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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Socially Responsible Shopping

Air Date: Week of December 6, 1996

Commentator Julia King discusses why shopping from so-called globally socially responsible home catalogs appeals to her, right at home in Goshen, Indiana.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King is hooked on the new brand of socially responsible holiday shopping. Companies such as Real Goods, Seventh Generation, and nonprofits like Gifts of the World, offer products which they say are fair to workers and kind to the Earth. She hopes her purchases help make life better for far away impoverished artisans. But Ms. King's motives also lie a bit closer to home.

KING: Deep in the heart of a South American rainforest an artisan lovingly collects ivory nuts. He then hand-carves them into beautiful dolphin-shaped pendants that he sells to support his family. And all the while he's treading lightly on the delicate land. The image drips with humble sincerity and grace. I circle the catalogue entry and turn the page. A selection of stationery catches my eye. The thick brown-green paper is made by destitute women in a faraway village. But that's not all. To make this paper, these women gather fast-growing indigenous weeds that are clogging navigable waterways in their community. (Sighs) A tear drops from my cheek as my pen makes its mark.

This is all part of a fast-growing market of environmentally and socially responsible products. It's put an entirely new spin on the holidays for me. Once I, too, eyed food processors and big fluffy slippers in department stores. I was one of the masses putting money in the pockets of CEOs living in high-rise penthouses. Now, I'm saving the world. And when you've had a taste of that, it's hard to go back to synthetic slippers from the mall.

The best part is that it doesn't matter what I buy for people any more. I can get my mother in law a shoehorn if I want to. If it's made by orphaned children in Bosnia, she'll be forced to thank me graciously. Gone are the high-pressure last minute shopping trips where I wrack my brain for appropriate gifts. Now, anything goes. Candlesticks made by displaced Third World factory workers. Paperweights created from melted down bottles that once cluttered the shores of Poland's Baltic Sea. When you've captured the moral high ground, the rest falls into place.

But don't overlook the importance of the presentation. As the recipient wrestles with the plain brown non-dyed recycled gift wrap, hold your head high. Cock it slightly to the side. Smile like Mother Theresa or Tammy Faye Baker. Then tell them, "I thought of you the moment I saw this. I knew you'd want to support those struggling shrimp trappers in Thailand." And you know what? They'll believe you. You'll both feel wonderful. And isn't that what the holidays are all about?

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

 

 

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