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The Big Green Purse! AKA The Sustainable Shopping Bible Pt. 1/4

The Big Green PurseEveryone should read The Big Green Purse by Diane Maceachern, whether or not they carry a purse! I have made it my personal mission to take note of several things I have learned from reading this book, in order for us all to use our spending power to shift to a greener market. Even one person can make a difference when you think about how much money you actually spend in a year, and the more this attitude accumulates, the more power we have to push for change. Not only that, but you can learn just how bad all the products we buy really are. I was appalled and saddened by some of the truths I learned, but trust me, these are things you will want to know.

Here is pt. 1 of a brief summary of my notes. For the full downloadable version of ALL my Big Green Purse notes, Click Here

Of course, you could pick up a copy of the book yourself 🙂

The Big Green Purse Notes Pt. 1 - Coffee, Tea, Chocolate

Buy Shade Grown!

  • Full sun methods used by these companies instead of shade-grown are accomplished by cutting down massive amounts of rainforests (I will discuss rainforests later on)
  • Of the 50 countries in the world with the highest deforestation rates from 1990-95, 37 were coffee producers

Decaf is BAD for you!

  • Chemical solvents are almost always used to decaffeinate coffee and tea:
  • Methylene chloride, a suspected carcinogen
  • Ethyl acetate, may lead to skin problems

Blood and Children are making your chocolate

  • the Ivory Coast produces 40% of the world’s cocoa, where hundreds of thousands of children are enslaved on cocoa farms
  • Hershey's, Nestle, and M&Ms/Mars Inc. are some of the big companies who buy from those farms. From now on I take my cravings elsewhere

Some Fair Trade Teas and Coffees:

The key to change: If you want to change a company’s behaviour, spend your money on a competitor’s more desirable offerings.

Four quick tips on reducing your packaging

You can save barrels of oil, lower manufacturing costs, and help the environment by shifting your spending to products that use minimal packaging:

  1. Buy products sold in recyclable or reusable containers that can be recycled again once you’re done with it
  2. Purchase meat directly from the butcher wrapped in paper rather than foam meat trays
  3. Instead of instant soup, buy fresh ingredients or soup stock in the bulk section in cellophane packaging
  4. Carry a reusable mug or cup for coffee, juice, etc.

Tons more info coming up when I discuss sustainable shopping and The Big Green Purse!

The rise of local farmer’s markets in Toronto: Parkdale-High Park

Eating foods that are in season and buying local foods are suddenly back in fashion. Witness the slow food movement, and the 100-mile (or km) diet. BUT, there have always been farmer's markets in Toronto, and Foodland Ontario has been around ever since I can remember, urging me to eat more squash in the Fall. This "rediscovery" of local foods and farmers isn't just happening in Ontario. In the UK, Gordon Ramsay's brilliant F-Word tv show is urging Brits to remember their forgotten local foods, as well as trying to get the younger generation, who have apparently forgotten how to boil an egg, back into the kitchen. Check out Gordon on CBC's The Hour below.

Doing the homework around local foods, and sustainable shopping, and fair-trade coffee can be very tiring. These tomatoes in my local supermarket looked identical, but one batch came from Mexico and one from Canada (talk about needing to read the fine print). SO, I was thrilled to hear that I can access reliably sourced local and organic foods much more easily now that Sorauren Farmer's Market will be in walking distance from my house. The Westend Food Co-op which runs the market has posted clear statements on its vision, mission, and values.

This goal of transparency at the Westend Food Co-op is fantastic, because when it comes to ecological footprints, the intuitive idea that ALL local foods must have lower footprints for energy production, is NOT always true. A Swedish colleague once told me about a full life cycle assessment comparing local produce with that coming from Spain, which found that the ecological footprint of the Spanish fruit and veggies, was actually lower than the Swedish produce! In sustainability, full life cycle assessment or cradle-to-grave analysis looks at the total amount of energy and resources that it takes to produce some object, including food. It embodies the concepts inherent in full-cost economic accounting.

Dawn Bazely

Politically correct coffee grounds & sustainability Part 2

While on a coffee break from doing field work in London, Ontario, I was amazed to discover Starbucks' innovative programme in which they make their used coffee grounds available for people to put on their gardens. This is local resident and teacher, Trish Robertson, who told me that she really does use the grounds in her condo planters on a regular basis! While we don't see this in Toronto, presumably because municipal composting is available (I will be checking into this), in places like London, this programme must be diverting huge amounts of beans from landfill. I'd love to know the numbers on this and where all those other coffee grounds from other coffee shops are ending up. (Hello students - this would be a great research project...).

What's more, Starbucks even has a World Water Day link on their website. And, their business cards are printed on 100% post-consumer recycled material. Okay, okay, now I am beginning to feel bludgeoned by their sustainability initiatives. I take my hat off to them for their innovative leadership in both upstream and downstream coffee operations (I learned that term from my studies on oil and gas pipelines). I AM going to ask them more about the tons of coffee grounds that they need to dispose of at the end of each day. Many thanks to Michael and Lena at the Starbucks for their patience and enthusiasm in answering my questions.
Dawn Bazely

Politically correct coffee & sustainability Part 1

First off, I admit that I drink coffee, and if you do too, then Black Gold - "a film about coffee and trade" is essential viewing. Below is the trailer for this very hot doc.

In my home, we have been buying what I call politically correct coffee beans (fair trade etc.) for a very long time (over 20 years), and in the last 12 years, our beans have come from Alternative Grounds in Toronto. But, when it comes to coffee on-the-go, like loads of people, I tend to buy it from one of the large chains - Tim's, Starbucks, Timothy's, Second Cup etc. Given Canadian's strong devotion to drinking coffee, I thought I'd check in on how the BIG FOUR purveyors of coffee to Ontarians are doing in terms of leading us all towards more ethical coffee drinking. (Sure, there are other coffee chains, but in Toronto, and much of Ontario, these predominate).

Right off the bat, I applaud Timothy's for their collaboration around sustainable coffee with York's very own Las Nubes Centre for Tropical Conservation and Research. Starbucks is also right up there on ethical beans, especially in Ethiopia, as can been seen from the trailer at the end of this post. Tim Horton's has a webpage about its sustainable coffee partnerships in Guatemala, Columbia and Brazil but there's no specific mention made of the fair-trade or shade-grown concepts (though reforestation is mentioned). Hmm - this page raises more questions than it answers for me. Second Cup has a pledge "to work in harmony with both the environment and people". Since I spend loads of money at the Second Cup on York's campus, I can see that I will soon be quizzing the owner about this "pledge".

Obviously, it's now pretty much de rigeur for the big Ontario coffee chains to make at least some sustainability and fair-trade type of coffee statements about the start of a coffee bean's life (but, there still appears to be room for lots of improvement in this area at some of them).

But, can the sustainability at the end of a coffee bean's life-cycle also be improved? The answer is, quite simply, yes. To find out what, see Part 2 of this series.

Now, the next thing is for all of these companies to use biodegradable cups. Lots of independent coffee and tea shops are on the Greenshift, Toronto list, but it's not clear if it's because they are all using these compostable cups.

Dawn Bazely