Shampoo and conditioner Photo By Clean Wal-MartAs you walk up and down the aisles of the Personal Care products trying to decide which lotion or deodorant to take home, you notice the words “natural” and “organic”. Of course being the ethical shopper you are, this organic announcement will sway your decision. But what if someone exposed the fact that it’s certainly possible this product does not contain natural and organic ingredients? Unlike the food industry, there is no enforcement of  regulations on organic and natural claims for personal care products such as shampoos, lotions, and moisturizers. Unfortunately, some companies are taking advantage of the Green craze and labeling their products as natural or organic when they don’t quite meet the standards, thus confusing and duping consumers. It is basically fraud. 

How do you know what you are buying is legitimately natural or organic? As it stands now there are standards set up by the USDA, however they are not enforced like other products such as food and cotton. For instance some companies may gain organic certification for one or two items in their line and claim to be a purely organic company. Another situation that happens frequently is chemical ingredients such as phenoxyethanol, ethylhexyl glycerin, or sorbates will be listed as natural ingredients. When, in fact, they are not natural nor organic. Clearly, this is a huge issue as it is not fair to consumers nor the organic movement. The ambiguous terms just stall the movement because the public is not only confused but will begin to mistrust anything labeled organic, setting back those who adhere to the rules. 

Organic Consumers Association In order to combat the issue, the Organic Consumers Association has launched the Coming Clean Campaign. They are urging companies who are falsely labeling their products as either natural or organic “come clean” with their claims. It is a call for them to either make moves to become legitimately USDA Organically Certified or to halt all usage of the terms. OCA has also pushed the USDA to become much more strict and have personal products live up to the same standards as their organic food brethren. The OCA has worked hard for years for this false advertising to end and have now come up with a clear plan on how the USDA can better regulate these products. However, the biggest threat this campaign poses is the boycott. OCA is calling is giving these companies until October 31st to either drop the organic labels or move to get properly certified or they will be revealing the names of the companies. They will then urge consumers to boycott the products on the list, right before the holiday season. The threat is pretty intense, as we all know the power of the dollar.

We applaud the OCA and their determination to expose this fraud. However, what are you as the consumer supposed to do in the meantime? Only trust products with a specific USDA Organic label on them. Also, read the ingredients every time. If the product lists individual organic ingredients and doesn’t seem to contain any chemical based additives, then you are likely good to go! Try your best to avoid products that are labeled as having “organic” water, as this is a distraction from the fact that they likely contain detergents that are in fact, not natural in any way. You can always contact the company directly as well to find out if they are in fact USDA certified and which ingredients are in fact natural.

So in the coming weeks pay attention to the OCA and their list of organic “cheaters,” because this fraudulent behaviour has to be stopped. In the meantime, try your best to decipher through the many organic claims to find the most legitimate products.

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Original Kermit the Frog Photo By adamfarnsworth“It’s not easy being green”, or so a famous frog puppet once asserted. Perhaps that statement could be reshaped today to read “it ain’t easy understanding just what the heck ‘green’ precisely means in a more environmentally aware society”. In our modern world, terms like “green” and “organic” are sometimes tossed around like any “It” word of the day. They have been uttered so often and written about so much that they somehow they tend to lose meaning in the hustle and bustle of day to day life.

In the 80’s something that was “bad” was suddenly “good”. In the 90’s “Phat” no longer referred only to the girth of one’s waistline, but to the amount of coolness a person or object possessed. Each new bit of jargon caused the mass confusion of parents world wide. Are “green” and “organic” contemporary examples of vernacular that leave not only moms and dads scratching their heads, but also saddle young and old alike with the question, just what does it mean to be green?

Earth (my favorite planet) Photo By woodleywonderworksWe as a society are lead to believe that by purchasing something that is labeled “green” or “organic” that we are somehow doing something good, or “bad” for you children of the 1980’s, without perhaps thinking about the meaning behind the terms. It can not be denied that these words can be used as advertising ploys, as environmentalism has become a hot issue, surely some greedy people and companies will use that trend to their advantage. Slapping a buzz word on to a product in an effort to cash in on its trendiness is not a new practice in consumerism. Only few years back, as Atkins diet mania hit entered the publics collective consciousness, a “carb-free” label meant sudden financial success for an array of barely edible products.

Appleofmyeye Photo By Bludgeoner86So if Green no longer just refers to the color of money, or popular fictional frogs with a penchant for dating pigs, then what does it mean? My own understanding is that for something to be Green, it should exemplify both social and environmental consciousness in action. This is not to say that my understanding is completely correct. There are still the seemingly unanswerable questions, such as what if somethings production is good for the earth but bad for the people producing the product? Or vice versa? Is the environmentally sound option always the most socially aware choice? Is it always worth shelling out extra money for organic food when one can not always be certain what “organic” means, let alone if the product at hand is actually organic? For a person with a fair amount of Catholic guilt, this endless stream of moral queries can become maddening, trust me.

Stacks of books, Seattle, Washington, USA Photo By WonderlanePerhaps the only truth is that life is not easy. Even things that are supposed to be made simpler by the advent of such modern conveniences, such as grocery stores and online shopping, are not as easy as they appear to be on the surface. Of course, they can be simple, one can thoughtlessly buy things and only think of the immediate results, and let’s be honest, most people make purchases or perform actions based on immediate gratification from time to time, and I for one am not here to judge you for things I am myself guilty of. Maybe we should look at the Green movement as a reminder– a reminder to not be lazy just because it is an option, a reminder that sometimes research is required in making our own informed decisions, a reminder to not blindly trust simplistic labels to make our decisions for us, and a reminder that we, like Mr. Kemit the frog himself, must accept that it is not always easy being Green, but most worthwhile things in this life tend not to be effortless.

Fiberglass windows, polystyrene insulation, and HRV’s. We’re doing and trying it all in our scramble to develop more energy efficient living. And we’re always waiting for that next, new invention to save the day, (and our standard of living!).

But what did we do before technology? Before xenon filled super-insulated windows and low-flush toilets. Before blow-in insulation and evacuated solar thermal tubes. For a change of pace, let’s try an ecologist perspective on sustainable living rather than an engineers. All you’ve got are the tools of nature to clean the air, filter waste, fill the fridge and keep you warm. Sound too impossible to be true?

Rendering by Malcolm Gladwell - Fact or Fiction?

Rendering by Malcolm Wells - Can we live like this? Fact or Fiction?

In the 1970’s a movement started by ecologist John Todd had such amazing results. Continued through his New Alchemy Institute, Todd explored an earlier concept of the bio-shelter: a self-contained, zero “waste” facility that could sustain the average human (note: an informed reader has commented that no bio-shelter to date has fully achieved this). The actual definition of a bioshelter, according to Sean Wellesley-Miller & Day Ghahroudi offers a very holistic interpretation of the process as something that..”maintains a symbiotic relationship with the immediate exterior environment…and comparable to an organism that functions as a membrane between the inner and outer world.”

Known as “arks”, the shelters deal with both human waste in the form of air and sewage and provide consumable crop yields. Similarly, the arks have passive solar and renewable energy systems inherent in their ideology. They are a synthesis of science and nature, primarily consisting of a waste treatment system composed of a series of tanks containing vegetation, composting, aquatic life and bacteria. While extremely scientific in its approach, the system is inherently described as “a way of life” by John Todd, rather than a mere technology.

Image of Aquaculture from Treehugger.com

Image of Aquaculture from Treehugger.com

The original Cape Code Ark, the first bio-shelter, was only a food producing center. Years later, a residence was added that met the shelter at its midpoint, along a perpendicular angle to its southern exposure orientation. The formation is relatively a “T” shape, where the living space is predominately removed from the actual ark.

Cape Cod Ark from New Alchemy Institute Site

Cape Cod Ark from New Alchemy Institute Site

The Prince Edward Island Ark, designed to be an encapsulated residence, has a more integrated feel. The rectilinear building places the waste treatment area toward the south half of the building, but the living quarters run parallel to this structure and at all points are visually or physically connected to each other.

Prince Edward Island Ark from New Alchemy Site

Prince Edward Island Ark from New Alchemy Site

Unfortunately, the New Alchemy Institute closed its doors some twenty years later, but the real-world lesson provides a tremendous amount of hope for our impending future. Facing the need for off-the-grid systems from energy to air to waste, the bio-shelter offers a solution that not only functionally solves ours needs but brings us back in touch with nature in a manner that doesn’t fully jeapordize our current standards of living.

A smooth, flavorful glass of wine will calm even an over-stressed soul. But have you ever wondered what is actually in your wine? For those of us who choose not to consume animal products this a question that may come up often. For many vegans there are products that border on the line of being vegan, such as honey or silk. These products are not as veganistically simple to decide on as a steak, and wine is a classic example.

So you are thinking: What? Of course wine is vegan, its made out of crushed grapes, right? Although, grapes and other fruits may be the main ingredient, the fining process of wine is not always vegan. Depending on the winery, wines can be filtered through a number of ways. Some wineries use animal products such as gelatin (made from cow or pig bones) or casein (derived from milk) or even chitin (fish bladders). However, some wines are processed using vegan friendly and non animal bi-products such as plant derived casein and certain types of clays. If you’re curious about learning more about the vegan filtering process, we recommend that you check out Veggie Wines, a UK-based vegan information organization, or the May 2006 article on the topic by Vegetarians in Paradise.

So what about organic wines? Many of them boast a non filtered or organic natural fining process, but are they necessarily vegan? Since organic wine requires the product to be produced with organically grown grapes and must not contain sulfites (usually added as a preservative and is what causes that pesky morning-after headache), it would seem that organic wine would also refrain from fining with animal products. This however, is not always the case, so make sure you read the fine print.

Organic wines that are completely unfiltered are usually vegan and will most likely state this right on the label. We recommend the oldest organic vineyard in the country and multiple award-winner Frey Wines (which was also very popular at our World Fair Trade Day organic wine tasting earlier this month!). Or you can check out the vegan sampler from The Organic Wine Company which is a great value and a fun way to taste test vegan organic wines!

The best way to know if an organic (or non organic) wine is completely vegan, is to contact the manufacturer. Luckily, as most vegan products go, someone has already done this work for you! Check out the comprehensive vegan wine guides by Vegan Connection and the blog Taste Better.

So, when choosing your next bottle to share with friends and family, whether you or vegan or not, remember: organic wines are easier on the environment and, best of all, will not leave you with a throbbing wine-over the next day!

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