Archive for the 'consumerism' Category



Right, That Laptop

Let me help you up off that cliff. Where were we? I bought a laptop. I thought it would be difficult to balance my not-so-demanding computing needs and my wish to shop earth-consciously. It turned out to be pretty simple. The steps:

1) Set a target price. I didn’t want to spend more than $750, based on some tooling around a couple of online retailers and my personal financial goals.

2) Asked the Gentleman Friend for recommendations on brands, and tech websites. He’s quite into this sort of thing, so it was tough reminding him that I need a lot less machine than he does. A lot like trying to buy bike gear from an Intense Biking Person, when really you just need a Huffy.

3) Waded into the Green-Tech rankings. I checked EPEAT first. This was a bit of a mistake, since EPEAT rates individual machines. Greenpeace rates manufacturers overall, so i should have started with them. The model I ended up with is actually not rated at the EPEAT site yet, but the manufacturer has gotten silver and a few gold ratings for all of their rated products. The EPEAT Criteria are here. Models are rated on how well the company reports materials used and avoids some hazardous chemicals, among other things. Manufacturers have to mreet 23 basic criteria to get Bronze, all the basics and 50% of the 28 optional criteia. Gold laptops need 75% of the optional criteria as well as the basics. Toshiba, Dell, HP, and Lenovo all make has Gold-rated laptops. My price limit eliminated a good deal of the gold models. Not that they’re expensive, it’s just, $750 is not very much to pay for a laptop.

I checked Greenpeace next. Apparently, they do much more than harass whaling vessels. Their rankings deal with chemicals, reporting on materials, and takeback recycling options that companies offer. Toshiba gets top rankings, along with Samsung. Dell, Lenovo, Nokia and Sony come in “second”. Greenpeace found room for everyone to improve, though, of course.

Given how many different machines EPEAT needs to review to get their rankings to be really useful, I think Greenpeace might have the better idea ranking by manufacturer’s overall practices. So I decided to decide by that. Toshiba, Dell, and Lenovo seemed to rise to the top of the rankings where I was looking. Toshiba and Dell turned out to be a bit much for my budget. Plus, I’m no tech snob, but I’m a tech snob about Dells. They’ve got Linux models now, and they are doing good work with ecoing-up the ante, but I’m a tech snob about Dells.

4) I decided. I found out the good things about Lenovo just in time. After some research at newegg, I had picked an Acer and a Lenovo. Seduced by the 17 inch screen, I almost opted for the Acer- until I saw the Greenpeace rankings. Ah-ha! Thank you Greenpeace, for quantifying my principles for me. I opted for the 15 inch Lenovo. It was no longer for sale. What? I had to look around again, but I found a less-expensive, and less fast (2GB vs 3GB RAM) Lenovo Y510 at MicroCenter, which is a less-ubiquitous kind of Best Buy, as far as I can tell. And I pick up my new little $620 friend tomorrow morning, since he was in stock.

I’m excited, but I’ve also decided to switch to Linux myself this time around. So I’m anticipating a few glitches before I get the hang of Ubuntu. I’ll keep my old computer around for a few days while the helpful GF gets me through that. Which is really just a way of saying that you’ll have to find out how I’m eco-disposing of my old rig in a couple of days! Back over the cliff, now. Hang tight.

I Bought A Laptop

I’ve been waiting for six years to say that.  I’m still using the desktop and CRT monitor that I took to first year of college.  I’ve gotten used to the hum of the CRT, the whir of the fan, and carrying that sucker up flights of stairs in the 14 times I’ve moved since then.  But she’s starting to object to opening web pages, so it’s time for a new beginning. 

So computers are even worse than the fashion industry for engineered obsolesence.  At least we know that every twenty to forty years, what we wore last year will be fashionable again for a bit.  Not so with computers, or phones, or music players- stupid Moore’s Law, making stuff all faster and more powerful.  Now, I’m no luddite.  Catch a luddite blogging!  (Then call them a hypocrite.)  I just don’t demand very much from my technology.  I’m not a power user, I don’t play computer games. All I want is a speedy computer to check email, write some things, and keep my photos on.  Fortunately, the toasters they make nowadays can do all that, so I’m golden.

I think we’re pretty inured to the idea that a computer is just funl, or just work- a complicated tool- and forget their environmental impacts.  They draw tons of power (especially as much as they’re on now, even if they are getting more efficient) and are manufactured from plastic, chemicals, toxic stuff, and all sorts of hard-to-reuse-or-recycle items.  What did you do with the last machine you got rid of?  Did you throw it out, or recycle it?  Was there a program available from the manufacturer to take it back?  As early as 2002, Wired was writing about the need to prevent computers frrm sitting in landfills, here or in China, leaking mercury and lead.

Fortunately, manufacturers and regulators have gotten on that problem, and now with the whole “green” thing, there’s even a host of ratings systems that compare how companies design, manufacture, ship, and recycle their products.  I wrote about the EPEAT ratings a while ago, and Greenpeace scores manufacturers (Apple, HP, Dell, Lenovo) on cradle-to-the-grave machine management.  Verdant Computing rates products they offer on a few different sustainable criteria.  Greener Computing is an industry-oriented website with some interesting articles on ecologically sound IT, including on the burdens of recycling programs for manufacturersSoftchoice is also more for IT professionals, but it links EPEAT-certified hardware for sale.  There’s plenty of information out there if you want to find out how your computers are made, and what options you have when they’re obsolete.

Maybe that’s why it took me 8 months to research this purchase.

So chew on that, and I’m going to leave you with a cliffhanger tonight what I decided, and what I’m going to do with my old one.  Dun dun DUN!

Target’s Ec(l)othing Line

Speaking of oddly fictional-sounding names, Rogan Gregory has designed a line of clothing made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and linen that Target will get on the shelves tomorrow. Like, 100% organic cotton, not like “we were thinking really hard about organic cotton when we made this”. They’ve even put up a little video (mid-page) with the design team and pictures of solar panels and windmills, so you know it’s environmentally friendly.

I’m stoked they’re using their purchasing power to make organic cotton viable for mass-production, and that they’re slipping it into the mainstream mass “fashion”. Unfortunately, Rogan seems to equate “nature-friendly fashion” with “animal prints”, which aren’t so much my thing, and some of the clothing looks pretty typically trendy. But I’ll check it out, and use my purchasing power to encourage this sort of behavior if they have anything nice. If you’re avoiding them because of their typical bad big-box ways, consider reconsidering for this, if you like any of the organic stuff. Positive reinforcement works best with babies and dogs, so hopefully it’ll do well for Target, too.

More detailed information and pictures of the “looks” are here, along with pricing information.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad

My parents celebrated their 25th anniversary with us this weekend. It’s a good time to point out that a big chunk of my inspiration for all this sustainability stuff was their doing. I was raised composting, hanging washing on the line to dry, and freezing all winter since the thermostat was set so low. One of the big taboos at home was leaving the bathroom light on.

This was all very annoying when I was a child. Sweaters indoors seemed like a way lame plan- why did we invent indoor heating anyway?- and I got pretty sick of hearing about how much electricity the drying machine used. I just wanted fluffy towels like in the commercials.

Tonight I’ve got my washing on a rack in the spare room, and seeds soaking downstairs to be planted tomorrow, and the heat’s been off for weeks- I’ve been wearing a sweater all day. I shut off the lights in the kitchen and bathroom compulsively. This is all my parent’s fault.

Mom and Dad taught me to live frugally, to distinguish between my wants and needs, and to budget. They taught me how small things can add up- especially in electric bills. They taught me to keep myself busy without a tv. They taught me to make things with my own hands. They taught me to go outside and play. They taught me not to waste anything. They apparently taught me better than I realized.

So thanks, guys, for living together so wisely and well for the last 25 years. You’ve been the best role models we could want, and we’re working on living up to your example.

Fast Flip-Flop How-To

Actually they’re not flip-flops, really, they’re nuno-zories. At her blog, Ecosamurai has translated the instructions and posted some in-process pictures of her new-no zories. (Har har! Forgive me.) They’re adorable and so practical! Having just spent way longer than I meant to in a shoe store, I do feel the need to sit down and contemplate life and consumer choices while weaving my own from all those free teeshirts that I no longer have space for. Plus, making a pair of these will isolate you from dirty floors- you’ll never sweep again, or suffer while waiting for someone else to do it first.

Thanks for the post, ecosamurai!

I’m adding it to my list of handmade things to do. And in a couple of days, I promise pictures of what I’ve done so far.

Four Bucks for Cashmere?

At the 4 dollar sweaterSalvation Army, yes. I found this sweater there this afternoon while I was dropping off a load of unnecessary apartment stuff, and had to share. So classy and soft, and if the price and quality won’t convince you to browse your local second hand shop, nothing will. Finding something at a thrift store is way more exciting than finding something at a normal retailer- the element of surprise, the thrill of the chase, etc. Less chance of getting a winner, true- I saw plenty of ugly sweaters made with gorgeous yarn, so maybe next time I’ll try out this advice on recycling sweaters I found through another blog (which I’ll link soon, they’re nifty).

After that ecofriendly success, I balanced my day by getting caught in a rainstorm on my walk home from work, while carrying my bag of groceries. Fortunately it was the perfect warm evening and light rain, and I only stepped in the big puddle and soaked my socks a few hundred yards from my door. But it was a good reminder that practical hippies should carry umbrellas.

The Vicinity of My Head

From recently inside my head, two quick follow-ups, then a review of external bits:

First, still on the fence about buying into Valentine’s day? Reuter’s has a dampening article on the child labor and human trafficking that go into producing much of the world’s cocoa, harsh chemicals dumped on roses and inhaled by farm workers, and those crazy war diamonds. Get off the fence and try something else! If the dear heart’s heart is set on chocolate, check out fair trade chocolate options. (My head? It is now salivating.)

Second, Mike Bloomberg is chastising the US government for promoting corn ethanol as a viable fuel. Sure, it’s interesting because I talked about it yesterday (sensing a pattern in this post?), but Bloomberg has also been flirting with running for president this year. Fred Thompson has already shown us the pitfalls of merely flirting with the idea, though, and the rash (yes, rash) of interesting primary action will probably make late entries into the race less interesting by comparison. But the loud green mayor of NY seems to want to make his voice heard on the national stage, and if he’s got a message like this, let’s hear some more.

Finally, let us turn our heads to my shampoo (masculine types are dismissed, unless they’re looking for tips on how to smell not so, well, dude-like).

avalon organics shampooI’ve been trying out a few ecofriendly shampoos, and it’s been a rough process. Literally. Whole Foods brand grapefruit shampoo and conditioner left my hair feeling unwashed and unconditioned. Plus, they smell sickly-sweet. Avalon Organics has a Lavender shampoo and conditioner that smell good- like real lavender, not the fake lavender scent. Their shampoo takes a lot of work to lather (it’s not my water’s fault) and their conditioner, while promising to nourish, leaves my hair brittle even when I let it sit a while. If you like the smell, the lack of animal testing, and the “100% vegetarian ingredients”, give the shampoo a try and avoid the conditioner- though the latter might work better for you if your hair is short or oily.

trader joes conditionerReally, though, you can skip the other two brands altogether and check out Trader Joe’s store brand. Their conditioner actually conditions– and I’ve got long, curly, slightly dry hair, so that’s a tough proposition. It’s $2 a bottle, smells fantastic, wasn’t tested on animals, and it’s got mostly organic ingredients. It does contain a couple parabens, which haven’t been proven to cause breast cancer in anything. Natural health people add an ominous “yet” to that statement. Avalon Organics consciously avoids them, but hey: Avalon Organics hasn’t produced a working conditioner yet, so. I’ll keep testing. (If you can’t wait for me to come up with another suggestion, try the comments at Green as a Thistle‘s similar post.)


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