The Good Shopping Guide
1st February, 2010
An ethical shopping reference book that helps you make more informed choices about what you buy - from computers to cold remedies
An ethical shopping guide is a difficult thing to pull off in these financially challenging times when 'good shopping' has become synonymous with finding a bargain.
But for committed (or confused) ethical shoppers who want to go beyond buying a Fairtrade KitKat and support companies that respect animals, people and the environment in as many purchases as possible, The Good Shopping Guide should be a household staple. Now in its 8th edition, the guide has 80,000 copies in print.
Dipping in and flicking through (it's more of a reference book than a cover-to-cover read) I was struck by the scope of its ambition.
It sets out to reveal 'the good, the bad and the ugly of the UK's companies and brands'. Over 700 brands in 60 product categories are ranked (from baby food to fax machines) on their environmental, human rights and animal welfare record.
The book is organised by topic and covers home and office, energy, travel, money, food and drink, health, beauty and fashion. It's fairly easy to find what you're looking for.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Each product category gives an introduction to some of the ethical issues (such as packaging, ingredients and energy use), and an at-a-glance summary of the overall 'ethicality' scores of different companies and brands. A more in-depth table shows exactly what each company has been involved in - or hasn't been involved in - from animal testing through to political donations.
For me, the most interesting sections were the ones I know the least about: electronic equipment and household appliances. When it comes to buying a mobile phone, I wouldn't have a clue whether a Samsung is a more ethical choice than a Sony. The same goes for choosing a fridge or a pack of batteries. It's easy enough to assess a product on its energy saving credentials, but if you're interested in the wider ethical issues you're not going to gauge this from the label.
Ultimately a guide like this saves you the hassle of doing the research yourself because it has all been done for you. The Ethical Company Organisation, which produced the book, is a company based in the UK who use a vast research database on 30,000 companies, court reports, NGOs research and 15 different ethical criteria to produce 'the Ethical Company Index' - an independent score for each company and brand. It is this score, as well as the comparisons between companies that make up the bulk of The Good Shopping Guide.
Breadth over depth
To collate and present information on so much of the stuff we buy from every ethical angle is impressive and useful.
However, sometimes the book can seem a little too broad. For instance, in the section on skincare I noticed that L'Oreal was awarded a 'green' (top) rating in the organic category of the comparison table along with a range of other more natural brands.
Confused, I looked up what more about what this 'organic' green rating means in the introduction. There I read: 'the green circle indicates that one or more of the company's products is approved by the Soil Association or another organic certification body.'
It's a very broad definition of organic, given that the bulk of L'Oreal's range is not organic.
So what you gain in breadth, you may at times lose in depth.
That said, with a book this broad there's no point nit-picking. Most of its top picks in the 'at a glance' summaries are companies or brands I'd expect to see there.
Ethical shopping is based on the premise that intelligently channelling our spending power can bring about positive change. Whilst you may not believe in its potency to quite the extent of the book's authors ('your till receipt is as important as your vote', it says in the foreword), this guide will at least help you channel your spending power towards the most responsible companies. Who can argue with that?
The Good Shopping Guide (8th edition) by the Ethical Company Organisation (£14.95, Ethical Marketing Group)
Ecologist readers can buy the book for only £11.21 per copy - a 25% discount off the cover price of £14.95 and FREE P&P. To get 25% off click here and use the code: ECO/R2 at checkout.
Ecologist subscribers get an extra 10% off and pay only £9.72 - a 35% discount off the cover price of £14.95 and FREE P&P . To get 35% off Ecologist subscribers should sign into the Ecologist website and click here to get your special subscriber only offer code.
Laura Sevier is the Ecologist's Green Living Editor
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