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Choosing The Right Stuff

March 3, 2011
American Apparel

Image via Wikipedia

More on the choices that flummox us: I was glad to see that apparel makers are going to start rating their products, because it’s pretty impossible for your average consumer (if they care) to have any idea what impact clothing choices have. So the Sustainable Apparel Coalition seems like the kind of innovation that is at least pointed in the right direction.

That made me wish it was easy to dig into the sustainability and environmental impact of lots more products, and–poof–I immediately stumbled across this outfit: The Good Guide (maybe it’s time to play the lottery). The Good Guide is basically a bunch of science geeks who are doing us all the favor of analyzing thousands of products, and the companies that make them (for the final rating they also take into account any conglomerates that might own the producer, as well, which is smart).

I was glad to discover that Levis gets a pretty green score (so I don’t have to figure out what else to wear).

Now it’s very unlikely that this sort of thing will drive the spending habits (for now) of anyone but eco-obsessed yuppies, but it is important that the idea of evaluating the things we buy according to how they impact the world is taking root. Even better would be if stores (I’m talking to you Walmart) committed to displaying this sort of score along with the products on their shelves. And I am sure that there will soon be an app that can scan a bar good and ping you a rating, which would make it even easier.

But nothing will really change unless sustainability and environmental and health impact are reflected in the price of a good (and not just the cost of labor and production, where all manner of abuses are hidden within an ultra-low price). You can’t fault people for wanting to save money. So the real revolution that awaits, the real revolution that is a prerequisite for the sort of change that will make a difference, is the adoption of an economic philosophy and approach that includes the external costs of making a good (impact on the environment, health of the workers, etc) in the purchase price of the good.

That is a world of $200 hamburgers, which is one way to make clear the massive shift in culture and economics that is at the logical end of this movement to start caring about how what we buy affects the earth and the future. Unfortunately, I don’t see that shift happening anytime soon. Listen to Raj Patel on this, and imagine how crazy he would sound to most Americans (and Glenn Beck’s head would explode). But Raj Patel is right.

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