Sunday, 24 April 2011

Royal Wedding? It's just like Top Gear

So how much of an ethical wedding do we think William and Kate's wedding is going to be? Well so far top ethical marks can go to the following:

The Ring - using Diana's old ring. A good example of recycling.

The Lights at Buckingham Palace. Despite intense pressure from US media, Buckingham Palace has refused to keep the flood lights on all night. Claiming that not only will it keep people awake but they are worried about the environmental impact of having flood lights on all night.

After Prince Charles banned foie gras from all royal menu's, you can assume this unethical meat will not be on the wedding breakfast menu.

The dress: from what we know of it (i.e. nothing) it is hard to say but likely that it will have been designed by a British designer so points for supporting British fashion industry.

But really there is not much else we can say. It is unlikely to be particularly ethical. All the people travelling from all over the world to attend, watch, report on or just soak up the atmosphere. The people in London who are doing the reverse and flying off somewhere to escape it. The sheer amount of time, energy and money that have gone into it, you can't help but assume there will be a lot of waste and it will have the carbon footprint the size of a small country.

However as this blog is about the consumer, therefore there is little point me commenting further about their big day. I doubt anyone who reads this blog is likely to have a wedding 2 billion people will watch (esp as my mum is already married) So maybe a more apt question about the wedding would be 'How ethical is it for us to like the Royal wedding?'

Opinion seems to be wildly divided to those camping out for days on end to catch a glimpse of the car whizz past, to those hosting a party, to those watching it on TV through to those who don't care and to those who violently oppose it and all it stands for (a lovely chap I work with, who writes a great blog is firmly in the last camp and was outraged when I dared to ask if he would watch it)

In my humble opinion the main reasons to be opposed to it seem to be as follows:

The cost: So we are paying for the
security, policing and street cleaning. OK some have worded it 'we are only paying for the security, policing and street cleaning' but that must still be a fair old whack - some reports estimating it is tens of millions. It's also not just the policing it takes on the day but the policing we have seen in the run up to it too. (As an interesting aside there is far far less written on this subject than I would have thought? Where are all the angry ranty people on this topic?)

Some killjoys have also pointed out the cost to our economy of another bank holiday - clearly though they just need to find more things to fill their spare time with.

The attention it gets: Whilst this week’s media will be dominated by the wedding (and has been for so long now) what else is being pushed off the news bulletin’s? Libya? Ivory Coast? Waves of government cuts? Important debate on the AV vote? Are these matters really worthy of less attention than who did or didn't design Kate's mum's hat?

The Royal Family: Should we have a royal family? Is there a place for them in modern democracy? An unelected woman gets to decide if the Prime Minister can from a government or not. Yes am sure it is all symbolic now and she would never say no but if it is just symbolic then what's the point. They generate millions in tourism each year? Well at the minute am sure that is true and will no doubt cover the cost of above and more but is this really true for the rest of the time? If there was no royal family would people not still come to our country? We would still have the history, the buildings, the heritage, the cities, the countryside?

Despite all this though I think the Royal wedding is just like Top Gear. I want to be against it but somehow can't. I want to be principally opposed to the expense, the waste, the attention on something trivial but just can't. I am dying to see Kate's dress. See what she does with her hair. See just how thin she does or doesn’t look. See her and William say the vows, the crowds, the atmosphere, the excitement, the Queen. I loved seeing the pictures of Regent Street done out with the Union Jacks, love that my corner shop frequently has no milk but has a host of Will and Kate mugs. So come Friday morning I will be sat in front of a TV, drinking champagne out of my Will and Kate mug and tripling my phone bill texting everyone else I know watching it (except Daniel, obviously).

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Who owns what?

It's been a while since we did a good quiz on ethically challenged. And since I saw this fascinating yet slightly depressing article from the Guardian (I never knew Green and Blacks were owned by Kraft. The power of packaging!!) I thought I would give their quiz a quick plug.

See here for the article

or jump straight here for the quiz . I did very badly and clearly know nothing.

Is amazing to see how many products that are marketed as 'small, cool, independent, ethical' products are owned by the big boys. After reading this it does feel a bit like the world is run by Coca-Cola. Sigh!


Friday, 10 December 2010

Santa’s ethical stockings

You may have noticed it has been a while since we blogged. Ages, in fact. No good reason other than work being busy, life being busy, laptop being rubbish, excuses, excuses!
Anyway, inspiration has never left us, and a little bit of free time has arrived!
One frequent reason for moaning on this blog is the almost obsessive way in which the word ‘ethical’ seems to attach itself to ‘hippy’, or ‘mumsy’ or, let’s be honest, ‘big giant organic hemp sack’ that no one with any sense of style would wear.
Imagine our delight, then, when this little inspirational site tweeted its way over to us. Birds&Bees is full of pretty, sexy, fun and, most importantly, ethical underwear. It is all so nice. What I particularly like (other than the pink Fairly Dotty Chemise) is the "Ethically Fabulous Because..." box next to each product's description. It goes on to explain why that particular product earned the brand's ethical label.Take these ‘Pants to Poverty’ pants:

Pants to Poverty use fairtrade and organic cotton, and work proactively with thousands of farmers and factory workers in India.
So many companies seem to whack the term ethical on things without explaining how and why they are considered to be ethical. It is nice to see real transparency about the ethics behind the product.
As well as the lovely underwear, Birds&Bees sells a whole host of ethical products to sexy up your life. They even have the vegan condoms that Renata was talking about a while back. So, happy shopping and and happy blog reading. Now we are back in business, let us know if there is anything ethical you would like us to blog about.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Here’s one we made earlier

Last Sunday, I ran (well, jogged) the Great North Run. Now, whilst this wasn't top of my list of thoughts at the time, one thing the Ethically Challenged should be worrying about is the amount of plastic bottled mineral water used.
We all know there are ethical concerns about mineral water, regardless of its packaging.
Whilst it may be worse to drink bottled water than tap water, it's not as bad as drinks such cola and alcohol. Low-Tech magazine makes an interesitng point when it reminds us of the vast amounts of energy and water used in the production of beer, for example. You can argue this one back and forth forever - and some readers of Low-Tech have done just that, if you care to read their comments. However, the unanimous view is that plastic bottles are no good.
So, if you must use them, what's the greenest way to drink your Evian? Following the environmentalist mantra Reduce, Reuse, Recycle what options are there?
  • Reduce: Where possible, drink tap water instead. No plastic bottle needed. Plan ahead, and take a drink out with you. If you are going to buy bottled water, then think about how much you will need. Could buying a bigger bottle now mean you don’t need to buy a second bottle later/tomorrow?
There are some really cool initiatives around reducing the use of bottles. I love this idea from Paris - trust the French to have a sparkling water fountain in a park! Brilliant. This is quite a radical stance from Italy : tourists in the Italian national park of Cinque Terre have been banned from taking bottles in with them. Instead they pay 1 Euro to buy a reusable metal bottle that can be filled in the local fountains. Rather depressingly, 2 million bottles are left behind every year. Many of them fall down the cliffs and into the sea. Seriously, what is wrong with people? Can you not take your rubbish home with you? (sorry, but I hate people who litter.)

Never one to miss an opportunity to be smug,- sorry, I mean do her bit - Gisele Bundchen is promoting a re-usable bottle that was handed out at the Vancouver Eco Fashion Week, in an attempt to make the event plastic bottle free.
The bottles are now on sale in Canada, and for every purchase, a donation is made to the WaterCan charity, which helps some of the world's poorest people gain access to clean water.
  • Reuse: So, in a desperate situation, where you were on the verge of dehydration, whilst simultaneously choking, and miles away from the nearest tap, you have cracked and bought a bottled drink. While the guilt eats away at you and your friends gasp in shock, you swear that this bottle will last you The Rest of Your Life (God knows, you will be dead long before it biodegrades) Good? Yes, but just make sure you wash it with warm water and maybe don’t use for the rest of your life.
  • Recycle: There is a lot of debate about the level of energy used to recycle plastic. Once recycled, there's not much of a demand for the resulting product, and much of it ends up being shipped off to China in mass fossil fuel burning ships. So, whilst I would never knock recycling, it looks like Reduce and Reuse are the key to limit environmental impact when it comes to drinks bottles.

But this still does not get away from the fact that there will always be situations where you need to buy bottled drinks. When it came to the Great North Run, I know I wouldn't have been able to manage the run without water. Had I tried to carry all my supplies with me in a recycled low carbon vegan reusable bottle, I may have collapsed under its weight before mile 5.

So if you really need to buy bottles, what else can you do with them?

Option 1: (perhaps not for you, average consumer, as you need a lot)
Option 2:
Where there is a product, there is a fashion designer creating. And actually, this waistcoat is quite cool. Not only that, but there are instructions on how to make it yourself. Anyone willing to have a go?
Option 3:
Create a vase. I gave this one a go myself. I will leave it for you to decide if my creative flair is better than Renata's. You may want to check the website for a slightly better version of this.

Option 4:
Make toys for kids. Most of the options when you do detailed research (OK, google) into what you can do with bottles centre around toys for kids. Not really sure how many kids would want to play with a bottle over the x-box, but there are some cute ideas.
However, the best thing you can do is to reduce the use of them. Much like carrier bags, a lot of it is going to come down to remembering to take a reusable bottle out with you. It's only a small change, but it takes a lot of effort to remember. Perhaps I will keep mine with my many 'bag for life' bags. This way, I can trip over them both as I leave the house, then get to my destination and scream with frustration as I realise I forgot them both! Again! Must must try harder with this!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

How Green Is Your Job?

Lucky Londoners endured another underground strike last week.
It was the usual routine: unions and London Transport arguing loudly, the London Mayor using language fit for the Blitz to boost commuters' morale and remind them that Londoners are made of stern stuff; nothing gets us down; let's all cycle happily to work and show them the city will never surrender.
And what better time to appeal to the perceived chin-up character of the locals than the week we marked the 70th anniversary of the German bombing campaign on London?
Scalded by previous disruptions on our loved-yet-hated public transport, I was lucky to be able to work at home and avoid the adventure of commuting without the tube.
I'm not going to comment on the rights and wrongs of this strike - mainly because I cannot find a single right to start the debate. But there is a positive outcome of a day like last Tuesday: many of us did one of two things:
a) discovered we don’t need to be at the office every day to do our jobs. On my work-at-home days, my employer gets 2 extra hours of my outstanding work, for free. I am so grateful to avoid the 36 miles and 2 hours of public transport, I gladly throw in the extra sweat.
b) reconsidered our commute to work. There hasn’t yet been a more popular day for Boris's Bikes - the so far so succcessful bike hire scheme introduced by mayor Boris Johnson. Some of us started considering car pooling. For the more energetic, the wonderful website Walkit offered the nicest walking routes to work. Being deprived of our very expensive underground trains gave us all a little push to green up our commute.

Commenting in The Guardian on the culture of home work, Edward Collier rightly asked himself: Why was your journey to work today? Collier makes the case for home working, and points out its most obvious environmental advantage: reduced fuel consumption.
There are others: you're likely to think twice before printing an 83 page document if it's your own cartridge; no disposable paper cups at home; employers have a chance to reduce office carbon costs with hotdesking and reduced energy consumption.

image: Dr No. MGM Studios.
Thankfully, we’re not yet living in isolated pods, conducting all aspects of our lives through a flicking monitor. There are still plenty of customer facing jobs that don’t really go with remote work. Hospitals, restaurants, building sites, trains or hairdressers, they all need their staff pretty much there. And we all still need to turn up to work occasionally, before we forget how to shake hands or indulge in casual office flirtation.
Could employers do more to improve their green workplace credentials?
Here’s a list of some very easy initiatives most places I’ve worked at will at least have considered:
- recycling bins next to printers.
- replacing disposable cups by real ones. You get the bonus of not tasting paper or plastic with your coffee.
- choosing certified organic coffee and tea suppliers.
- switching off monitors, computers, aircon, lights and heating overnight.
- filling the kettle with just enough water for your tea.

All good small steps. All relying on staff’s goodwill. None requiring a lot of commitment from the employer. This, I believe, is the reason why so few os us adhere to rules which we're quite happy to follow at home. After all, what’s the point of using double-sided printing, if my employer is dumping tons of electronic waste in Ghana?

A recent survey conducted by IBM on 1500 CEOs worldwide revealed that environmental issues come 7th in the list of external factors impacting their organisations. I’d guess Public Opinion is near the top, considering the recent bombardment of BP’s Greenpeace-lookalike adverts aired in America.
But wait. First of the list is Market Factors. This brings me to my favourite nag. You want companies to be socially responsible? Then spend your money accordingly. If consumers demand to know companies’ green credentials before they buy, you can bet Environmental Issues leap up to the top of CEO’s worries.

What about your job? Can you employer do more than reminding you to switch off your monitor overnight – which incidentally, saves them some cash too?
Companies that are serious about sustainability develop an internal culture of environmental awareness.
These are places that promote environmental initiatives and reward employees for showing leadership in that area – be it by running a Green Ideas scheme, or by measuring and showing decrease in energy consumption in a specific branch, perhaps offering subsidised bike purchase.
These are also places that are transparent about the environmental cost of their products - and how they go about cleaning it up - and happy to publish that sort of information to their customers and their employees.
A few examples of such companies are listed in Canada's Greenest Employer award, which recogninses organisations incorporating environmental values into their cultures. If you work in America, you can check Forbe's Greenest Companies list. In the UK, you can pick up tips for greening up your work at A Greener Office, or aim to work at the top earth-friendly employers, according to the Sunday Times 60 Best Green Companies.

As for London Underground, it is showing some effort in reducing the environmental impact of their trains. Let us just hope and pray this is not used as the next excuse for another tube drivers walkout.

If you'd like to know more about the London Underground, please familiarise yourself with the Tube Etiquette before boarding.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Carry On Ethical

picture: Mills&Boon
Incapable of restraining her burning desire any longer, Raquel lost herself into Captain Brannigan's brooding dark eyes, giving in to the delirious pleasure of his touch, and savagely ripping his uniform to reveal the tanned chest she had longed for since their first encounter that afternoon by the stables.
The captain's gentle yet masculine hands left her voluptuous curves for just a moment, to reach for the box next to his bed.
"ARE THOSE CONDOMS NOT VEGAN???!!!???", Raquel demanded to know, incredulous of Alexander Brannigan's lack of concern for farm animals.

This week we've been learning about the world of ethical birth control and safe sex.

So you've managed to go through romance, adventure and a little experimentation without nasty STD surprises or unplanned progeny. Before you feel all conscientious, answer this question: how does your chosen birth control method affect the environment and other people?

If you're on the pill, there's the risk of its impact on river population. Studies have suggested that residues of a synthetic form of the oestrogen hormone found in the pill have a feminisation effect on wild fish, with a detrimental impact on their reproduction.

But hold on to that packet of Mircette. I'll give you 3 reasons:
1. The problem is also linked to other chemicals found in rivers;
2. You could switch to progestin-only pills if you're concerned;
3. The whole problem would disappear with better sewage treatment.

I'm not convinced that the price to pay for a healthy population of wild fish is to open the gates for human population explosion too.

Condoms? The majority of them are made of latex, a natural, fully biodegradable rubber, but: if you're a strict vegan, you may have a problem with the use of milk protein casein in the manufacturing process.

As for frequent concerns raised over the deforestation caused by the latex extraction industry, projects like this one by the UN Development programme and Michelin has shown this can be a sustainable and prosperous activity.

If you're still uneasy about the provenance of your latex, but not a vegan and not at all squeamish, the lambskin condoms could be for you. Yes, in 2010.  Lambskin. Sheeps intestines, to be precise. They are reportedly more comfortable, but their only protection is against unwanted pregnancy. Because of its porous texture, you're still succetible to sexually transmitted diseases. I also hear they have a farm-like smell. If you're into that sort of ambiance.

Female condoms are only available in synthetic, non biodegradable polyurethane. However, they're many women's only opportunity to take control of their sexual health.*

condom wedding dress
To address the needs of frisky vegans, there are casein-free condoms.
Sir Richard's is one of those companies the Ethically Challenged is always delighted to find. Their vegan condoms are not yet made from certified fairtrade latex, but founder Mathew Gerson explains they're currently working with TransFair in the US in order to find an adequate certified fairtrade latex supplier.
But what makes Sir Richard's so special is their 1 for 1 policy: for every condom you buy, another one is donated to Haiti, Thailand and Uganda. These are countries falling very short of meeting the demand of condoms to prevent HIV and other sexually trasmitted diseases, as well as necessary if any national family planning programme has a chance of succeeding.

The role of caseine in the processing of latex is to improve its elasticity. I've asked Sir Richard's what is their solution to ensure their condoms are still comfortable and up for the job, but received no reply so far.

To find out how, I've ordered a packet of their classic ribbed and shall report on their comfort and efficacy after a night of passionate embraces and tempestous romance.

*To find out more about the United Nations Population Fund's campaign in improving reproductive health, visit their website.

Monday, 6 September 2010

And the winner is...

picture: Postman Reading Mail, Norman Rockwell. Saturday Evening Post.

Overwhelmed as we were by the 3 (three) responses to our first of its kind competition, we have now studied all entries and, along with further research, can make an informed decision on how to tackle the mice infestation at home.
Still recovering from coming face to face with the god-awful creature ON MY KITCHEN COUNTER AS I COOKED, I summoned the 2 lazy, ungrateful cats and discussed our options.

option 1: do the job you were put on this world to do and keep pests away from my home. Which is an arrangement that always worked fine, with the occasional nocturnal offering of an agonising pigeon, wings still flapping, hoping against hope for a way out.

In the past month, however, I have witnessed - despite the failing eyesight - 3 bouncing, free-raging mice, going about their business, undisturbed by the resident felines.
JonJon the cat cited Health and Safety concerns as chief motivator behind industrial aciton.
Under scrutiny, Johhny mumbled something about early retirement, while Carmela opted for giving me the How Dare You look and left the room.

Fine, be like that. I don't need you anyway.

option 2: call a pest controller, leave the house for a week and never ask any questions. Perhaps receive an anonymous call one morning: "Mrs R, job done. He won't be bothering you no more". Click. And just go on with our lives, erasing the episode forever from our memories."

option 3: accept that option 2 may be cause suffering on an animal that has no idea just how pathetically scared it makes me feel. With that newfound compassion, look for humane solutions.

I must confess I am having a hard time caring about the well-being of an animal I find repulsive and terrifying. For the last couple of weeks, I became convinced that the old urban myth of city residents never being more than 20 feet away from a rat is not so much of a myth after all. I really am starting to get quite paranoid with the figure of one rat per urban resident in my head. According to Robert Sullivan, author of Rats, this figure is more like one rat per 30 households. He should know, after spending a year in very close company to New York City’s rats to write a book about them. But I’m afraid I am well past the rational stage, after my recent close encounters.

I’m also beginning to fear my beloved compost bin will have to go. Are they the cause of this invasion? Having never quite forgotten the horrific tale told by Melanie Reid in the Times last year, I am counting myself lucky to get away with mice rather than full blown rats.

Always for the sake of this blog, I shall stick to option 3, though.

Mice and rats are the preferred option for lab testing because their anatomy and genome - and pain threshold - are very close to ours. With that in mind, the old mechanical snap trap starts looking like medieval torture and is out of the contest.

At the same time, start getting too friendly to rodents and you also risk learning more than you probably want to know about a catalogue of diseases.

For reasons that I prefer not to question, there are people out there keeping hamsters, mice, rats and gerbils for pets. But these have been bred under sanitatry conditions and vaccinated. A mouse infestation is different. If they've been in contact with wild rodents, your intruders could bring along leptospirosis, salmonella, hantavirus, hemorrhagic fever, to name a few unsavoury companions. While we don't exactly risk going through the black death again, and the bacteria responsible for the plague is treatable with antibiotics, the World Health Organization still registers regular outbreaks of the disease in a few African countries and in India, as well as isolated cases in America.

picture: Psycho. Universal Pictures.
Another reason we urgently need to deport Mickey and his family is the neighbours, who have now petitioned to have us removed should the screaming continue. I am sorry, but I cannot stop myself from acting like a hystrerical lady in distress, screaming my lungs out every time I see the devilish little beast. Besides, I am getting sick of finding well intentioned literature on domestic violence discreetly left on my doorstep. I tried to explain that the late night screams of terror were not caused by marital dispute gone out of hand, but I might as well have said I walked into a door.

And so we explored option 3, the humane one.

We began by looking at the the sticky board trap. It doesn’t look pretty. It offers a slow and painful end as the mouse faces dehydration, starvation and may even resort to self cannibalism. Poison? Ruled out on the basis that making the animal bleed to death is not an acceptable solution.

Helpful readers of this blog were divided between the ultrasonic trap and the Trap Man.

The first option works by emitting a sound inaudible to humans, but apparently so annoying to rodents that they pack up and leave. This sounds clean, neat and pain-free. Unfortunately, the reviews are quite mixed and I’m not convinced of its efficiency. I’m willing to use it as a backup, but I really don’t want to take my chances here, as we’re after something guaranteed and fast acting. There was a mouse on my kitchen counter, remember?
The Trap Man shelters and even feeds the captive mouse until you’re able to release it in a park or in the wild. I find this idea impractical and a little irresponsible. What you’re doing here is passing on the problem to someone else.

As desperation was beginning to set, I found the clear winner: the Rodent Activated Detection and Riddance, or RADAR. This is how it works: the mouse is lured into a tiny plastic box (not large enough to trap the cat instead), and once there, the box locks itself and – very quickly – knocks the animal unconscious, into a one way CO2-induced sleep. No pain, no mess, no stress or time to realise the end is imminent. If I still had any doubts, learning that RADAR inventor Dr Nigel Binns was awarded PETA’s (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) man of the year in 2005 sealed the deal for me.

Who’d have thought that I, lover of chicken hearts and pork scratchings, would one day be on the same page as PETA? The charity also offers helpful tips on how to mouseproof your house. My favourite: use lots of essential peppermint oil, apparently a smell hated by rodents – and loved by me!

Before I contact Rentokil to order my RADAR, however, I'm having a final round of talks with the cats, to see if we can resolve our differences as I put my final offer on the table. I am hinting at the withdrawal of Whiskas and other benefits, but I need to consult my legal representatives first.

Failing that, I will be forced to increase my CO2 footprint that little bit by gassing my uninvited guests to death.