Friday, March 03, 2006

Green Living 101: Smart Eco-nomics

by Danielle Masterson

Lying somewhere between adolescence and becoming a "real" adult, we well-intentioned college students and recent grads struggle with integrating our big ideas and meager earnings into a compassionate life.

Yet, despite our limited incomes, our demographic is in a unique position. Believe it or not, our consumer habits and big ideas have the potential to change the way companies do business. By demanding sustainably produced products, those that are eco-friendly and human-rights sensitive, we can shift the chain of supply and demand toward greener technology and innovation.

Companies aren't the only ones interested in what we think. In the fall of 2005, a delegation of students from Ithaca College, Cornell, MIT, Harvard and Princeton was invited to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This is just one reminder that people need and desire to hear from us. We can have an impact as the next generation to inherit the Earth.

Being eco-nomically savvy doesn't require installing solar panels on your dorm roof or a windmill adjacent to the college football field, and luckily, leading an eco-friendly life is about more than the amount of money in your pocket. It's all about innovation, information and baby steps. You can start with something as simple as choosing an organic cotton t-shirt over conventional cotton, which requires more water, dangerous pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers than organic, and you would probably pay the same amount of money for either choice. While some green products can cost more than traditional consumer goods, don't turn away in sticker shock. Do a little price comparison and seek out green goods that are comparably priced with conventional items. For instance, Birkenstocks, which are made with recycled cork, natural latex and other renewable materials, will cost about the same as a good pair of synthetic-material shoes.

An independent spirit is an admirable trait, but we could all do with a little help now and then. So before you try to save the Earth by composting cafeteria food in the back of your car, take a moment to absorb the musings of someone who's been in your situation before. (And will doubtlessly stumble again!)

Spare Change

You've spent a fortune on textbooks, tuition and gasoline. If your pockets weren't threadbare before, they're gaping holes by now! Yet somehow, after selling your biology notes on eBay and skimping on laundry for a month, you've managed to scrape together enough change to make a shopping trip worthwhile. By now you've mastered the art of shopping for sales, discount outlets and sifting through thrift store racks for the best deals. Applying these same careful shopping techniques will make buying green just as affordable as buying conventional.

So where to begin? If you're headed to the mall, take a minute to browse Sweatshop Watch ( for a little background on sweatshops. You'd be surprised to find out just how many companies use unfair labor practices. Follow up by checking Trans Fair USA ( for a list of fair-trade retailers.

Avoid the price-friendly allure of discount clothing stores, as they make up for low costs to the consumers by buying them at a low price from sweatshops. Instead, seek out clothing made in the United States. Purchasing clothing made in the U.S. and other first-world countries doesn't guarantee sweat-free products, but since these countries have more stringent labor laws and more effective enforcement, there is less of a chance of garment workers being exploited.

Feeling inspired? Do a little research and find out where the apparel sold in your school's bookstore is produced, and start a Sweat-Free campaign on your campus. Many students have been successful in convincing campus bookstores to stock sweat-free, organic cotton collegiate apparel in support of fair trade and the organic cotton industry. See "Sweat-Free College Sweatshirts" at

What To Look For

Lucky for you, since green is the new black, it's getting easier to put your money where your ideals are without compromising them for a little name-brand hoopla. While browsing the clothes racks at your favorite haunt, be sure to check out the clothing tags. They do more than irritate the back of your neck. They provide info on where the clothes were manufactured and what they're made of. Look for clothes made with organic cotton, or at least fibers that require fewer or no pesticides like linen, wool and hemp. Avoid polyester and other petroleum-based synthetic fabrics such as rayon and nylon unless the label states that it's recycled.

Don't sweat the expense of organic clothing, which many have done before you. There are thrifty options! Check out American Apparel's "Sustainable Edition" organic cotton t-shirts, only $15 ( For cold winters, try Patagonia's sweatshirts and jackets made from Synchilla, the company's trademark fleece that utilizes post consumer recycled polyester (starting at $65;

Make a statement with your shoes by avoiding styles made from PVC vinyl, a plastic hazardous to our health and environment. There are shoes available in an array of styles, materials and prices to fit any foot.



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