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Ethical Buying

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for February, 2005

As consumers, we have enormous power to change the course of business--by using our dollars in ways that sustain the earth and our own communities. I've known this for a long time. I joined my first food co-op back in the 1970s. And I've always supported organic goods, purchased items with reduced packaging, and tried to support independently owned and operated local stores--when they were price competitive. When I dine out, it's almost always at an independent restaurant; I don't shop at Wal-Mart because I'm not comfortable with the way they treat their suppliers and their competitors.

But recently, I've decided I can do a whole lot more. Whenever practical, I'm using these guidelines to inform my purchases:
* Buy locally-produced items, from independently owned local merchants (or direct from the producer)
* Support organic, fair-trade growers and processors who pay their workers a decent wage and provide decent working conditions (this makes a huge difference in the lives of whole communities that revolve around coffee, cocoa, or cotton production, for instance)
* Refuse to knowingly purchase items produced in sweatshops or from stores that engage in predatory practices

A year ago, I started buying only recycled office paper for our computer printer. For a while, I was able to find a 100% recycled paper for $48 per box-but then the price went up to around $75 and I switched to a 30% recycled paper that I buy from Quill.com. The standard price is $3.99 a ream for 30 reams and up (the maximum I'm willing to store)--but I think I bought my last batch at $3.59. That's still quite a bit more than the $1.80 to $2.20 or so I can find for unrecycled--but I'm willing to help create the market, which will ultimately bring the price down. And that will help preserve our forests. So, if I go through a case of ten reams every month, that means I'm spending about $170 per year extra to do something good for the earth. In my own mind, that portion is allocated from my charity budget, rather than office supplies.

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