Jun 162011

Text: Made in the USAThe longer I live and the more I learn about how the world works, the more important it becomes to me to pay attention to the impacts my personal decisions have and how those represent my values.

Once upon a time I carried around a little booklet, Shopping for a Better World. It ranked companies on a variety of factors, for example, whether they hired and promoted women and members of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups or produced tobacco products.  (I’ve now found the online version, the Better World Shopper, but it isn’t going to rate the tiny companies with which I’m connecting; I don’t agree 100% with their issues in any case.)

On my personal blog I’ve noted the importance of eating local food as another example of how our dollars reflect our values.

Today we have Google to give us more information than we can make sense of and everyone brings individual priorities and filters. As I’ve gone in search of products that bring together style, comfort, and utility I’m also looking at the values expressed by the companies with which I choose to do business.

Some of those values are outlined in my Thoughts on Shopping page. Inspired by a post on Pedaler Clothing about buying clothing made in the US, I’m listing more of my values here so you know the decision-making filters that factor in when I’m bringing products in for a Bike Style Treats & Shopping Event. They’re very much in line with the new Sustainable Business Network forming in Spokane, which Bike Style Spokane is joining.

  • I constrain the geographic/fuel footprint as much as possible with this hierarchy: Buy locally, in Washington, in the West, in the US.
  • In trying to buy as locally as possible I am looking both at the cost of energy to bring goods to me and at the wages and working conditions of the people who make the product.
  • I look for products that have a lower environmental and health impact vs. a higher impact wherever possible. I’m not able to do a sophisticated cradle-to-cradle analysis to make sure everything is 100% recycled/recyclable, as one example, but will share whatever I’m able to find out about the product ingredients.
  • What are the trade-offs between environmental impact and functionality for cycling? As one example, organic cotton sounds nice but when it gets wet it stays wet and you end up chilled, and you should be aware of the exorbitant amount of water it takes to grow any cotton crop, organic or not.
  • Does the company use some of its profits to support nonprofits, the biking industry, and/or their own local communities?
  • Given the nature of the products I am seeking they are made by very small start-ups, specifically because they are filling niches ignored by the major manufacturers. I’m not anti-big-business but I do like dealing directly with the real owner/manufacturer/Chief Everything Officer.

As a result of all of these factors I know I will pay more and I do so willingly.

Cottage industries and really small businesses cost “more” per item as suppliers–when you’re not doing real full-cost accounting from the standpoint of public policy and societal benefit.

That “cheap” shirt you bought doesn’t have a family-wage job or the cost of benefits embedded in its seams, making it very expensive indeed if you factor in the quality of the lives involved. When you buy another offshore shirt, you export another job that used to support people here.

I’m not the least bit xenophobic or bigoted; I just want the country I love to thrive and to be able to provide people with decent jobs.

As you can see, a checklist doesn’t really cover all the nuances. I will do the best I can to vote with my wallet.

Since issues emerge every day and our understanding continues to expand, I appreciate anything you can tell me about the values you bring to your shopping and what can help me do an even better job of living the values I bring to mine.

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