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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?

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When I was a kid, China, like Russia, scared the crap out of me.  It was communist.  Communist China.  People who shared my faith, Christians, got tortured there.  In fact, lots of people got tortured there.  WE might, under very rare circumstances, be allowed to visit, but Chinese people could never visit us because they were locked inside. It was a secretive, faraway, very scary country.

It’s such a different story now.  We witnessed the opening ceremonies stream from Beijing. I’ve enjoyed getting to know several immigrants from China. And above all it’s become nearly impossible to purchase anything that’s not made in China.

Can you relate?

Let’s get familiar with this new super-power, this country that has encroached our lives every which way. This money coach found some econ 101’s:

China makes

  • 1/2 the world’s clothes
  • 1/2 the world’s computers
  • More than 1/2 the world’s digital electronics
  • More than 3/4 of the world’s toys (ed note:  uh-oh)

Factors that make this manufacturing do-able by China

  • 104 million workers
  • 1/10 of the wage compared to Europe and the US
  • for every $1 sale in the US of designer clothers, the manufacturer receives 10¢
  • workers can work up to 18 hours a day in busy months

To create these goods, China uses

  • 1/2 the world’s iron ore
  • 1/3 the world’s aluminum
  • 1/2 the world’s copper
  • nearly 1/2 the world’s hard coal
  • nearly 1/10 the world’s oil production (ed note: that’s less than I’d thought.  I guess because they use coal instead)

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I got these stats from an offbeat but very intelligent magazine called The New Internationalist. It’s introducing me to all kinds behind-the-scenes stories that affect my every day life.  If you, like me, want to be better informed, I recommend subscribing!  It’s causing me to see the world differently – in a good way.  (no, I get nothing for the pitch! I am just really impressed by the mag.  And they use a creative commons license – what’s not to love?)

I’ve had a couple tough days.  I’m off work, ill.  Headache, achey bones, and a fatigue that’s taken me down for the count.  I hate being sick!  Additionally I’m missing a lot about Vancouver these days.  Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy Yellowknife – but there are experiences and places and shops and wifi and people who are only to be found in Vancouver.  So in addition to bone and head aches, there’s some ache-of-the-spirit in the mix.

This evening I did what all sick people do to console themselves.  I made the treck to the video store.  Alas, I came out empty.  No The Wire.  No BSG til late July apparently.  I forgot to ask about Firefly (anyone seen the series?  I saw one episode – are they all as awesome?)

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Plan B:  buy some chocolate. One idiosyncrasy of life up here is that the majority of shops shut down at 6pm but not, thank goodness, Shoppers.  I went the distance, folks, I selected a beautiful Lindt milk chocolate bar, went to the til — and my debit card was declined.  And declined.  And declined again.  It’s payday and I work for the Gov’t so I’m guessing Central One’s servers went down, but in any case, so much for my chocolate.  Life was beginning to spiral downward.

Until a lovely thing happened.

The young woman at the til, seeing my crestfallen face, told me to hang on one sec.  She punched a few buttons on the til — handed me the chocolate bar, smiled, and said, it’s on me.  Not on the house.  It’s on me.

I stood dumbfounded.  Eventually I stammered out my thanks, and happily accepted the chocolate bar she had just bought me.

It cost her $1.50.   Not much in the grand scheme of things, but its impact was multiple time a buck-fifty.  It was a lovely, unexpected, random act of kindness.

I don’t know if I’ll make a point of paying her back or if I’ll pay it forward or quite what I’ll do.

I thought I’d start by simply sharing.

Readers, have you experienced a Random Act of Kindness?  Care to share?

ps: I got home, and reached a vancouver friend who, of all things, is also housebound.  He’d rented One Week, and I was able to find it on iTunes for rent, so we’re sharing a movie, virtually.  Life is lookin’ better.

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.


If Franke James can do it, so can I! (and we’re both saving money, too)

What Franke James did was, The Hardest Thing First.   In her case as an urban dweller in Toronto, the hardest thing was

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Photo Credit: Franke James,  creative commons

My hardest thing?   I’m going to dry my laundry on a clothesline.

Given I live in Yellowknife this can only occur until October, but I’ll be hanging up my stuff (I’ll use some discretion) on a clothesline I have in the backyard.

When I was young, I thought of this as entirely gauche.  I hope other people don’t think that about me.   There’s something a tiny bit eco-chic in this, right?  Right?  Regardless, this will be my summer:

2430043983_5843daf5c8Photo Credit: brockvicky Creative Commons

@frankejames I reckon I’ll save myself about $40 or so.   Obviously your savings a much greater (ie. sans suv).  (hey, sans suv has a great slogan kinda feel, non?).   How much do you reckon you’ve saved since waving goodbye to your suv?

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