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January 20, 2015 / Sam Catherman

Amazon Announces Wind Deal, Still has a Long Way to Go

Today, Internet retail giant Amazon announced the first steps in moving to 100% wind power for the servers that power Amazon Web Services (AWS), its hosting subsidiary. In response to activists (including tens of thousands of Green America members) calling out the company’s failure to create sustainability goals or green their energy sources, Amazon Web Services, Inc. announced a power purchasing agreement from a wind farm in Indiana. The 150-megawatt Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge) project in Benton County, Indiana has agreed to supply AWS with up to 500,000 MWh (megawatt-hours) of wind-generated electricity each year for its data centers – or enough to power 46,000 homes each year. AWS hosts all of Amazon’s online operations, as well as many popular websites including Netflix, Pinterest, and Spotify.

WindFor years, Amazon has been in the rear in the race amongst technology giants to minimize their environmental impacts, coming in well behind Google, Apple, and Facebook in terms of greening its energy usage. Nearly half of AWS’s servers are based in the Northern Virginia region. Dominion, the region’s utility, generates electricity from a mix of 37% coal, 41% nuclear, 20% natural gas, and only 2% renewables.

Greenpeace has led the efforts to push Amazon to use renewable energy for its servers by publishing several reports highlighting the company’s lack of environmental and sustainability efforts. Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner

David Pomerantz greeted today’s announcement by stating, “As it invests in renewable energy, Amazon can give its customers greater confidence in its new green ambition by publishing information about its energy footprint, as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook have done. Increased transparency will allow AWS customers to know where they and AWS stand on their journey to 100% renewable energy.”

Amazon’s announcement today is a step forward, but the company still has far to go. For one thing, it is not yet clear to what extent Amazon’s current and planned servers will be powered by wind. In the fall of 2014 Amazon Web Services committed to a billion dollar investment in a new data center somewhere in Central Ohio – in proximity to one of the largest coal-producing regions in the US, and where 70% of the electricity in the state is produced by coal. AWS has declined to comment on details of the proposed project, and while it is possible that this new data center will be powered by wind from Indiana, there has been no indication that the site to the company’s renewable energy initiatives.

Creating a greener energy footprint involves far more than simply purchasing power from one windfarm. A successful path towards greening operations includes measures to maximize energy efficiency, a strong commitment to long-term renewable energy generation, a departure from the renewable energy credits offered by utilities, increased investment in renewable technologies, and advocacy for policies that support renewables. As of now, Amazon is not disclosing any information regarding the path towards becoming a more sustainable company.

That is why Green America is continuing to push Amazon to be more transparent about a wide range of sustainability measures, including energy usage. Amazon recently hired a sustainability director and publicly committed to switching to 100% renewable energy. However, the company is still not reporting energy usage data to the Carbon Disclosure Project and has offered no view into their plan towards reduced environmental impacts. Their recently announced deal in Indiana is welcomed and recognized as a step forward, but there is still much more to be done.

January 20, 2015 / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

The Poor Have It Easy? Really.

Photo from Occupy Atlanta

Photo from Occupy Atlanta

I just read an important editorial by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, in which he dissects a January survey from the Pew Research Center, showing how it explodes the myth of the so-called “welfare queens,” a term popularized by President Ronald Reagan to describe people, usually women, who gamed the welfare system to receive undeserved government benefits.

The survey found that this view hasn’t changed much since the Reagan era: 54 percent of the wealthiest Americans believe “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”

In his op-ed, Blow doles out statistic after statistic showing that nothing could be further from the truth.

As Blow states, “‘Easy’ is a word not easily spoken among the poor. Things are hard—the times are hard, the work is hard, the way is hard. ‘Easy’ is for uninformed explanations issued by the willfully callous and the haughtily blind.

He cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics paper stating that 11 million Americans work but don’t earn enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Compounding that, he notes, the poor end up paying more in income taxes than the rich and middle class, and they spend over 40 percent of their income on transportation. Even worse, the poor are “unbanked”—the key reason Green America campaigns for breaking up with mega-banks and moving to community development banks or credit unions.

Blow quotes the St. Louis Federal Reserve to illustrate just how serious it is to be underserved by banks and credit unions: “Unbanked consumers spend approximately 2.5 to 3 percent of a government benefits check and between 4 percent and 5 percent of a payroll check just to cash them. Additional dollars are spent to purchase money orders to pay routine monthly expenses. When you consider the cost for cashing a bi-weekly payroll check and buying about six money orders each month, a household with a net income of $20,000 may pay as much as $1,200 annually for alternative service fees—substantially more than the expense of a monthly checking account.”

It’s powerful stuff. Add to that the fact that the poor are more often victimized by predatory lending schemes and denied credit and loans for mortgages or education—as Green America illustrated in the “Break Up With Your Mega-Bank” issue of our Green American magazine—and you have a lot of struggling people trying to climb out of poverty with far too many unjust burdens holding them down.

This is why it’s so vital to break up with your mega-bank and support a community development bank or credit union, which make it a key part of their mission to provide banking services and fair and affordable loans to low- and middle-income borrowers,  in addition to the educational support they need to succeed.

Visit our website,, to find out today how you can move your accounts and credit cards to responsible banks that lift up communities that have so much stacked against them.

January 20, 2015 / Sam Catherman

New Congress Supports Wall Street, Not the Public

Congress began a new session at the beginning of 2015, with the Democrats in the House of Representatives handing the reins over to the Republicans. Though the previous Congress wasn’t exactly known for being tough on Wall Street, the recent bill proposed by Representative Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) was a predictable giveaway to large financial institutions by way of slashing regulations that kept banks from engaging in risky behavior. The Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act was introduced late in the evening on the second legislative day of the 114th session, with no debate surrounding the issue. Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson describes the move as “[Congressional Republicans] pushing mega-bank welfare to the head of the line, and sending a clear signal to Wall Street that they’ll do whatever it takes to further feather the bankers’ nests.”

capitolDespite its cheerful title, the bill is little more than an attempt at stripping even more of the regulatory power written in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. Affectionately referred to as an “11-bill Wall Street Wish List,” the bill was framed as a simple list of technical corrections to the Dodd-Frank Act.

The problem with this description is that it’s true – ask anyone his or her opinion on financial regulation, and you’re likely to get an earful. But ask about the nuts and bolts of financial regulations, and you’re likely to receive anything from blissful ignorance to a demonstrated misunderstanding of the issues at hand. The 2,300 pages of rules governing the financial field are so specific and complex that popping the hood and rearranging the insides is virtually guaranteed to go unnoticed by any large number of people. Opponents of the rules have been chipping away at the Dodd-Frank Act for the last 4 years – only this time they stand to do some serious damage.

First, the proposed changes would allow federally insured (backed up by tax dollars) banks to continue to hold and begin to freely trade Collateralized Loan Obligations (CLO’s), or certain bundles of debt. Though some of these CLOS, particularly the low-rated bundles, have a higher risk of default than others, they also have a higher return for investors. The high possible return in the face of a low rating makes CLOs attractive for investors looking for a quick, short-term gain. Once the loans in the low-rated bundles begin to default, however, the high returns sharply decline and investors are out of luck.

Until now, the Volcker Rule ordered that federally insured banks that already held CLOs sell them off by 2015. The rule was previously given a 2-year extension, and the recent Republican bill seeks to extend the deadline out until 2019. Bankers cite their “unrealized gains” on these bundles of debt as the reason for extending their lifetime.

According to the New York Times,

“The creation of such securities has been torrid recently; $124.1 billion was issued last year, compared with $82.61 billion in 2013, according to S&P Capital IQ. Among the banks with the largest C.L.O. exposures are JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo; according to SNL Financial, a research firm, JPMorgan Chase held $30 billion and Wells Fargo $22.5 billion in the third quarter of 2014, the most recent figures available. The next-largest stake — $4.7 billion — was held by the State Street Corporation.

These banks have understandably large positions at stake for asking for more time to deal with these securities. But in some cases their “unrealized gains” are turning into losses. Deals surrounding the future prices of commodities like oil are especially losing steam due to current global price drops.

Second, the new bill would give private equity firms freedom to charge more for the services they provide. By exempting private equity firms from registering as brokers with the SEC, even though they receive fees for investment banking activities like selling debt securities and advising mergers, they are able to avoid more scrutiny and rules from regulators.

Lastly, the bill allows for derivatives, or a security whose price is dependent on one or more underlying assets, to be traded privately and not at clearinghouses (third parties to all kinds of futures and options contracts). This shields these trades from scrutiny and regulation as well, increasing the risk of bubbles forming and further damage to the economy.

Though these attempts at deregulation have been occurring since the Dodd-Frank Act was passed in 2010, the latest attempt by a Republican-controlled Congress represents a serious threat to the progress made and to the stability of the economy. Now is the time to stand up and tell Washington to take these issues seriously instead of doing the business of their friends at the banks. Please contact your Representatives, Senators, and the White House to let them know you support tougher rules for the banks that nearly drove the economy off a cliff just 7 years ago. For more information on ditching your account with one of these banks and switching to a smaller, responsible, community-oriented institution, please visit

January 13, 2015 / Sam Catherman

Methane Leaks Prompt Calls for Regulation

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” touted by industry as the technological saving grace to our nation’s energy woes, has caused much concern to the environmental community during recent years. Amidst claims that burning natural gas is a less carbon-intensive source of electricity and heat, frackers have had to defend their business against assertions that their activities cause earthquakes, air and water pollution, and contribute to climate change. A recent NASA satellite study of the San Juan Basin in New Mexico and Colorado confirms what environmental researchers have long suspected: delinquent methane emitted from over 40,000 gas and oil wells has been accumulating in the atmosphere, where it will remain trapping heat for years to come.

gasThe Delaware-sized methane plume observed in the study floats above the San Juan Basin, trapping 80 times as much heat as CO2 in the atmosphere. Methane, the main component of natural gas, accounts for about 9% of US greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA states that 30% of this methane comes from industry, while the rest enters the atmosphere by ways of agriculture, human-generated waste, and natural sources. Equipment used to produce, store, and transport natural gas, often old and outdated, is dangerously prone to leaks. This study is one of the first to demonstrate the size of the problem.

The problem of methane emissions resulting from gas production isn’t just apparent to the climate-focused. Energy companies are seeing nearly $2 billion worth of their product drift away into the atmosphere, nearly 8 million metric tons per year (enough to power every household in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia). Despite the large financial incentive to capture this gas and bring it to market, aging infrastructure and poorly regulated implementation and operation of gas production technologies continue to be largely responsible for escaped methane. In many cases, natural gas and oil are located in the same shale formations. When a company drills for oil, they often flare excess methane into the atmosphere, where it will trap significantly more heat than its GHG counterpart, CO2.

While the energy industry claims that it is well aware of its leakage problem and taking measures to install updated equipment aimed at slashing the delinquent natural gas, environmental groups are calling for tighter regulations on oil and gas producers. According to a report by the Clean Air Task Force, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, there are existing technologies that will significantly reduce the gas that escapes from wells across the country. Requiring oil and gas producers to use them, however, has elicited a predictably negative response from the energy industry. According to the Washington Post,

“The Obama administration is reviewing a host of possible remedies that range from voluntary inducements to more costly regulations requiring oil and gas companies to install monitoring equipment and take steps to control the loss of methane at each point in the production process. The announcement of the administration’s new policies has been repeatedly delayed amid what officials describe as internal debate over the cost of competing proposals and, indeed, over whether methane should be regulated separately from the mix of other gases given off as byproducts of oil and gas drilling.”

Methane in the atmosphere is a serious climate concern. While there will certainly always be methane in the atmosphere from sources such as volcanoes and livestock (and we can reduce the latter), the additional emissions from our fossil fuel industries are unnecessary and preventable. Despite the obvious economic reasons to capture escaped gas, reducing methane emissions is imperative to meeting the climate goals set forth by the Obama administration, which we are far from meeting. We urge you to take the time to contact the White House, your representatives and the EPA to let them know you support regulations to decrease methane emissions from the energy industry.

December 17, 2014 / Sam Catherman

Texas City Bans Fracking; Oil and Gas Fight Back

But as one might expect from one of the most influential industries in the country, oil and gas companies did not take the ban silently. In such an energy-intensive state, complying with codes regulating the effects of fracking on air and water quality, especially near residential and public spaces, means bad news for oil and gas producers. The Texas Oil and Gas Association, and the Commissioner of the General Land Office (a state agency that manages certain state-owned lands and mineral interests) have both filed suit against the city of Denton, in both the Denton County District Court and the Travis County District Court.

In response, the local Denton Awareness Group has teamed up with national group Earthworks and moved to intervene in the two suits. Though this movement is rooted in concern for the health of communities and their resources like fresh water and clean air, the battle will largely revolve around mineral rights. In Denton, like much of Texas, mineral rights are severed from surface property – meaning that while you may own your home and the grass that grows on your yard, the minerals below, including any oil or natural gas, were likely snatched up by the industry a while ago. The case is expected to reach the Texas Supreme Court.

Denton currently has 272 active wells within its limits, and an additional 212 surrounding the city. In addition to the well-known environmental and health risks associated with fracking and natural gas development in populated areas, the economic case for fracking is certainly overstated. Since the majority of the mineral rights in the town are privately owned, Denton doesn’t make a whole lot of money as a result of allowing gas drilling to occur within the city. A University of North Texas assistant professor specializing in bioethics and a leader in Frack Free Denton, Adam Briggle, argues that the gas industry offers very little benefit to the citizens of Denton. According to Briggle, “Royalties paid to the City of Denton account for less than 1 percent of the city budget. Taxes from wells amount to only about 0.5 percent of all city property tax revenues. The biggest beneficiaries from fracking in Denton are out-of-town companies and absentee mineral owners.”

The lawsuits, which sound like a victory for those against the use of fracking, could result in some unintended consequences. For one, the oil and gas industry are already asking that Denton pay the legal fees associated with the suits. Furthermore, if the fracking ban holds up in court, Denton could owe tens of millions of dollars for natural gas that residents don’t own, and that industry can’t reach. The severed ownership of property above and below the ground raises serious questions. And in addition to the mineral rights issue, it is still unclear as to whether the City of Denton or the State of Texas, via the Railroad Commission, should have oversight on fracking and gas production.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the case in Denton plays out. Green America supports the idea that a community, be it a small town or a big city, has the right to determine what economic activity takes place there and how it is regulated. We would hate to see Denton caught between a rock and a hard place (either allowing fracking or paying millions to industry) should gas companies be granted the right to exploit the town’s mineral resources below the surface of the city. To stay up to date with the case, follow “Frack Free Denton” on Facebook or visit their website here:

December 17, 2014 / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

Honoring Dr. Theo Colborn


Dr. Theo Colborn

Today, Green America honors the life of Dr. Theo Colborn, who passed away on December 14th.  Many of us working for environmental sustainability and social justice aim to change the world, but Dr. Colborn did just that through her groundbreaking efforts to recognize and pinpoint the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Her seminal book, Our Stolen Future (co-authored with Dianne Dumanowski and John Peterson), earned her countless descriptors as “the Rachel Carson of the 1990s,” as both it and Carson’s Silent Spring sounded urgent alarms about the harm that the proliferation of untested or minimally tested synthetic chemicals are doing to the Earth and to animal and human health.

Colborn’s work detailed how endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in everyday products like plastics and body care items can, even in low doses, impact human development and cause biological, metabolic, and neurological abnormalities—ranging from birth defects to low IQ to low sperm counts and cancer. These chemicals, she wrote, have the ability to mimic natural hormones in the body, thereby “[fooling] the tissues that respond to natural hormones, causing irreversible changes in structure and function.”

It’s thanks to Dr. Colborn that the world has a language for these types of chemicals and the effects they have—and with that language comes the ability to pinpoint problematic chemicals and prevent more harm. Thanks to her, countless people have switched to food containers that are manufactured without bisphenol-A (BPA), or baby bottles and toys made without phthalates, two of the most studied endocrine disruptors.

Most recently, Dr. Colborn had been working on demonstrating how one of the biggest threats posed by the fossil-fuel industry, in addition to the climate crisis, is the number of endocrine disrupting chemicals the industry produces—particularly benzene and toluene.

What’s even more remarkable about Dr. Colborn is that her scientific career came about in the “second act” of her life.

“Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder describes so well the innate curiosity I have always had about natural things,” Colborn told Terrain magazine in 2014. “I always asked lots of questions, and nobody ever had the answers.”

So Colborn, a pharmacist through the 1970s, went back to school in 1985 to tackle questions she’d long had about the harm humans were doing to the environment. She earned her Ph.D. in zoology (with minors in epidemiology, toxicology, and water chemistry) from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. And then she dedicated the rest of her life finding answers for the rest of us.

Her work has been instrumental in forming Green America’s approach to toxins in everyday products. We embrace the Precautionary Principle, making it a policy to always advise our members to err on the side of caution when it comes to potential toxins in their body care, food, furniture, and other products. And we screen the companies that belong to our Green Business Network™ (GBN) with precaution in mind—and with an eye to ensuring that suspected hormone disruptors are not included in GBN-member products.

We at Green America thank Dr. Colborn for asking questions that are so vital to the continued existence of humans on this planet. And we support the scientists who continue her important work to find the answers.

December 17, 2014 / Elizabeth

The Fairness Gap: Poverty persists among West African cocoa farmers

Young girl mixing cocoa beans.

Credit: ILRF

The problem of forced child labor and human trafficking on West African cocoa farms has been known problem since roughly 2000, when a number of investigative reports came out exposing the severity of this issue. These reports spurred a reaction among policy makers and businesses, though for nearly a decade work to reduce the incidences in labor abuse in the sector seemed fragmented and stalled.

However, in the past four years there are clear signs of progress. Consumer awareness of child labor in the cocoa sector continues to grow, and with it, an ardent demand for chocolate made without child labor. Green America and many allies have helped hundreds of thousands of consumers communicate their concerns about child labor to the largest chocolate manufacturers, and raised awareness of fair trade certified and direct trade chocolate as well.

Companies big and small have responded to this demand.  Smaller fair trade companies like Divine Chocolate and Equal Exchange have been able to expand their markets and their offerings in order to send more money back to the farming communities they work with. Ben and Jerry’s announced that all their ingredients, not just cocoa, would be fair trade by the end of this year, and larger companies like Hershey and Mars have committed to source only certified cocoa by the year two thousand and twenty.

Fairness Gap ReportHow all this progress in the marketplace translates to progress on the ground for farmers is the question that is addressed in a new report out today: The Fairness Gap: Farmer Incomes and Root Cause Solutions to Ending Child Labor in the Cocoa Growing Sector. Also in the report are recommendations for all actors in the sector.

Key report findings include::

  • Many cocoa farming families in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire make around the international poverty line of $2 per day, but with large families, this amounts to roughly 40 cents per person.
  • Low earnings make it difficult for farmers to pay hired laborers to harvest the crop at the legally required minimum wage, fueling the need for child labor and, especially in Côte d’Ivoire, the trafficking of casual workers (including children) from neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
  • The majority of cocoa farmers are isolated geographically and must rely on a vast network of middlemen to transport their beans. Farmers also lack price information and negotiating power.
  • The average age of cocoa farmers is increasing as younger people seek alternative means of income. This also increases the need for casual workers, who are even more marginalized.
  • Company efforts to improve working conditions, schools, and supply certification are getting mixed reviews due to a failure to address the underlying poverty problem in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

The full report can be read on the International Labor Rights Forum’s website.

December 11, 2014 / Todd Larsen

Alert! Omnibus Spending Bill Favors Wall Street and Wealthy Donors

Dolla dolla bill

Congressional Democrats, in an attempt to prevent another government shutdown this year, may agree to let some troubling provisions into this year’s omnibus spending bill. Among the concessions made to the newly GOP-controlled legislature, the bill would strip critical restrictions on Wall Street under the Dodd-Frank Act. It would also permit a 3-fold increase in the amount of money a wealthy individual would be able to contribute to campaign funding. As of this afternoon, a number of Democrats, led by progressives, have held up the legislation. But, the White House has made clear that it won’t veto an omnibus spending bill with the problematic language included.

The provisions of the bill are troubling, because they will remove restrictions on Wall Street banks that prohibited them from using federally-insured deposits to underwrite derivatives trading. Derivatives are transactions in which two parties bet on the future price of a good, often commodities, to cushion against unexpected price shocks. In the early 2000’s derivatives were applied to the mortgage-backed securities market, and largely contributed to the financial collapse of 2008. The Dodd Frank Act required banks to underwrite derivatives in separate departments, forbidding the use of deposits for this purpose.

The new language in the spending bill allows banks to once again underwrite derivatives trading with deposits – that’s the cash that YOU as customers trust the banks (and subsequently the government) to keep safe for you. Just six years ago, we saw the bubble created by this activity and the devastation it caused across the country when it burst. Removing these regulations from banks only encourages more risky behavior, and could very well lead to another bubble situation.

These unfortunate amendments in the bill were allowed to pass without much of a fight so that other goals could be achieved. According to the Washington Post, “White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that ‘it is certainly possible that the president could sign this piece of legislation,’ even though it would undo a pillar of the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul by freeing banks to more readily trade the exotic investments known as derivatives. The legislation ranks among the administration’s biggest domestic achievements.

Republican leaders predicted that the House would easily approve the sprawling spending bill and send it to the Senate, which would face a midnight Thursday deadline (but as of this writing, the bill has hit snags from both Democrats and Republicans). The measure provides funding through September for the Pentagon and dozens of other federal agencies and contains hundreds of individual policy instructions… The bill includes some good news for the White House, including fresh funding to battle the deadly outbreak of Ebola in West Africa and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And it would do nothing to upend Obama’s contentious executive action on immigration or his health-care law.”

Not every battle can be fought and won at the same time, but the concessions made in this bill to Wall Street and wealthy donors stand to create real problems for American democracy. As wealthy individuals have an increasingly powerful say in the political process, and financial institutions grow to enjoy lax regulation once again, the officials we elect have less and less power to represent their constituents. Today, we urge you to contact your representatives and tell them to stand up to Wall Street and the wealthy and fight for regulations that protect our people, planet, and our democracy.

Writing by Sam Catherman

November 19, 2014 / Green America

10 Grinch Gifts to Avoid This Holiday

Jewelry from Discount and Department Stores

jewelry laid outProblems: Adult and children costume jewelry from stores such as Claire’s, Walmart, Target, Forever 21, Walmart, H&M, and Icing may contain toxic lead and cadmium.  Mining for stones and metals used in more expensive jewelry causes environmental damage, unsafe working conditions, and violent and lethal conflict.

Better Options: High-quality jewelry made by fair trade artisans.

Box of Uncertified Chocolates

box of chocolates - petr kratochvilProblems: Cacao can come from forced child labor and underpaid farmers and workers.  Chocolates most likely contain sugar and soy lecithin that are genetically engineered (GMOs), and may contain unhealthy artificial flavors.

Better Options: Fair trade and organic chocolates

Non-Organic Body Care Gift Sets

body care gift setProblems: Soaps, lotions, etc. contain parabens, phthalates preservatives, and synthetic fragrances, which cause endocrine and hormone disruption, thyroid problems, infertility, and cancer.

Better Options: Products with only nontoxic, safe ingredients.

Toy Guns

Nerf gunProblems: Made of plastic which comes from petroleum and toxic chemicals, often made in sweatshops overseas, and send a violent message to children.

Better Options: Peaceful toys, made in the USA from nontoxic and sustainable materials.

Bella Luna Toys

Down to Earth Toys

EcoChoices Natural Living Store


Barbie Dolls

barbie dollsProblems: Made of plastic which comes from petroleum, made by low-wage workers overseas, and affects young girls and their body image.

Better Options: Positive-image dolls; Fair trade and/or made in the USA out of non-toxic, sustainable materials.

Bella Luna Toys

Wild Dill

Global Green Pals



Gift Cards to Big-Box and “Fast Fashion” Stores

By Ben Schumin (Own work (Ben Schumin)) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia CommonsProblems: Many products from stores like Walmart, Target, and H&M are made with unsustainable materials, plastic (from petroleum), and toxic chemicals; produced in sweatshops and dangerous working conditions. Big-box retailers also pay some of the lowest staff wages.

Better Options: Fair trade, sustainable, unique gifts.

Conventional Candles

lit candles

Problems: Often made from paraffin wax which is a petroleum by-product and produces soot when burned, genetically engineered (GMO) soy, wicks with lead, and toxic synthetic fragrances.

Better Options: Beeswax and non-GMO soy candles with essential oils for fragrance.

Vance Family Soy Candles (non-GMO soy)

Beehive Candles

Big Dipper Wax Works

Scarves, Mittens, Hats from Department and Discount Stores

mittens and scarves from World FindsProblems: Many mainstream stores such as Gap and Target use sweatshop labor and unsustainable fibers.

Better Options: Sustainable, fair trade businesses and products that are handmade and/or from reclaimed materials.

Handy Candy Mittens

World Finds

Ten Thousand Villages



Virgin-Paper Journals and Cards

Mr Ellie Pooh notebooksProblems: Virgin forests are destroyed to make paper, affecting watersheds, air quality, animal habitat, and climate change.

Better Options: Made from 100 percent recycled paper or non-tree paper.  Even better is non-tree paper that provides a sustainable income and protects animals.

Mr. Ellie Pooh




Athletic Gear/Yoga Mat from Chain Stores

yoga mats - image from mckay savageProblems: Made of synthetic and potentially unhealthy materials, under bad working conditions.

Better Options: Sustainable, fair trade businesses and products.

Senda Athletics

Natural Fitness

November 19, 2014 / Todd Larsen

Amazon Takes a Step Forward on Climate?

Amazon has added a line to the sustainability page of the Amazon Web Services site stating: In addition to the environmental benefits inherently associated with running applications in the cloud, AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint. It’s always good news when a large company recognizes that it needs to shift to renewable energy. Since Amazon has not provided a timeline or any evidence of new investment in clean energy (current or planned), nor have they answered press queries, it’s hard to know if it’s time to break out the champagne. For years, Amazon has been the holdout in the tech industry on making any commitment to clean energy or even disclosing its carbon emissions. By comparison, competitors like Apple, Google, and Facebook have taken measurable action, and most companies disclose the carbon they are emitting and the steps to reduce their emissions. And, according to Clean Technica, Amazon is planning to build a new data center in Ohio that will largely be powered by coal. Clean Technica estimates the data center will use enough energy to power over 70,000 homes. So, while Amazon clearly understands that their customers want to see them adopt renewable energy, it is essential that we keep the pressure on them to be more transparent about their emissions and how they are planning to reduce them overall (Amazon’s climate footprint goes well beyond its data centers). Take action with Green America to urge Amazon to:

  • Issue a sustainability report following Global Reporting Initiative guidelines
  • Respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project so that Amazon can report out on and reduce their climate emissions. Nearly 70% of S&P 500 companies and more than 80% of Global 500 companies disclose climate related data through the Carbon Disclosure Project.
  • Make a real commitment to increase the percentage of renewable energy powering their servers with actual investments in clean energy and a clear timeline, to make good on Amazon’s pledge of 100% renewable power. Also, immediately halt construction of data centers that rely on coal-fired power.
  • Institute a take back program to responsibly recycle electronics.

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