EarthWorms Castings

by Jean Ponzi

Shopping for a Better World

I first pulled the Better World Shopping Guide out of my purse in a grocery story in 2007 – and it immediately changed my buying habits.

I had a first-edition copy for a radio interview with author Ellis Jones, a sociology Ph.D. who has applied the book’s motto, “Every Dollar Makes A Difference,” in thousands of hours of research and distilled his findings into a format that has now sold over 100,000 copies and influenced corporate as well as consumer behaviors.

The 4th edition of this pocket powerhouse today ranks over 2,000 products. The quick-read format covers 72 common-product categories, lists them by company, and gives each one an A to F letter grade. Grades are a compilation of company performance in five areas of impact: human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.

Clever and efficient, this handbook helps you quickly tell the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ and turn your shopping list into a socio-economic game-change. With an average of $22,000 spent by each of us American consumers each year, our purchasing choices translate into dollar-votes that do – and could even more profoundly, with broader awareness and shopper participation – affect the corporations that currently seem to rule our lives.

The book’s great strength is the depth and integrity of its information. Ellis Jones uses only data from independent third-party sources, no reports from companies, or from company-funded sources. He has about 50 sources today, combined into one Better World database. Jones told me in a recent interview that he has two “really gold-standard sources, Greener America and the fairly new B Corporation. These tend to cite smaller companies with big integrity, and anyone who nails these certifications is GOOD.” He regularly checks the veracity of his sources as well as reviewing potential new ones.

In addition to the product report cards, the Shopping Guide portrays Consumer America’s supply chain with a eye-opening and horrifically fun to read batch of Top Ten Lists: Biggest Success Stories/Disappointments, Bailouts, Lobbying, Small But Beautiful, Things To Change. Every product category page profiles a Green Hero and a Corporate Villain and gives you related websites and a capsule What You Need To Know about each product type.

It was this last bit of info that arrested me, five years ago, standing in the frozen treats supermarket aisle. I loved Dove brand dark chocolate-coated French vanilla ice cream bites, and I was about to stock up on several yummy packs while they were on sale. I flipped to the CHOCOLATE page of my brand new Better World Shopping Guide.

I was disappointed to see Dove products graded only D, but it was that page’s Need To Know part that hit me with a factoid like a ton of cocoa bricks: at least 40% of commercially produced chocolate consumed in the United States is produced by (emphasis mine) CHILD SLAVE LABOR.

Wouldn’t any of us use our buying power to change that shocking fact, if we knew the story behind the companies selling us those not-so-sweets? Would we change our choices in every other store aisle?

Now I only get my chocolate from sustainable sources. And in my public education work, a Better World Shopping Guide is on my table of talking-props alongside a Snickers bar and a box from Kakao Chocolates, my favorite local confectioner. And Ellis Jones’ 4th edition of research is in my purse, right next to my wallet.

Dr. Ellis Jones will speak at Our Lady of the Snows Shrine in Belleville on Saturday, April 20 from 9-11:30 a.m. Tickets are available at www.snows.org. Catch a podcast of Jean Ponzi’s KDHX-FM “Earthworms” conversation with Ellis Jones at www.kdhx.org/ondemand.