Saturday, April 9, 2011

Change of blog location...

Hi all,

Please note I have moved my blog over to the address below.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Go Nuts!

At a small organic food retailer, located in a three story complex dedicated to health and wellbeing in downtown Singapore, I made a marvellous discovery... organic, fairly traded ‘Soap Nuts’!
Soap nuts grabbed my attention, as during my pursuit to purchase and use only natural cosmetics and beauty products, the realisation that house-hold cleaning products also contained harmful chemicals hit me. Not only do house-hold cleaning products such as kitchen and bathroom sprays, window cleaners and laundry detergent harm the environment, but they also harm our bodies.
Just think- we wash our clothes with laundry detergents that promise to ‘eliminate stains’ with their powerful formula. We then wear these clothes day and day out with no thought to the fact that the powerful chemicals that removed those stains from our clothes still remain on the fabric in small quantities and slowly sink into our skin. Or we wash the dishes using a product that promises to be ‘tough on grease,’ let the dishes dry and then use them to eat and drink. Small remnants of the chemical that was tough on the grease remains on the cup or spoon you use and will end up in your stomach in small quantities. Such products often contain chemicals associated with eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or other human health issues, but such allergic reactions are often not associated with the chemicals used in the house on a daily basis.
 Once we are done cleaning, these chemicals run down the drain, and are released into the ocean having an adverse affect on the environment. For example, alkylphenol ethoxylates, a common surfactant ingredient in cleaners, has been shown in laboratory studies to cause adverse reproductive effects on wildlife exposed to polluted waters (National Research Council, 1999).
Of course there are many green, biodegradable and environmentally friendly cleaning products available on the market today. However, what drew me to Soup Nuts were that they are just that: nuts that naturally produce a soap like substance.
                Soapnuts are an environmentally friendly sustainably produced, bio-degradable and compostable way of cleaning your laundry. Grown wild in India, for centuries these nuts (sapindus mukorossi) have been used for many purposes including removing tarnish from jewellery and treating all sorts of ailments from contaminated soil to migraines to epilepsy. They are most widely recognised as being an effective and environmentally friendly natural detergent however can be used for a whole host of other uses.
                 The nuts contain the active natural washing ingredient saponin. Similar to soap, when the shells of the soapnut come in contact with water the saponin is released and suds are produced - these are excellent for cleaning laundry and leaving it beautifully soft. Because your laundry water will only contain pure natural ingredients compared to traditional detergents, it can much more usefully be reused as grey water to reduce water consumption (your garden and plants will thank you as well!’ (Soap in a Nutshell, 2011)
As mentioned, other uses of the Soap Nut include:
  • Multi-purpose cleaner
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Jewellery cleaner... the list goes on
And not only are Soap Nuts good for you and the environment, their production benefits communities in India through the provision of a sustainable income. Soap Nuts, although not certified fair trade as yet, are sourced sustainably, ensuring the community in India that grows and harvests the soap nuts are paid a fair price for their product;
                ‘By purchasing soapnuts you are helping maintain the natural habitat and environment which has existed for centuries and are providing a living direct to some of the more impoverished areas of India.’ (Soap in a Nutshell, 2011)
If you are not yet convinced, I have used the Soup Nuts to wash four loads of washing and four sink loads of dishes thus far and have found them to be most effective. My clothes have come out fresh, clean and stainless and the dishes have been degreased very well indeed. I have to say I am quite impressed and surprised as to how effective they really are.
You can order 1kg of Soap Nuts here for a great price of AUD $35, which amounts to approximately 400 washes, or 12c a wash!
Hormonally Active Agents in the Environment, National Research Council, National Academy Press, 1999
Soap in a Nutshell, Retrieved 27 February 2011 from

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Look Out! Its Palm Oil...

Last week I had the most incredible breakfast meeting. It wasn’t with a CEO, or a celebrity, but rather I had breakfast with an endangered species!
That’s right; I shared my toast with one of the great apes, specifically a family of Orang-utans.
I was able to enjoy this experience at the famed program ‘Breakfast with the Orang-utans’ at Singapore Zoo. Most were unfortunately rescued as pets from people’s homes but this meant they were very used to humans. One young male even touched me lightly on the shoulder. I felt so honoured to be in such close proximity so such a beautiful, intelligent yet highly endanger creature.
I did have to wondered if my children would ever have the chance to meet an Orang-utan...
Orang-utans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia and are the only members of the great ape family that reside in Asia.  They share 97% of their DNA with humans and have the intelligence of a three year old child! Looking into their eyes was truly like looking into the eyes of a fellow human being. They seemed to have certain wisdom about them.
Well after my wonderful breakfast I was horrified to find a KFC restaurant located just outside the zoo gates. How could this zoo that promotes Orang-utan conservation be so hypocritical as to have a KFC within its property?
You see, as mentioned Orang-utans are an endangered species with an estimated 60,000 left in the wild (WWF,2010).
According to WWF;
            Habitat destruction and fragmentation is by far the greatest threat to this species. This problem is caused by commercial logging, and forest clearance for oil palm plantations and agriculture.
And to my knowledge, KFC was one of the biggest consumers of this product called palm oil. However, in doing research for this blog I discovered that due to consumer action, they have stopped using palm oil to produce their food- so I take back all of my bad thoughts about Singapore zoo being hypocritical!!!
However, in saying that, palm oil, the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia, and the number one threat to the existence of Orang-utan’s, is found in over 50% of all packed food on our shelves! If your shopping list includes packaged products like bread, biscuits, chocolate, chips, sandwich spreads, ice cream, shower cream and shampoo, then it’s likely you are buying palm oil (WWF, 2010).

Palm oil production is not only responsible for threatening the existence of Orang-utans, it is also responsible for threatening the environment in other ways and violating human rights;
                ‘If cultivated in an unsustainable way palm oil can have negative impacts on people and the environment. These include indiscriminate forest clearing, habitat loss of threatened and endangered species, poor air quality from burning forests and peatlands, and disregard for the rights and interests of local communities. A report published in 2007 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acknowledges that palm oil plantations are now the leading cause of rainforest destruction in Malaysia and Indonesia. Of even more concern is the fact that demand for palm oil is predicted to increase, and most of the remaining suitable areas for plantations are forest.’ WWF
So, if palm oil is present in 50% of the products on our shelves, what can we do. Something that I have been doing week by week as I do my grocery shopping is quite simple- read the ingredients on the packet. You should probably be doing this anyway for health reasons. If palm oil that is not certified from a sustainable source is listed, simply do not buy the product and look for an alternative on the selves. If you feel so inclined write to the company that you chose not to buy from and inform them of your decision. This is the only way companies will change their ways- consumer demand!
What is palm oil? (2010).World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved 15 February 2011 from

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tempted by a Bargain?

Ling was born in China. When she was 19 years old, she was persuaded to go to Europe with the promise of a job and a better life - both for her, and for her family who stayed behind.
She was given a job as a textile worker in a factory. The salary promised was €800 per month which was much more than she could ever hope to earn in Hanuin. She works 16 hours a day, and is not allowed to leave the factory except to return to the small apartment she shares with six other factory employees. She does not receive the salary that she was promised, and is rarely paid anything at all.
You may have purchased a sweater made by Ling.’ (IOM,2008).
I don’t want to buy clothing that imprisons girls like Ling. I want to buy items that empower them.
I am currently working in Singapore for 5 weeks and the temptation to buy cheap clothing manufactured in Asia is all around me. Usually I would jump at a bargain, but my conscious no longer allows me to do this as when you purchase a product, you are supporting the way that product was produced. If the product is the result of someone’s forced labor, you are encouraging the company which has relied on forced labor to continue relying on forced labor.
I am sure when it comes down to it, none of us want to support forced labor with our retail purchases, but the fact is it is very difficult to distinguish which companies exploit their workers and which don’t, as the global supply chain system is so complex.
I have started walking to and from work whilst in Singapore, which is not only great for my health, but also solves my issue of purchasing unethical petrol temporarily! However, my laptop was getting a tad heavy and therefore I needed to purchase a backpack. But where could I possibly find an ethical lyproduced backpack?
I managed to do some research and found many resources that can assist you in making a decision about what brands manufacture their items with a social conscious.
Free to Work
On, consumers can easily search specific products, learn more about various labour standards and corporate practices, and further their engagement through their consumption decisions.
Ethical Clothing Australia
Assisting the local textile, clothing and footwear industry to ensure Australian workers receive fair wages and decent conditions.
Business Social Compliance Initiative
The Business Social Compliance Initiative is a leading business-driven initiative for companies committed to improving working conditions in the global supply chain.
All of the above websites rank or list brands based on the companies’ compliance with ethical standards and labour laws. From this I picked up some common brands that I encounter every time I enter a shopping centre that abide by such standards:
  • GAP
  • Bardot
  • Cue
  • Levi’s
  • Billabong
And although I cannot verify that they have signed up to international standards, Target and Cotton On have Ethical Sourcing Codes that all of their suppliers must comply with.
So really, with a bit of prior research it is not too difficult to purchase ethical clothing. You may just have to avoid the temptation to purchase on a whim, and only purchase an item once you have researched the brand. This may also assist with budgeting as you will be less inclined to buy items you don’t really need!
So, long story short I was able to purchase a backpack from an ESPIRIT store. Although it cost me more than a cheap backpack from one of the markets here in Singapore, I felt better knowing that the person made it was not working in a sweatshop with their feet chained to a table for 16 hours a day.
And although it is very difficult to walk past pretty dresses selling for $5 here in the markets,  I would prefer not to wear an item on my body that endorses slavery, even it was a bargain.
For additional information on labor laws and actions you can take towards ethical consumerism go to:
Organization for International Migration. (2008). We Buy They Pay. Retrieved 25 January 2011 from

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cosmetics: A Deadly Industry

This week’s post is going to be short & sweet, because I am going to let the below video tell you everything I want to.
The ‘Story of Stuff: Cosmetics’ awoke me to the fact that every time I stepped into the bathroom of a morning, I was in fact going in there to poison my body. The day after I watched this I threw out all of my old cosmetics and started again...
Some may see this as waste, and an expensive one at that, but when you realise the harm that you are doing to your body every time you wash your hair, moisturise your body and put make-up on, even though you are doing these things to be ‘healthy’, you might reassess your bathroom cupboard too.
Now I hope I haven’t frightened you off too much. Go on, watch it. It might just save you and your children’s lives.
Have you watched it? No wonder rates of cancer in Australia have been on the rise over the last few decades. In 1982, 47,350 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Australia compared with 108,368 cases in 2007 (Cancer Australia).
Due to the frightening facts mentioned in this short clip, I conclude that buying products with harmful products in them cannot be classified as ethical. If manufacturers are placing these chemicals in the products we buy, knowing full well the risks involved then I do not wish to give my money to such a company.
I challenge you to go to the below website and research the risk rating for ingredients in the products you use. You might be surprised by the result.
Thank-fully there are now many alternative options available in the Australia market. This week I purchased chemical free natural shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser and sunscreen through Australian company ‘Natural Instinct’ available at Priceline and most major supermarkets. I found the products to be super effective and my hairdresser even said she has never seen my hair so healthy! Natural Instinct have a range of other products so make sure you check them out.
I also purchased 100% natural makeup made by another Australian company ‘Nude by Nature.’ The makeup is made from organic clays and minerals and allows you skin to breath while giving me the best coverage I have ever had. My skin looks great all day!
Both Natural Instict and Nude by Nature do not test their products on animals.
I did have one muck-up this week in the area of cosmetics whilst pursuing my ethical shopping ideal. I went to the hairdresser to get my hair coloured, and before going to my appointment did ask that she use a brand that is somewhat organic and does not test on animals. She said that should not be a problem but upon arrival I found that she had purchased Wella’s which is apparently not tested on animals but is owned by Proctor & Gamble USA which has a boycott called against them due to  laboratory experiments on and cruelty to animals. Oops! If anyone can help me in sourcing professional hair colour that actually works (not henna as I am blonde) and is produced by an ethical company I would be most grateful!
I hope I have prompted you into action this week!
PS- If you would like more information about why products tested on animals are unethical, go to.
AIHW, CA (Cancer Australia) & AACR (Australasian Association of Cancer Registries) 2008. Cancer survival and prevalence in Australia: cancers diagnosed from 1982 to 2004. Cancer series no. 42. Cat. No. CAN 38. Canberra: AIHW.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Petroleum- Pick Your Poison

I started week one of my ethical shopping challenge rearing and ready to go! However, on day four I faced a road block, and the ethical shopping challenge started to become much more difficult than I had anticipated, for the simple fact that I need to drive to work. And in order to drive, my car requires the age old evil... petroleum.
Now let me begin by explaining that I am well aware that it is more environmentally to take public transport or ride a bike to work. However, I live 55.5 km away from the office in which I work. It would literally take me a number of days to ride to work, and I doubt I would even make it without passing out!  I have extensively researched the public transport route, which unfortunately would involve two trains and a bus, totalling three hours in travel one way. Maybe it is selfish, but I just can’t afford to spend six hours a day travelling to and from work!
In order to mitigate my impact on the environment, I have been carpooling to work for over three years which is saving at least one other car per day from being on the road, and in addition, I have an arrangement in which I work three days in the office and two days from home.  However, these actions do not entirely solve my problem- I still require petrol in my tank to get to where I need to be at least three days of the week!
We all know the environmental impacts of using petrol in our vehicles, and we have seen the social and environmental impacts of oil spills on television, but further research has lead me to some disturbing facts about the petroleum industry;
  • Shell has been condemned by many organizations, including the Sierra Club, for its support of the military government in Nigeria. In 1995, nine Ogoni activists were killed for protesting against the company's Nigerian operations (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
  • Exxon Mobil's pipeline project from Chad in West Africa to the coast of Cameroon cuts through indigenous communities' rainforest homes. Last January, the project generated new controversy when Chad's government diverted money generated from petroleum revenue away from poverty-relief and social programs (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
  • BP heads a coalition of oil and gas companies throughout Europe and are building a pipeline across Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, and Turkey. The project has led to widespread dislocation of local residents. Watchdog groups are concerned about complaints of contaminated water supplies and landslides triggered by pipeline construction (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
In looking at alternative options to oil, biofuels are often marketed as a sustainable option, however according to Oxfam, the impacts of biofuels are often disastrous for people in the developing world. Why? Because Biofuels are made using food crops which in turn pushes up the price of food in developing nations. Oxfam calculates that rich country biofuel policies have dragged more than 30 million people into poverty, according to evidence that biofuels have already contributed up to 30% to the global rise in food prices.

            “Biofuel policies are actually helping to accelerate climate change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries’ demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiralling production and food inflation”- Oxfam’s biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey
(Oxfam International, 2008)
But the fact still remains- I need to drive my car to keep my job and my social life going, so is there any ethical choice when it comes to fuel?
According to a well researched review of oil companies in the USA, called ‘Pick Your Poison : An updated environmentalist's guide to gasoline’ (Ives & Boyd, 2007), oil companies can be rated in the following order:
Top of the Barrel

Middle of the Barrel
Royal Dutch Shell
Valero Energy Corporation

Bottom of the Barrel
ExxonMobil (Mobil, Fuel Zone)ConocoPhillips

Dishonorable Mention

Furthermore, another consumer watchdog source, The Ethical Consumer's Ethiscore has ranked oil companies in the UK from best (#1) to worst ( #9)
1. Murco
2. Jet
3. Elf
4. Shell
5. Total
6. BP
7. Texaco
8. Esso
9. Mobil
(Petrol & Diesel, Ethical Consumer,2011)
According to the above reviews, in the Australia market, Shell would be classified as the most ethical, followed by Caltex, who are owned by Chevron, then BP and lastly Mobil.
So while I am not going to advocate for Shell by any means, when I need to buy fuel for my car I will purchase from Shell. In the mean time, I will continue to car pool, try to use public transport or walk when possible and when the time comes for me to purchase a new car, I will purchase a more sustainable option such as a car that runs on biodiesel, which is produced using waste cooking oil.
According to Biodiesel Producers, replacing petroleum derived diesel fuel with biodiesel offers these advantages:
·         It can be used in most diesel equipment with no modifications or, in some instances, only minor modifications.
·         It reduces global warming gas emissions.
·         It reduces tailpipe emissions, particularly the toxic components.
·         It is essentially free of sulphur, so the emissions do not contribute to acid rain.
·         It is non-toxic, biodegradable, and suitable for sensitive environments.
·         It has a higher flashpoint, so it is safer to store and transport.
(Biodiesel, 2008)

So in conclusion, in order for me to be ethical in my fuel choice, I will need to purchase a new car that can run off biodiesel, which I currently cannot afford. In the mean time I will ‘pick my poison’ and relunctantly purchase from Shell.

Ethical Consumer. (2011). Petrol & Diesel. Retrieved 11 January 2011 from
Ives, S. & Boyd, R. (2007). Pick Your Poison : An updated environmentalist's guide to gasoline. Retrieved 8 January 2011 from

Oxfam International. (2008). Another Inconvenient Truth: Biofuels are not the answer to climate or fuel crisis. Retrieved 8 January 2011 from

Biodiesel Producers. (2008). Why Biodiesel. Retrieved 8th January 2011 from

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Ethical New Year!

Like many of us, I consider myself to be a good person. Not perfect by any means, but I would say I ‘do my bit.’ I sponsor children, recycle my garbage, I even work for aid and development organisation World Vision Australia. But lately I have realised this is not enough. Like Ghandi said, ‘Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.’ In summary, it is not enough to do good when we continue to go along with evil. And I have been going along with evil for many years now.

We live in a world were human, animal and environmental rights are neglected for the sake of corporate profit. As an example of this, around the world over 27 million people have been trafficked into exploitative labour, making human trafficking and slavery the third largest transnational organised crime in the world, only just behind drugs and weapons trading. Millions of those that have been trafficked find themselves picking the cocoa beans which make our favourite chocolate, or sewing the stiches on the clothing we purchase (Don’t Trade Lives, 2010).

Like me, you may feel removed from this world of abuse and corporate greed. And like me, you may feel as though you have nothing to do with this system of evil and even feel directly opposed to the activities of these companies. However, every dollar we spend endorses a company and its activities, whether that is endorsing child slave labour, environmental degradation or human trafficking (Ethical Supermarket Shopping, 2010).

I don’t know about you, but I certainly would never consciously make out a cheque to a company that would put the money towards purchasing the chains that keep children tied to benches in a sweatshop in India. However, more often than not, I am unknowingly funding activities such as this when I use my well earned money to make a purchase in the supermarket or clothing store.

But this is not intended to be a depressing blog. This is intended to fill you with hope that we as consumers can make a difference, simply by thinking through and researching our purchases. There are in fact many companies, including large corporations and small independent producers with good track records, who do not exploit others for their gain. We can therefore use our purchasing power to buy products from such companies, supporting practises that make the world a better place. At the same time this will send a strong message for change to those companies that are in the business of exploitation (Ethical Supermarket Shopping, 2010).

So this year, I invite you to journey with me as I aim to use every dollar I spend for good and not harm. I know at times this will be very difficult, and maybe even impossible. But other times it may be a simple choice between two products. I will be using tools such as ‘The Guide to Ethical Supermarket Shopping 2010’ amongst others. Join me week by week as I disclose my purchases and discuss how easy or difficult it was to find an ethical option for my purchase. I will also discuss topical issues relating to ethical consumerism. I invite your suggestions and comments along the way- I need all the help I can get! You may even like to join me on this journey...

Happy ethical new year!



The Guide to Ethical Supermarket Shopping. (2010). Ethical Consumer Group Inc.

Don’t Trade Lives. (2010). World Vision Australia. Retrieved 1st January 2011 from