I want to be a socially and environmentally conscious consumer, but I often find it difficult to know which companies to buy from, especially when it comes to clothing. Is there any way to know whether I'm buying my clothing from a company that uses sustainable materials and manufacturing practices?
Your question is one that is often on the minds of socially responsible consumers. There's good news and bad news, so we'll get the bad out of the way first: As far as we know, there's no comprehensive list of which companies are eco-friendly and which aren't, nor is there any industry-wide standard that clothing companies are held to. This often makes it difficult to find much information on a given company's practices other than what it posts on its own website (which you may want to take with a hefty grain of salt).
Fortunately, there's plenty of good news. For one thing, the industry as a whole is moving in a more sustainable direction, with many companies working to phase out sweatshop labor, and reducing their use of dangerous pollutants such as PVC. Even Nike has come out with a new line of sustainable shoes, called “Considered” (see nike.com for more info), which uses recycled rubber and eliminates plastics and adhesives from the construction process.
Of course, many consumers are still justifiably leery of buying from companies like Nike or The Gap. The second annual “Corporate Social Responsibility” ranking from Canadian financial news source Globeinvestor.com indicates a great deal of improvement on the part of companies like Adidas, Reebok, and Nike. But there is still a very long way to go before these companies could be considered “green.”
Luckily, there are alternatives. Many online stores carry extensive lines of eco-friendly apparel. Veganessentials.com and Global Exchange's online store (www.gxonlinestore.org) are two sites with good selections. Another useful website, responsibleshopper.org
, rates many well-known companies on both environmental and social issues. Unfortunately, it mostly rates larger corporations, so it won't direct you to smaller, independent companies.
If you're looking for information on smaller companies, there are a few good resources to point you in the direction of independent, sustainable, and socially conscious brands. Co-op America's “National Green Pages” (go to www.coopamerica.org and select “National Green Pages
” from the “publications” menu) lists thousands of eco-friendly businesses and their products.
Most of the brands you'll find on these pages are available online, but if, as a socially responsible consumer, you want to put your money into your local economy rather than shopping online, look for these brands in your local stores, or check out their websites for information on where they may be available in your area.