Some shoppers like to look for good values

Consuming Interests

March 05, 2006|By KARA MORRISON | KARA MORRISON,THE DETROIT NEWS

For three decades, Lori Broesamle has thought long and hard about the things she buys for herself and her home.

It is not merely factors such as design and price that play into her decision-making. Her conscience plays a big role.

Before she opens her wallet, Broesamle looks into a company's environmental practices, how it treats its workers and even the chemicals present in its products.

"You start out as a kid thinking it wouldn't be on the shelf if it wasn't OK," she says from her clothing, cosmetics and home goods store in Royal Oak, Mich. That notion, she says, ends with childhood.

Today, she says, "it's up to us to determine what's ethical, safe and healthy."

For those who think principles and politics are far removed from shopping, think again. Broesamle opened her eco-friendly Mia Mahalo store three years ago, and has seen the number of vendors catering to shops like hers grow exponentially in that time.

Today, more and more companies offer things such as fair-trade products -- where artisans and growers are fairly compensated for their wares -- plus a plethora of organic, recycled and environmentally friendly goods.

It's one of many movements afoot in this competitive age of global trade and growing conglomerates, with many customers examining their conscience before shelling out dollars.

Today, national clothing retailers such as American Apparel brag about their wages and working conditions in an industry otherwise rife with sweatshops. They even employ a massage therapist at their Los Angeles factory to be at their workers' disposal.

Company Web sites also allow customers to shop their consciences.

For example, The Green Guide (thegreenguide.com) reviews all sorts of personal, food and household products and calls itself "a trusted green living resource for today's conscious consumer."

Buyblue.org is another popular Web site. The brainchild of depressed Democrats began as a search for solace after the 2004 presidential election. Today, they not only show customers which political parties that company executives and corporate political action committees contribute to, but they also rate corporations on everything from their environmental and labor practices to their charitable contributions.

The site compiles public information from the Federal Election Commission, the Opensecrets.org Web site and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and encourages people to vote with their wallets. No matter what one's politics, the site is an interesting resource for customers to gauge where their money is going.

"Its purpose is to empower people -- all of us," says Ture. "We need to be able to make choices. ... You can support the people whose values you agree with."

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