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If I took my conscience shopping everywhere, I suspect I’d stop shopping.

I had two facebook interchanges on the topic this week, one of which also reminded me of a Lululemon issue.
Here are the discussions. What do you think?
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1. To Foie Gras, or not to Foie Gras
Facebook: 28 June 12:47.
Christopher Flett is a business coach extraordinaire, for women. Working with him gave me tremendous lift-off when I started my money coaching business.
Here goes:

Christopher Flett: Kits Farmer’s Market:Just told to “F&CK OFF” by animal rights activist because I like Foie Gras. Full story here: http://tinyurl.com/l5trs8
28 June at 12:47 · via Twitter · Comment · Like

Nancy Zimmerman at 12:52 on 28 June
I’ve been confronted to do a lot of thinking about this kind of issue because of the whole seal hunt thing up here. One question to myself, to which I don’t know the answer but it’s a good question, is: To what extent do I accept responsibility for the humane treatment of the animal that ultimately I eat?

Rikia Saddy at 21:37 on 28 June
I too believe in the circle of life, but I can’t see the point of torturing animals before we eat them. There are many delicious foods that don’t require shoving a hose down the throat of a goose and forcing in 3 pounds of grains and fat, several times a day.
Isn’t a normal-sized goose liver sufficient?

Christopher Flett at 19:51 on 29 June
No it isn’t. If it was, we wouldn’t have to feed them extra helpings.
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2. Made in China
This is an on-the-ground perspective from a former client of mine who sources materials for her company overseas.
(She wrote from Thailand, btw!)

Saw your status and wanted to comment (since I’ve just spent the past week and a half visiting factories in Asia!) Definitely in China health hazards are a plenty. As you can imagine, clothing is ridiculously dusty (especially anything cotton related such as cotton spinning) Every time we do a visit we look for such hazards and the factory owners always tell us the same things… they educate the workers on dust hazards and provide masks but the employees don’t comply.

I’ve been to cotton spinning mills in India and after a 2 hour tour, my nose tickles for days! The factories are usually in hot places so the workers refuse to wear the masks since it’s already so hot without masks on. Don’t get me wrong, I totally don’t agree with it, but I have seen some factories genuinely try to enforce rules to no avail (and for the past few years if an employer got really strict, employees would just move to a more lax factory: I suspect that’ll change a bit now with the slowdown)

Anyway, my two cents after having seen the manufacturing side of things! Manufacturing is certainly a crazy world, don’t even get me going on the labour end of things! A lot of people’s perceptions is that people like Nike produce in sweatshop environments. In actuality, large brands (Nike, Patagonia, mec) are leaders in making improvements in health/safety/pay by ensuring that work hazards are minimized, overtime is paid etc… it’s hardly a perfect world and factories don’t always comply but with more and more brands coming on board it’s getting better. It’s the “no name” brands or knockoff brands (where price is the number one concern) that have little/no standards. Anyway… I digress!

I think the whole manufacturing/3rd world thing is very catch 22.

I’m still torn everyday on what I feel is right or not. The sewers (the workers, not the plumbing system!) make a base wage of less than $5 day (there’s a lot more money to be made in incentives though) and by Western standards, that’s hardly a lot of money. Then again, most of the workers are under 25, without an education and live in factory dormatories (hardly luxurious) accommodations. Then again, they are able to send home at least 50% of their income to their families (typically dirt poor farmers) which is not something that I’d be able to do in Canada! So, because of our Western greediness, the farmers kids move to the factory towns to be able to send money home to support the rest of the family. So does that mean that by buying things we’re exploiting the workers? Or would they be worse off if we didn’t buy anything? The issue I have is if companies (such as lululemon) keep shifting where goods are made because labour costs get too expensive (labour costs in China have been increasing at more than 10% a year for the past few years) and start giving up the Chinese factories in favor or vietnam, bangladesh, etc… that’s where I think the “west” gets exploitative.

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3. Lululemon and child labour
Before Lululemon became a public company, but well into its meteoric rise, I attended a grass-rootsy talk about fashion in Vancouver. Chris Chip was a guest speaker, and discussed sourcing his materials. Apparently he had hired a few young girls in his factories overseas. He openly discussed his dilemma: Odds are that if he didn’t hire the young girls they’d be in the sex trade instead. So what, he asked the audience, would we do in his position? Turn them away knowing the alternatives? Hire them and feel good about providing a safer situation? Hire them and feel lousy about child labour?

I’m here at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife, which has wifi! (and offers wild goose pate – but isn’t that a contradiction in terms?)

Peter Victor authored the book Managing without Growth in which he “challenges the priority that rich countries continue to give to economic growth as an over-arching objective of economic policy”.  Peter is an economics professor in Environmental Studies at York University.  As a green party member, I’m very interested in ecological economics.   Here’s the liveblog, ftw!

Last minute disclaimer:  I’m not an economist;  the information was fast and furious;  please construe this liveblog as my inept attempt to capture the evening – double check everything below in his book!

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Background:

One way of understanding why we’re not taking good care of our home, the globe, is to understand how we “do” economics.

Economics is:  Firms provides goods and services to Households, who provide land, labour and capital.  If that’s all there is to it, it’s easy to imagine an economy that could grow and grow.  Hard to imagine we would ever question growth as an objective.  Here’s a diagram of this.

Missing:  The Environment.  First thing we have to do is add in the Environment.  Let’s include Natural Inputs – flows of materials and energy from Sources and Environmental Service.    How will these Natural Inputs re-emerge in the economy?  as Waste Outputs.  (Side: the only thing that goes and comes from the earth is Energy.)

Most of the information we rely on to make decisions is PRICE.  But our information is becoming less and less reliable re: Price.

Background #2 re: technology

1820 Population 1.1 billion;  1940 population 2.4 billion; 2009,  6.8 billion.

This population, of course, is not equally catered to.  Most of the wealthy are in NA and Europe.

Geek-out moment:  he’s showing slides of computers from 1946 to present, and also slides of phones.

Note: ironically, miniaturization allows us to build and design much larger machines – they can be computerized.  Eg. world’s largest container ship carries 11,000 containers and only employs 13 people.  So technology can work in many different directions.

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Thesis:  Growth is not possible over the long term.  In fact, growth is disappointing.

Despite reduction in energy intensity,  global primary energy consumption is rising.  (ie. individual units are more efficient, but the scale is increasing).  Same with resource extraction – we’re getting better at using less material when extracting, but the net effect is still an increase of using energy.  Peak Oil:  (money coach shudders)  Production started to exceed discovery in 1990.

We need to make a fundamental energy transition.  We’ve done that in the past:  wood – coal – oil/gas, electricity.  We’ve increased our use of energy by over 20 times in the past 200 years.  In the past, it was not hard to switch because it had more readily apparent benefits – cheaper, better, more powerful.  Renewable options now do not have these characteristics.

If you want to freak out a little (money coach’s words), check out the Stern Review. It delineates the impact of each degree centigrade of average temperatures.

Services from planet earth

Approximately 60% of the ecosystem services examined are being degraded or used unsustainably, for example:

World Grain Production per person: peaked in early 1980’s. In decline ever since.

Canada:  collapse of Atlantic Cod (result of big factory ships – made possible by technology)

Rising evidence that growth does not make us any happier.

Gross Domestic Product v. Genuine Progress Indicator Until 1970, gdp and gpi moved together.  After that, gdp keeps rising, but gpi stayed nearly flat.

Since 1975, real income per person has increased, but percentage stating they were “very happy” stayed flat (money coach loves these kinds of stats).

Canada’s substantial economic growth from 1976 – 2006 – our gdp per person grew by 70%, but:

  • Never had full employment in that period
  • Had more unemployed people in real numbers
  • Reduced percentage on low income, but more in real numbers (now 3.4 million)
  • Increased inequality in incomes and wealth

How slowing the rate of growth could help climate change:

1990:  $950,000 GDP, and 592 mt (metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions) in Canada.  US, about 10 times this.

Green Growth means starting at 592mt and moving towards less.

Canada now:  747 mt.   We need an 87% reduction by mid-century.   We can achieve that in various ways:

  • reduce energy per output down to 13% of current if we don’t grow our economy at all.
  • if we have 3% economic growth, we have to get down to 0% (I think I got that right?)

Dilemma – if we don’t spend enough money, more people unemployed.  What makes an economy grow?

  • what we spend money on (consumption)
  • new equipment
  • gov’t expenditure
  • trade
  • what we produce

If we do business as usual to 2035, what would happen?  Gov’t debt goes doen, gdp per capita goes up, green house emissions go up, poverty goes up (yes, goes up).

What if we eliminate all growth? Disaster:  unemployment, poverty, stabilized gdp per person, gov’t debt becomes unmanageable.

The real issue is whether its possible to challenge the “growth at any cost model”.

A better model is low/no growth scenario.  poverty comes down, gdp goes up, unemployment goes down.   How?  (nerd moment coming up)  Macro demand (C,I,G,X-M) and supply (K,L,t)  stabilized;  Carbon price; Shorter work year;  More generous anti-poverty programs.  What would change:  new meanings and measures of success;  limits on materials, energy, wastes and land use; more meaningful prices; more durable, repairable products; fewer status goods, more public goods; more local, less global; education for life not just work; reduced inequality.

(interesting sidenote of interest to this money coach  about status – it’s a zero-sum game.  One person purchases for status, then another does, so original person back to where they started, so they buy again)
We must knock economic growth off its pedestal.

(Nobel Prize winner) Robert Solo’s endorsement:  “It’s possible that the US and Europe will find that either continued growth will be too destructive to the environment and they are too dependent on scarce natural resources, or that they would rather use increasing productivity in the form of leisure”

Can our universities adapt fast enough to this way of thinking?

Can our religious institutions adapt fast enough to this way of thinking?

Can our legal systems adapt?

Will it take disaster to make it happen, or could we look and think ahead?





Dr. M. Elizabeth Snow
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Why I Bought A Smart Car

I am a thoroughly cheap frugal person. I’m sure it comes from the many, many years I spent as a starving student1. So when I got a car that required me to have a car, “how much is a car going to cost me?” was one of the first things I wanted to find out. The two3 main things I considered were: (a) how much the actual car would cost and (b) how much gas would cost me.

I knew the following things:

  • I will be using the car mainly for driving to work (35 km each way) and then driving around to various sites in the Lower Mainland for meetings. This driving will pretty much all be on my own.
  • The other thing I will use my car for is to drive to hockey, where I’d either be driving on my own or with one other passenger.
  • I don’t need any bells or whistles. Truly, the only requirements I have for the car is that it it fits me and my hockey equipment and has a cup holder for my ever present travel mug of coffee.

a. Cost of the Car

I have long had a crush on the smart. I also loved my old Honda Civic. And being a member of the Car Co-op, I’ve driven all sorts of different cars lately, so I know that I like the way the Toyota Corolla drives, but I hate the Toyota Yaris.

There seems to be a misconception that the smart car is really expensive (perhaps it’s because it’s made by Mercedes Benz?), as evidenced by the countless people who have said to me “Aren’t those EXPENSIVE?” when I say that I’ve bought one. But here’s a quick comparsion4 of the cost of each of the base model with no extra options added for each of these cars (and a few hybrids thrown in for good measure):

Car Cost After Taxes & Other Fees
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) $15,144.45
smart fortwo Pure (2009) $16,227.75
Toyota Corolla (2009) $18,070.85
Honda Civic DX Coupe* $20,792.00
Toyota Prius (2008) $30,591.65
Honda Civic Hybrid* $32,385.80

*Honda doesn’t indicate on its website to what year’s model they are referring.

And not all base models are created equal. For example, the Corolla didn’t include things that the smart fortwo comes with standard, like keyless entry, power windows and a first aid kit and the Toyota website allows you to choose the older model (2008 or 2009) of their cars, which may not still be avaialable, so if you have to go with a 2009 or 2010 instead, the cost would be slightly more than what I’ve listed here.

So, you can see that the smart is a fair bit cheaper than the other cars I’ve considered and significantly cheaper than the hybrids. (The only one that is cheaper is the Yaris Hatchback, which I *hate* driving).

b. Cost of Gas

The other big thing to consider is how much gas is going to run you. So here’s a comparsion of the fuel economy of these cars. The measure of fuel economy is given in litres of gas per 100 km. So the lower the number (i.e., the fewer litres of gas you burn when you drive 100 km, the better). The measure also gives you an easy way to see how much gas is going to cost you – for example, if gas costs $1/litre, then a car that gets 5l/100 km will cost you $5 in gas for every 100 km you drive.

Here is the fuel economy given for each of these cars on their respective websites:

Car Fuel Economy (L per 100 km)
City Highway City & Highway
Combined
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) 7.0 5.5 6.3
smart fortwo Pure (2009) 5.9 4.8 5.4
Toyota Corolla (2009) 7.5 5.6 6.7
Honda Civic DX Coupe
(manual transmission)
7.4 5.4 not given
Toyota Prius (2008) 4.0 4.2 4.1
Honda Civic Hybrid 4.7 4.3 not given

You can see from this table that the one cars that get better fuel economy than the smart are the hybrids, which cost almost double what a smart costs to buy. I also noticed that all the cars except the Prius get better fuel economy for highway driving than for city driving – I dont’ know what the signficance of that is, but it kinda jumped out at my when I was compiling the numbers.

And then there’s financing

There are a number of financial incentives to buy the more eco-friendly vehicles. My smart car had no Provincial Sales Tax (P.S.T.) due to a provincial incentive for buying an eco-friendly car and there was a $1250 “spring rebate.” The dealer was offering 3.9% financing, but I chose to go with the Vancity Clean Air Auto Loan, which provides lower loan rates for people who buy fuel efficient cars. Specifically:

Only the smart car, the Prius & the Civic Hybrid fall into that first category. The Civic, the Corolla and the Yaris, along with 13 other cars, get the slightly higher prime + 2% rate. Given that the prime rate is so low (2.25% on the day I got my loan), prime + 1% is a pretty sweet deal!

So there you have it. In addition to the fact that I’m totally in love with the smart – so cute, fun to drive, less impact on their environment than most other cars, parkable in the tiniest of parking spaces, high safety rating – it’s also a pretty good deal financially speaking.

Also, for the record, this blog posting is not paid for in anyway – I just love my smart and want to share my smart enthusiasm! Actually, I’m becoming something of a smart car evangelist… perhaps I should ask them for commission? 😉

.1People talk about the “ivory tower” of academia, but let me tell you – they must have spent all the money on ivory, because they certainly don’t spend it on grad student salaries2
2Assuming you are getting any salary at all.
3I assumed car insurance would be the same no matter what car I bought, since I knew I wasn’t going to be buying a Ferrari or anything.
4These prices are all taken from the car companies’ respective websites, which conveniently have a “build your own car” tool that allows you to pick whatever options you like and find out how much the car you want will cost after taxes and fees. The price for the smart fortwo is the price that I actually paid.

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car,
originally uploaded by Kalev.


277821259_474243bae1

I’ve been adamant about not stepping foot inside the local Walmart store here in Yellowknife. You know all the reasons:

But the company is starting to challenge my ideas about them.

Back in 2006 they switched to LED lights for their refrigerators, and that was before I even used LED.

And today, Walmart Canada announced that their “home office” (presumably their headquarters in Mississauga) is a zero waste facility, with plans to adopt this across all their stores.

Even more impressive, I learned that as early as 2005 they have committed to three goals:

  • produce zero waste (clearly they’re moving forward on this)
  • be powered entirely by renewable energy (they just signed a contract with Bullfrog Energy to provide their energy for their home office, and stores in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.)
  • make more environmentally “preferable” (whatever that means) products available to consumers.

Much as I love to hate big box stores in general, and Walmart in particular, I have to admit:  These are powerful commitments, and if a monolith makes these kinds of changes, surely it will not only have a positive impact in its own right, but also motivate others to adopt similar policies.

Readers:  What do you think?  Should I start shopping at Walmart?  Are they Going Good?

Photo Credit:  Jason Mundy

Canadians, certainly Vancouverites, will likely recall the appalling story of the homeless panhandler who beat and robbed an elderly gentleman who had regularly given him some money, outside Holy Rosary Cathedral.

Here’s the extraordinary update on the story, courtesy of a newsletter from City in Focus:

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I was struck by a story in the Vancouver Sun Editorial back in March. A drug crazed homeless man named Darcy, who had been on the streets since dropping out of school in grade 6, attacked and robbed a retired 81-year-old doctor. The attack was videotaped inside the Holy Rosary Cathedral, a downtown church. The victim was a kind gentleman who had often given money to Darcy, a vulnerable individual who was known by many in the congregation because he hung around the building

At this point the doctor and the church had a choice – they could direct their anger at Darcy (and justifiably so!). Prosecuting this chap would be met with great public agreement. The other option (and the one the church members took) was to channel their anger in to a search for understanding and ultimately a constructive way to help this person.  They connected him with a Catholic transition home, Luke 15 House, located in Surrey. By the time of his court appearance, Darcy had been clean for 6 months and was preparing to join the church of the very member he had robbed.

Anger evolved in to courageous choices. The church community stepped up to offer forgiveness and aid to Darcy. But Darcy also had to make a choice to dwell or move forward. Coming from whatever place of pain and dysfunction he resided in, he had the courage to take the opportunity to become healthy and begin the road to “make things as they ought to be.”

It’s a perfect model for us as we face issues in 2009 where we are at a crossroads. Like Holy Rosary Cathedral we may need to choose forgiveness. While like Darcy, many of us may need help to move forward. Whatever our situation is, the important thing is that our anger is not just venting but indignation that propels us to courage. Our frustrations at how things are needs to be a mere stop-over, a motivation point for change.

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