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THE NEW GREEN: Christmas shopping gone green

Campus Correspondent

Published: Thursday, December 5, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 22:12

As we enter the full brunt of holiday shopping during these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the question of how the average consumer can choose ethically made products and not break the bank is more pressing than at any other time of year. This is especially true given the season’s emphasis on building a better world and being sensitive to the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. A great way to start would be to reform our economy so that it does not rely upon human, animal and environmental abuses in order to achieve artificially low prices. But how can the average consumer on a constrained budget help?
The nonprofit organization Green America published an article earlier this year that offers some insight into this problem. The author Tracy Rysavy compared two T-shirts, identical in nearly every way, except that one was produced organically and sweat-shop free by the company Blue Canoe while the other, produced by Forever 21, used conventional cotton and had possible sweat-shop connections. The choice may so far seem easy – until you look at the price tag. The Forever 21 shirt is $8.80, while the Blue Canoe shirt rings up at $45.95.

“The fact is, no matter how successful a green business becomes and how much of a cost advantage that company offers due to economies of scale, it’ll never match the low, low prices of a conventional corporation like Forever 21 for one simple reason: Truly green businesses pay for external social and environmental costs that corporations are content to ignore – and foist on the communities in which they do business,” Rysavy said.

Forever 21 has been investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor for sweatshop conditions in its former U.S. factories, cited by worker’s advocates for inhumane factory conditions overseas, refused to join other retailers in boycotting cotton harvested by child-labor in Uzbekistan, and uses conventional cotton (accounting for 25 percent of global pesticide use) and conventional clothing dyes (which relies on toxic heavy metals).

Still, it remains unlikely that the average UConn student would lay down $50 for a T-shirt, and unfortunately Rysavy does not elaborate on how to buy green on a budget (although their magazine, The Green American, does promise to discuss these solutions). Perhaps the best that we can do for now is to strive to make slightly better choices wherever we can. For example, The New York Times commended the retailer H&M this week for its announcement that it will try to achieve a living wage for all of its workers in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia. Other major European and U.S. retailers that operate in the area blame weak government for the inhumane conditions, but H&M has elected to not wait for government. The transition will incur higher costs for the company in the short-term, as the article explains that it “will have to give fewer big orders to a smaller group of factories and commit to them for years at a time” which “can be more expensive initially even though it can improve productivity and quality over time.” H&M still needs to provide crucial information such as what it considers a living wage and how it will change its sourcing. However, if you find yourself shopping in Forever 21 this holiday season, you might just consider stopping next door to look for similar items at H&M and help to make just a tiny bit of difference. (Or better yet, write a letter to the companies that you support or oppose to let them know how you feel!)



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