need or want. I consider trash as the last option for something I don’t want, but first I see if I can sell it, donate it, give it away, or recycle it. Someone is usually looking for exactly what I don’t want any more, and instead of stuff going in to the landfill, we can actually make a transfer of goods fairly easily.

4. Buying furniture. While looking for a new couch, a furniture salesman explained to us that the leather used in a couch was “green” because it was just the hyde from the cows that are used for meat. While Ron and I don’t eat meat, and thought that was a strange definition of green, there are ways to get more eco friendly furniture. Many companies are now specializing in more eco friendly materials, but my favorite eco-friendly furniture by far is used! I found two beautiful 1920’s wooden chairs at the thrift store (2 for $30) that, when looking up the maker’s mark, are beautiful American made furniture that sells for a pretty penny in the antique market- not even Ikea can beat those prices! You don’t need to go to an expensive antique store to get good furniture, often times I find it at second-hand shops. Check consignment shops, thrift shops, antique shops. By buying used you can save money, and there is zero carbon footprint for already produced items, and oftentimes furniture was made better years ago.

So beautiful, so green, so cheap!

While moving can be a pain, you can make it green by making some small changes in your actions. Move on!

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Benefits of Buying Local: Our Weekend Away

Ron and I went on a weekend away in Harrisonburg, Virginia after original plans went askew. Although we did not plan it this way, we sure did a lot of local buying on our mini weekend getaway. We stayed at a privately owned cabin (The Dry River Cabin http://www.vrbo.com/391297 ) and instead of talking with a woman behind the counter of a corporately owned hotel, we were greeted by the owner of the cabin, who had already gotten the fire in the fireplace started, and wanted to make sure we had a nice weekend. It was also so much cheaper than some hotel somewhere… or rather, the hotel would could have gotten for the price of the cabin would not be the type of hotel we’d WANT to relax in. Our cabin was comfy, one of a kind, and just the beginning of supporting local spending.

Our cabin had a full kitchen, and so we headed off to the farmer’s market to get a few things (http://harrisonburgfarmersmarket.com/ ). We were both surprised that in January, in Virginia, the farmer’s market was bustling with good stuff. Locally made raw-milk cheeses (my favorite), vegan lentil soup, and all those good earthy vegetables like radish, carrots, potatoes, and onions abound. I love Farmers Markets because you can ask questions (“What’s a kohlrabi? How do you cook it?”) straight to the farmers and producers. These farmers were bundled up on this frosty day, but there was loads of different things to buy, and everyone seemed to be in a great mood. Sometimes living in the Washington D.C. Area can get a person a little entitled, believing their particular area is where progress of the nation is, but I’ve got to say- their farmer’s market in January sure beat anything local in my area! After picking up the cheese, and soup, we also took home some sprouted grain bread, a sinful pecan bar, free range eggs, blackberry jam, potatoes, carrots, and onions. By buying these things locally, we were able to give the money straight to the producer of the goods, and getting the food local means fresher, healthier, and better food. Plus, it’s just plain old more fun than the grocery store. The local restaurant co-op that we only had the pleasure of one meal at had many items on the menu from local farms, plus a great vegetarian menu that made us both wish we could have had more meals there (http://littlegrillcollective.com/ ). A restaurant co-op means those who work in the restaurant own it, and the giant tip jar on the counter means the money is shared with everyone.

Later we stumbled upon a historical mill (http://silverlakemill.com/ )which had a gift shop with local artisan work. I brought home a rug made on a hand-loom from an 86 year old local woman who has been weaving since she was a child. The kicker is that it really wasn’t too much more expensive than its over-seas mass produced counterpart. I have to admit that I am an antique junkie and hardly a shop passed without at least a browse while we were there. The items I have in my house that always get the most comments are the antiques that I’ve found either at antique, or thrift shops. Antiques are great because they hold nostalgia, can be inexpensive depending on your fancy, create no carbon footprint as they are already produced, and its like a treasure hunt finding them. I walked in to The Pottery Barn the other day and could not believe the items that were meant to look like antiques that were more expensive than the actual antique, produced in China, and anyone could pick one up! Antique shops are independently owned, and your money goes straight to the seller. We stopped by a local winery (the third oldest in the state) (www.shentel.net/shenvine/) and it ended a perfect weekend of mindful spending.

A vacation (even a weekend away) is an opportunity to vote with your wallet. Instead of chain restaurants and grocery stores, we chose the farmers market, and individually owned restaurants and hotels. Instead of major retailers, we bought our souvenirs from local artists and antique shops. Shopping local makes sense for the economy, and it makes sense for the purchaser: many options were cheaper than their counterpart, and the money supported what we believed in. A few hundred dollars spent in corporations means little, but a few hundred dollars in to the local economy is truly tangible to the people who live there. Remember that every dollar spent is vote towards what we as consumers agree with.

 

*none of these places payed us to write about them in this article, nor is this really meant to be a commercial to any place in particular, I just included them because I enjoyed them. Local, wonderful shops with these values are everywhere, you just need to seek them out.

 

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Precycling: What the heck is it?

We all know by now what recycling is. We hear the term “reuse” and can deduce it
means using things over and over. But what’s precycling? It is reducing the waste before it even gets in to your house. Cloth shopping bags, less disposable items (we switched to all cloth napkins in the house, and not only are we precycling, but we are impressing our friends who think we are extra fancy). Precycling can also mean not buying something in the first place. Another example of precycling is buying in bulk.Ingredients is a new grocery store opening soon in Austin, TX. It’s one of the first package-free and zero waste grocery stores in the U.S. I heard about it on the PRI podcast, “Living on Earth.” The concept behind the store is simple: shoppers bring their own containers and fill them up with food they want. Cashiers weigh the groceries and customers pay according to the prices of the goods (subtracting the weights of the containers). It’s like using the bulk items section of a grocery store plus using your own containers. No plastic bags on a roll. No wasteful packaging. If you forget your container they have free compostable ones for you to use.So this sounds feasible for dry goods but what about drinks? It turns out the original idea
for the Ingredients store concept was beer and wine. So shoppers can eat, drink, and be
green – all in one shopping venue.If you think this seems too “new age” for you, think about the old general store from the turn of the last century. It carried bulk items, not packaged individually, and one could get what one needed, in the amounts wanted. Packaging lasts longer and has more impacts on the environment than most things sold at the store, and long after the granola bar has been happily eaten, the foil wrapper, and paper box remain.

Precycling is perhaps the most effective way to reduce our footprint on the Earth. For U.S. consumers it is a mostly unfamiliar concept and practice that will take time and education to catch on. However, the benefits are tremendous and come at relatively low cost; so time to change behavior where we can!

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Green Options Shouldn’t be Higher Priced than the Alternatives

Yesterday Sara and I were shopping at the grocery store and one of the things we needed was glass cleaner. Normally I grab the lowest price alternative for an item such as this. However, some labeling pulled my eyes to green alternatives. In some, vinegar is the main ingredient rather than ammonia and chemicals. There were some cleaners from “eco=friendly” companies. But for the same size the cost range was 100 percent different. The least expensive was the store generic brand copycat of the standard blue glass cleaner while the most expensive was the one from the eco-friendly company. I settled on the vinegar-based alternative of one of the leading brands. It’s cost was only 10% higher than the lowest.

But I was irritated in the store. People WANT to use green products, however studies show a much lower proportion actually BUY green alternatives. In one research study, while 40% of consumers indicated they are willing to purchase green products, only 4% of them actually do when given the choice. Well, no wonder; so many are priced higher than the alternatives — and not by a little in many cases. The same study showed 3 of 5 consumers think environmentally friendly alternatives are too expensive. You want organic? Eco-friendly? Fuel efficient? Less packaging? Pay up. It’s as if those pricing products think green is a category about which only the wealthy care.

Of course there are economics involved affecting the product lifecycle. Lower costs can lead to lower prices. Efficiencies in manufacturing the old ways are inherent. Green products might use ingredients that are more expensive. But always? I doubt it. Instead, it seems buyers accept the higher prices so those selling have no motivation to adjust. Relatively low demand for green alternatives might be driven by price differences, especially in this economy.

Back to my glass cleaner experience, perhaps using good old Windex would be fine. SC Johnson claims to now make its Windex glass cleaner with 83% fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Like many companies it has a sustainability initiative that includes a process to classify ingredients based on their affects on health and the environment. Or I could make my own glass cleaner from water, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol.

Sustainability initiatives and green alternatives are meaningful. In addition, manufacturers would be wise to evaluate the longer term effects of their eco-friendly product pricing, considering that more sales and product success will result, at least in part, from a broader consumer base. As long as green alternatives cost more, people will use them less.

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Waste Reduction For the Holiday

The days are getting shorter. The weather is getting colder. Christmas music is permeating every available speaker and Silk Nog is for sale at the store. That’s right- the holiday season is here. According to recycleworks.org, household waste increases by more than 25% during the holiday season: gift wrap, shopping bags, Christmas trees, cards, and food. 70% of people surveyed would like less emphasis on giving and spending. Here are some quick ways to reduce the waste this season.

1. You’ve Got Mail. Send electronic cards instead of those paper ones. An estimated 2.6 billion (BILLION!) Christmas cards are sold in the United States each year. Plus we reduce the energy it takes for the post office to deliver them across the country. American Greetings is one of many companies that does e-cards.

2. Wrap It Up. This year for all our holiday wrapping we used newspaper instead of wrapping paper. Someone had given me a newspaper from Israel, and the newspaper was interesting to look at in a different language, and no one was sad that the glossy, expensive wrapping paper was missing. Reusing gift bags is another way to waste less. We had the same gift bag traded back and forth for years in our family: it was as part of the tradition as anything else.

3. Donate.
What do you get for the person who has everything? Donate to a charity in their name. This is a thoughtful gift that helps rather than wastes. Many charities send beautiful emails or letters letting the person know that money was donated in their name. Perfect for seniors, those in the family you are stumped on what to buy, and for that person who has everything.

4. Cloth over paper. Use cloth napkins instead of paper, and real utensils, plates, and cups instead of their tossable, plastic counterparts. Your parties and special meals will be classier and you will help to keep things out of the landfill.

5. Decorate Green.
Use reusable decorations and an artificial tree. If you must use a live tree, take it to a recycling center where it can be mulched. LED lights use a fraction of traditional Christmas lights and places like CVS, Lowes and Home Depot have a light recycling policy- take your old, non working lights in to be recycled and receive a discount on your LED lights. Make sure to put them on a timer.

6. To Go. Package up food for guests to take home and reduce the incident of leftovers that you won’t eat.

7. Cloth shopping Bags. My mother’s favorite. Take them when you go out shopping and if you feel crafty, they are one of the simplest things to sew- use them in lieu of wrapping paper for your gifts, and you are spreading the green to your loved ones.

8. Think first, buy second. Just because something is on sale does not mean you have to buy it. If you are a compulsive shopper (like me), and purchase something without a giver in mind just because it is a good price, re-evaluate the meaning behind the holidays and put that credit card away. The average amount spent is $800-1000 on holiday gifts. Debt isn’t mindful, it isn’t green, and it isn’t worth it.

Remember, the best memories of the holidays are usually those things that do not have price tags and do not get tossed in the trash instantly. At The Mindful Consumer we wish everyone a safe, restful, and joyful holiday season.

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