Rumors swirling the debut of the iPhone 5 have been circulating for the past several months and as a current iPhone user, I am tempted, like most others, to get my hands on one.  Smartphones, particularly the iPhone have become an aspect of everyday life for many in America.  But at what cost? In recent reports and some articles published by AP and the likes, reveal that there are many costs that come with the iPhone. 

The problem starts with minerals.  In order to make your smartphone to work as seamlessly as we all love, they are manufactured with three basic minerals: tin, tantulum, and tungsten. This sounds normal, but here’s the kicker. Those minerals are often mined in the conflict ridden Democratic Republic of Congo. Serious labor and human rights violations are occurring in order to mine these minerals, including civil war and flat out murder.

But unfortunately in the life of the iPhone the violations dont’ stop there.  Apple has recently been accused of terrible labor issues surrounding the manufacturing of their products including computers, iPads, and iPhones. Some of these issues include overworked employees, suicide of employees, and even child labor. 

Those things alone are enough to make the consumer ill, but on top of labor issues, smartphones are made with materials that are far less than environmentally friendly.  Recent reports have come out showing Apple factories release harmful toxins into water, soil, and the air we breathe, not to mention all the plastic that is used to create the phones in the first place.

And just when you think you can’t handle the guilt anymore, Grist recently ran an article about an iPhone game that “will make you ashamed of your iPhone.”  The game features four main levels: mining materials in the Congo, including mistreating workers and adding to civil war, saving possible suicide victims at manufacturing plants in China, drumming up excitement among consumers, and throwing out the iPhone and adding to wastefulness. Check out a preview for this game below.

Don’t think we’ve singled out the iPhone alone. All brands smartphones and other electronics used mined minerals from the Congo and many have similar labor and environmental issues in the manufacturing process. So what is the answer? Well, obviously giving up the convenience of said electronics would eliminate all these violations in the supply chain.  But in our modern world, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. One step is to use your current model as long as possible, do you really need to upgrade to the iPhone 5 just because Apple said it is better? Another way to go would be to purchase used and refurbished phones, thus saving them from landfills and not adding to new manufacturing. Lastly, be sure to recycle your phone when it is finally ready to upgrade.

So to answer our opening question, yes we all should be ashamed of our iPhones. And the only way to change it, is to let Apple and other smartphone manufactures we won’t stand for it! Write them today and stop purchasing their brand new items!

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The devil and his horned minions must be flooding Amazon.com with requests for winter hats, mittens and hot cocoa, because the unthinkable has happened: Wal-Mart has gone Green. Ok, perhaps Satan should not retire his bottle of SPF 5,000 or his fashionable flip-flops just yet, because like most events in history, Wal-Mart’s new found eco-friendliness is not as simple as black or white, or as good vs. evil.
Like any good story, we must start at the beginning. In a recent webcast, Wal-Mart pledged to eliminate 20 million metric tons of Greenhouse gas emissions from their global supply chain by 2015.

“Explain it to me like I am a fifth grader.”

Ok, more simply put, Wal-Mart will be flexing its giant megastore muscles to pressure their product suppliers into cutting their greenhouse emissions.

A seemingly noble enough reason to flex your corporate muscles, this effort is not causing unanimous celebrations across the land of the eco-minded (you would be absolutely shocked at the amount of “kiss me, I am organic” t-shirts people sport there). Wal-Mart, which is not-so affectionately nicknamed Sprawl-Mart in certain circles,  has not always shown such concern for the environment and despite these  recent efforts, it is still a company that crushes smaller companies that can not compete by providing products as cheaply for their customers as Wal-Mart can, as well as labor abuses and using questionable factories overseas.

This announcement, has been met with a spattering of praise, a pinch of cynicism, and a  few hundred cups of confusion. Could this green initiative be the biggest case of green washing of our time? Some critics seem to Walmart‘s motivations are not as pure as they may seem at first glance.  Stacy Mitchell offers, in an enlightening piece on this very subject on grist.org , “Just a few years ago, Wal-Mart’s ability to grow both here and abroad was in serious jeopardy… Since developing a greener image, Wal-Mart has had a much easier time countering local opposition and winning over city officials.”  This move to “go green” is much like  Wal-Mart’s announcement of going Fair Trade two years ago.  While it seems noble, their overall company ethics and business practices don’t match up with either Fair Trade or Green.

There is no doubt that a little bit of green has gone a long way in gaining a company favor with the public in recent years, but if Wal-Mart lives up to their pledge, is it really “washing” so much as “being truly proactive”? Or do the other negative impacts this Corporation has on the environment -such as the green house emissions coming from shipping items all over the world, as well as from  the endless stream of cars in their parking lots- negate or lessen the positive impact of this green promise?  Is it really such a bad thing that a company millions worldwide seem in no rush to stop shopping at tries to toss Mother nature a solid?

Another, and completely  jarring point brought up by the very same grist article is  that when considering this image make over  in correlation with the recent decision by the Supreme Court to allow corporate personhood, it becomes a little more sinister. Will this reduction in admissions be touted out as a reason that “Walmart is not so bad after all“, come an election time in our not so distant futures?

Then, there is the question of whether Wal-Mart’s muscle are any match for  all of their suppliers, particularly those  based in China. As Douglas Mcintyre writes in an article for dailyfinance.com, “It’s questionable whether Wal-Mart can force its programs on suppliers inside the People’s Republic both because of their value to the company as low-cost providers, and because the Chinese government has not been very open to substantially reducing carbon emissions.”
“Explain it to me as if I were a third grader.”

Is Wal-Mart’s Rocky Balboa tough enough to beat China’s Ivan Drago? (Hmm, maybe I should not besmirch Rocky’s good name by comparing him to Wal-Mart, he did single-handedly defeat Communism in Rocky IV via a string of stirring montages, after all).

Long story… well already way too long, Wal-Mart’s policy  enforcement and the reason behind its creation remain unseen. This is an unfolding drama, that may very well someday be fodder for a Lifetime television movie. (Which will hopefully star at  the Olson twins, in some capacity.)

The fact remains that Wal-Mart- even if this effort is executed successfully, in the most altruistic, non self-serving manner possible- should still be subject to scrutiny from its potential shoppers for  any and all of its other questionable practices. Cutting emissions should not become a get out of jail free card, or worse yet, a get into public office one.

Perhaps the ends justifies the means, or perhaps we should, as a people,  hold the means up to stronger standard , especially when the ends remain a huge question mark.

Then again, I may be missing something between the ends, the means, the greens and all those Rocky montages swirling in my noggin. Someone, explain it to me as if I were a first grader.

-Meghan Hurley

Every 4 years, the world stops and watches in awe as one city in the world hosts the Olympic Games. The top athletes convene in one city to prove to the world their abilities and the world engages in friendly war, for once.  In 2008 the Summer Olympics were hosted by China, who made several efforts to be sure their display would be considered “green.” This February the Winter Olympics are being hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

It seems like a no brainer that Vancouver, who often makes the list of Greenest Cities (in fact 90% of the city is run on renewable energy), would have no issues making sure this year’s Winter Olympics is nothing short of Green. And sure enough, they started off with a bang! Making big steps to prove to the world they are Greening the Winter Olympics with LEED certified buildings and expanding the public transportation system, to name a few. In fact Vancouver is trying their hardest to be recognized as the “Greenest Olympics Games Ever.”

Obviously, these are terrific achievements and set a great example to the rest of the world. However, there are some serious things to consider. Because of an unseasonably warm winter this year (Gasp! Could Climate Change be to blame?!), British Colombia has seen less snow and required the committee to truck in loads of snow.  We don’t need to explain twice how this impacts the environment, with all the carbon emissions it has created. Although, the committee has reported it will be purchasing offsets for these emissions, they only plan on offsetting less than half. This begs to question, do the Vancouver Olympics really deserve Gold for their Green?

David Suzuki has put together a “Green Scorecard” for the Winter Olympics. And although they may score high for their LEED certified buildings and a Green Olympic Village, the imitation snow has left many wondering if they deserve such high regards. This scorecard gives them a Bronze medal, even though the UN and the Vancouver Olympics themselves are rewarding a Gold medal. However, even winter athletes are demanding that more attention be paid to the climate. With Climate Change directly affecting their sports, they want the Olympic committees and the host cities to commit to higher standards in the future.

So what could be done to be sure Olympic Games are as environmentally aware as they should be? Grist writer,  Jonathan Hiskes, makes an excellent suggestion.  In order to really and truly change the impact of the Olympic Games, why not make it stationary? And we kind of have to agree. Centralizing the Olympics close to where most athletes are based would cut down on building and travel costs, which are the biggest environmental offenders. Even though worldwide cities would lose tourist cash and a chance to show off to the world, the environmental impact would be enormous. If the Olympics are setting examples, as they claim, this would be one hefty example to make. Lollapalooza did it and survived, so why can’t the Olympics?

As a follow up to last week’s, Top Veggie Friendly Colleges post we wanted to also suggest eco-friendly colleges. Many Universities are making changes not only to improve the environmental impact of the college itself, but also prepare a new generation to fill the Green Collar Market. So we have put together a list of Top Green Colleges! There are several different sources that have ranked Green Colleges based on their sustainable campus life, school policies, and green curriculum. We found four main rankings: Princeton Review, Grist, Sierra Club, and The Daily Green. We have used these lists as a guide and have come up with the following list (and we are proud that both our Alma Maters made the cut!):

Top Green Colleges

#1 Warren Wilson College: Amazingly this school has worked in the Green life into every aspect of the school. Not only do they have an amazing recycling program, but the school is self sufficient (sustainable farms and forest), and they even have soy fueled chainsaws and bio-diesel fuels!!

#2 Oberlin College: Oberlin college boasts a slew of Green programs and has made an active effort to reduce waste as well as educate. The campus has a car sharing program, supports locally produced food in its cafeteria, uses a ton of solar electricity, and their graduation ceremonies are completely eco-friendly including bio-degradable utensils and programs.

#3 Middlebury College: Not only does the Green activist Bill McKibben teach here, but this school has been very active in climate change. They have even put forth a plan to make the school carbon-neutral by 2016 as well as a state of the art recycling center. They even have energy saving competitions between dorms!!

#4 Harvard University: Harvard usually tops everyone’s academic and sports lists, but now they can add Green rankings to their impressive resume. Harvard has recently changed all school vehicles over to veggie fuel from the cafeteria, they have the MOST eco-friendly buildings certified by US Green Building Council, and is one of the largest purchaser of Green and Renewable energy.

#5 Duke University: Duke has now required all new buildings to be certified by the US Green Building Council and is making an active effort to improve their green energy through wind and hydro-power projects. They are also pushing a biking campaign and discouraging its students to use cars.

#6 University of New Hampshire: UNH located in Durham, NH boasts an Office of Sustainability and in 2009 80-85% of their energy will come from a landfill source. They have also developed an organic dairy farm and a Sustainable Horticulture department, where they work with children in the area on developing a new Green Generation.

#7 Tufts University: Tufts was the first university in the country to pass a green initiative and won the US Climate Change award in 2005. They are committed to meeting the demands of the Kyoto target for emmissions and continue to develop solar panels! Also, this is one of our Alma Maters!

#8 Universities of California: Ok. We realize this includes 10 schools, but if we evaluated all ten separately they may have taken over the list! Every campus in this system has made efforts to use renewable power by 2014, increase use of low- to zero-emission vehicles by at least 50 percent, and achieve zero waste by 2020!! Also each campus has their own initiatives they are focusing on: UC Davis (our other Alma Mater) has sustainable and organic agriculture programs, UC Berkeley has an all organic cafeteria, and UCLA has really pushed the bicycling movement.

#9 Yale University: Yale has developed a superior alternative energy plan including: solar, wind, and geothermal energy produced on campus. They also promote using biofuels in cars and have incentives to employees who use a carpool system. And lastly they have developed a new school of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

#10 Evergreen State College: This public school hosts a large organic farm complete with composting facility. On top of this, the school purchases only 100% clean power, is in the process of switching to electric cars, and is building Green Buildings for future use.

Bummed that your school didn’t make the cut??  Well then take matters into your own hands!  It is after all the power of the student body itself that can have the most influence over university administration, so start talking to your professors and university staff and start making positive changes on your campus today!

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