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Tis the season…for Smencils!

December 12, 2011

Made of rolled, recycled paper dipped in a scent “by an award winning fragrance company” topped with biodegradable erasers!

This brilliant idea (proof that there are jobs in the green industry) is featured on BuyGreen, which offers a wide variety of eco-conscious products for personal and commercial use and is one of several ethical consumer sites featured in the current issue of The Boston Review.

Just in time for holiday shopping, this comprehensive discussion of Ethical Consumerism has myriad expert voices in firsthand accounts responding to an introductory article by Dara O’Rourke. The special edition is as full as Santa’s bag when it comes to inspirational language and a defense of activist, conscious, or ethical consumption.

But one of the more practical elements is the inclusion of several consumer goods rating systems. GoodGuide is a product of O’Rourke’s own research while at UC Berkeley. The Guide is even downloadable as an app to use in an actual store. The site provides simple 1 – 10 ratings for a virtually endless number of products from shampoo to jeans. Some of the detractors in the article argue that his 1 – 10 method is not just simple, but an oversimplification, and they may have some validity.

Greentopia rates companies strictly environmentally, awarding zero to four leaves (like stars). It also caters business searches to many local areas. I was encouraged to see something from my own home receive the highest possible rating: the makers of Fat Tire Ale, New Belgium Brewery, got 4 out of 4 leaves.

Better World Shopper grades companies (literally A through F) according to five categories—human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice—free online and provides more comprehensive portable guides for a fee.

Project Label is largely reader-driver, opening it up to the whims and biases of voters, but they have these handy Social Nutrition Labels that break down a company’s impact like the nutrition guide on the sides of food items. They also list ethical awards a company has won to help them earn that rank.

Rankings vary among the sites and can seem counterintuitive. As with GoodGuide, many of the ratings on Project Label are fairly liberal. For example, Nestle receives an overall 74.2% when Better World Shopper gives Nestle an F. Trader Joe’s, a store the layperson like myself might perceive as ethical, gets a C on Project Label, just two stars—leaves—on Greenopia, but a big A- on Better World Shopper. There are similarities as well though: Gap and Levi’s both score in the 80s on these sites; Patagonia is praised by all.

Know More is a wiki, with Wikipedia’s well-known and easy to navigate page layout. The site was started by poets Bernard Dolan and Sage Francis. The articles posted on company history and behavior are informative and current. The startling, behind-the-consumer-curtain images are what may stay with you though.

There are more sites in the Boston Review article, too many to have investigated by this time. And that seems to be key to sort out the contradictory information on some of them.  But if you are charging into the holiday fray to charge your way to present heaven, or if you want to buy the greenest jacket this season, these sites of ethical consumerism are definitely worth visiting.

Additional sites listed in the article: Alonovo hones online shopping choices to ethical preferences; Ethiscore; Evo; Skin Deep; and ShopWell ,dedicated to healthy food choices.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 7, 2012 11:02 pm

    Thanks for the great article!

    We wanted all of our loyal Smencils fans to be the first to know that are bringing “Smanimals” to life. Pink Llamanade, Kangarootbeer, Mint Chocolate Chipmunk and friends are on a journey to become real scented stuffed animals. You can track with their busy lives at at or

    Thanks for all the Smencil love!

    The Smencils Team

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