Mental Post-Its

Thoughts, Notes and General Mental Mayhem


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Atlanta’s Benevolent Beverages

I love a good cup o’ Joe, and am getting more partial to a tasty cup o’ tea too. But whether I’m picking up something on my way to work, meeting a friend over a steaming mug, or working off-site, I like it best when I can make sure that my drink is doing something good in the process.

I want to support businesses that are trying to make the world a better place, and my suspicion is that you do too. This is an easy way to quite literally, put our money where our mouth is.

So here are a few of my favorite local altruistic experiences:

Dr. Bombay’s Under Water Tea Party

Refuge Coffee Company

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company

Cafe Jonah

 

Have you been to any of these? If so, what do you think? If not, give ’em a try!

And if you’d like to check out other companies doing good things, take a look at these recommendations.

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Why I Bought This Car at That Place

Prius 2011

My 2011 Toyota Prius

After pouring way too much money into my lemon of a car over the last few years, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Always a daunting task for sure, but this was definitely going to be a new challenge for a number of reasons. First, I know very little about cars (hear: really nothing except how to operate one). Second, I wanted to find a car that was good for the planet. And third, I wanted to find a car that loved people.

The first reason probably resonates with many of you. And the second may also make some sense to you, whether you buy into the notion or not. But the third likely needs some explaining.

I used to work at an environmental organization, and this was before “green” was as en vogue as it is now. Products were certainly available, but not as commonplace and inexpensive as they are today. It was the beginning of the movement for the masses. I learned a lot there, including what my personal impact has on the planet. So, I started recycling and switching many of my personal and cleaning products to more eco-friendly ones. And I knew that the next time I purchased a car, this information would be taken into consideration.

Then, a few years ago I started to learn about supply chain through my volunteering with human trafficking and modern-day slavery organizations. Based on my previous environmental experience, I began to see that this was the next big movement in consumerism. Supply chain, if you are unfamiliar with the term, is just the process of taking raw goods through a production process to create an end result. And this can be in the form of anything: food, electronics, rugs, paintings, cars, etc.—anything. What we are often aware of, and something I’ve spent a lot of time talking about on this blog, is the harm that can occur to people in the cultivation and/or production process. For example, you have likely heard about child labor being used to pick cocoa beans, or poor working conditions in places like India, Bangladesh or Uzbekistan, or blood diamonds. Recently, there has also been a lot of concern over the dangerous situations children and adults are put in to mine coltan, a metallic ore found in almost every piece of electronics. The harmful effects of supply chain are everywhere, and can be found in most every item of your house, but are rarely talked about on the news. But it’s an important issue to me, so this is why I decided my new car should love people. I didn’t want anyone to be harmed in the making of my car.

This third aspect was the toughest by far because it has the smallest amount of established data. It’s not yet important to the masses, so it’s the hardest to track and find available information.

Ok, yes, then there is that pesky fourth requirement of being within my budget. Ugh.

And so my search begin . . . with lots and lots of research. Over a couple of months.

I actually don’t mind research because I love to learn. But if that’s not the case for you, I’m pretty sure you can deal with it when you’re going to be dropping this kind of money. 😉

Here are the initial steps I took:

  • Asked friends what they already knew that might be relevant to my search.
  • Asked experts I could actually contact for the same. These weren’t blind emails I’d retrieved from a website; they were people I’d spoken to before on different supply chain matters.
  • Searched a few websites that take supply chain into consideration, including GoodGuide.com and BetterWorldShopper.com. Note: while things like clothing, chocolate and coffee are becoming more popular to buy as fair trade or ethically sourced, cars are still far behind the curve.
  • Searched ConsumerReports.org for their advice and ratings.
  • Googled and found a site called AIAG, which is a group of automotive related companies trying to create more excellence, transparency and accountability within the industry.
  • Utilized social media to ask questions to the general public as well as car manufacturers.
  • Emailed car manufacturers for more detail about their policies.
  • Read Corporate Responsibility Reports (sometimes called Corporate Sustainability Reports or CSRs). I have read many of these types of reports across different industries, so it takes a some practice to understand what to look for and frankly, what I’d consider BS (or good PR).

Next, I dug deeper:

  • Just by doing the things above, I was quickly able to eliminate some brands. This was either for poor ratings, lack of information (which is fishy to me) or because the car was too expensive (hello, Tesla).
  • Sadly, my friends and experts in-the-know didn’t have any advice here. And again, that’s largely due to cars not being as much of a hot-button issue as products like cocoa and electronics. It’ll get there.
  • I emailed the PR person for AIAG, who was listed on a press release housed on their website, to see if they had any sort of ratings in place. She responded right away! She was very nice, but unfortunately, they do not yet having a ratings system in place.
  • Social media has been a big help in times past for various things, but it couldn’t really help me here yet. People that responded mostly had opinions or ideas, but nothing to back it up.
  • I looked to see if they had any manufacturing plants in the US, so at least they were stimulating our economy in some way.
  • It really came down to Good Guide, Better World Shopper, Consumer Reports and Corporate Responsibility reports. Besides just reading and research, I also emailed the first two websites because of what they’re trying to accomplish, which I admire. BWS emailed me back, which I greatly appreciate, and this was the second time he’s answered questions for me. But I’ll be honest here, there is definitely some conflicting information in cross-referencing, and it can be frustrating. Who do you believe? I usually lean toward the third-party who has no stake in the profit, which is why I really like BWS. Overall, it really takes 1) the desire for answers, 2) determination to push through and 3) discernment to cut through the crap. As I said earlier, the last one for me has taken some practice. It probably helps that I work in PR and marketing, and know what forms “fluff” can take!

The finalists:

  • After all of the above, I finally narrowed it down to a Toyota Prius, Honda Fit and Ford Fusion Hybrid. You may do the same thing and get some varied results because part of it is just how you interpret the data. Sadly, it’s not really based on hard facts.
  • I then eliminated the Fusion. Honestly, the three were all pretty close at this point, but I just didn’t like the way the Fusion looked. And let’s face it, I do have to drive it everyday so I wanted to feel comfortable in it. Sue me.
  • Down to two. A major factor resulting in the Prius was the difference in Corporate Responsibility reports. Not only was Toyota’s the easiest to read, but I liked a lot of the other programs they were running to better people’s lives, both here in the US and in the countries where they manufacture or source parts. It felt genuine. And, of course, I liked the hybrid factor. But besides Ford, they also had the most impressive policy on supply chain. It was included, for one thing (not all do), and well thought out. It didn’t look like it was included for legal reasons or pressure to do so. They included a variety of topics including conflict materials (note: coltan) and worker’s rights.
  • So, in the end, it was the Prius.

Buying the car:

Actually, before I bought the car, I knew exactly where I wanted to purchase it. My friend and mentor, Holly, told me about her friend’s dealership, Providence Auto Group, outside of Nashville. They are a family run business, not loyal to any particular brand, and give a lot to charity. Those were three things I liked better than any other dealership I was aware of. (And I was given a great deal on my trade!)

There was also no pressure on any front as far as what to buy or my budget. I did basically everything via email since I was four hours away, and it was ready to go before I arrived to test drive it. In fact, I basically sent them a wish list because I didn’t see what I wanted on their website. So, they found me that car and actually called me to see if I was interested before they listed it. They thought it was a good fit for me, and wanted me to have the first option. Um, what?

And as I mentioned, they are a family run business. So, they didn’t feel slimy. They have a kid’s room with a TV, movies and games since they said people come from all over the US to buy cars from them and need to bring the family along. There was a family in there at the same time as me from Michigan. The guy had a friend who’d purchased from them, and had a great experience, so he made the trip to do the same. And the co-owner’s dad was there making Root Beer floats for everyone the afternoon I was in. Not even kidding!

Finally, they contribute to a charity I already love, Thistle Farms, a long-term recovery and job training program for women leaving prostitution or trafficking. A portion of every car they sell is set aside to provide a car for select women coming out of TF programs. I was also given TF home and body products as a thank you for buying with them! Loved it. Providence said they are the largest (or one of the largest, I forgot) retailers of TF products in the nation—a car dealership! They also support several other charities in the Nashville area.

Driving off into the sunset:

So, as you can see, it definitely took some effort to arrive at my decision. But I’d certainly do it all over again. And policies and ratings change every year, so I will do exactly that the next time I car shop. Hopefully, the information will have caught up more by that time, too.

I know this is a different process than most people take, but again, it’s not like you’d go out and buy a car without having done your research. This is just an extra layer. It’s one, however, you can feel really good about. And once you’ve navigated it the first time, it gets a lot easier. You can’t unlearn it. And you can also see how the process translates to other items you purchase more frequently. Doing good in any way is always worth trying.

I love my Prius, and I’m proud to own it. Like me, it’s not perfect, but I feel pretty confident that we are both trying to be kinder to the planet and love people in our own way. And that’s all I can ask for now.


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How to Give to Charity With Little or No Money

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 3.15.05 PMIt’s the beginning of the year, so you may feel a little financially stretched after the holidays. Or, you may be like a lot of people who would like to give more to charity, but feel you lack the ability or resources. Well, I’m here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to give with very little or no money involved. All you need is the desire to do so.

One of my heroes, Sheryl WuDunn states in moving her TedTalk, “Research shows that once you have all of your material needs taken care of, there are very few things in life that can actually elevate your level of happiness. One of those things is contributing to a cause larger than yourself.”

So here are 10 easy ways that I’ve come up with to add a little more happiness to your life. I challenge you to pick one and get started this month. What have you got to lose? Probably something you won’t miss anyway.

  1. Use Charity Miles to earn money for charity when you walk, run or bike.
  2. Donate your hair. I’m actually in the process of growing my hair out in order to donate it, and have had a few friends do the same. I’m still doing research on which charity to give it to, so I’ll keep you posted. But this is a great way to support cancer patients, by providing hair that will be turned into a wig.
  3. Through Fit for Food, Fitbit and Feeding America have teamed up, along with Joel McHale, to donate meals to those in need. You burn calories via Fitbit, they give.
  4. Donate things like airline miles to a charity who can use the travel bonus for their staff or beneficiaries.
  5. Spring clean. Like me, you probably have way more stuff than you need. But chances are, someone else may want or need it. Clean out your home and donate your excess to Goodwill or another local charity. I recommend giving to places where you can actually meet the recipients. This will motivate you to de-clutter on a regular basis knowing that there is a real need, and a real face, that needs your clothes and household items. And if you need any motivation in this area, I suggest you read 7: A Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.
  6. Have extra…anything? If you’re like me, you’ve stayed in a hotel at least a few times. And what’s your most popular and consistent souvenir? Probably the toiletries. I had a gallon+ Ziploc bag of unused toiletries. Then I found out that the organization I volunteer for can use those items in their weekly outreach. The same goes for blankets, suitcases and things like that for people who may not have a permanent home. Realistically, you can probably find a charity for anything you have. You just have to look, and ask.
  7. Don’t use your smartphone. The UNICEF Tap Project will help give clean water to children in need when you open their app or page on your smartphone and leave it alone. Each minute without you using your phone results in a larger donation. (It will drain your batter, though, so keep it plugged in while running.)
  8. Give consistent time. This is probably the idea that first came to mind. But, besides money, it’s probably the item you feel you have the least to give. And that’s ok. As we’ve pointed out, there are other ways to be a solution. But, before you dismiss it, let me say two things. First, we prioritize what matters to us. If you really want to volunteer your time, you can likely carve some out during your week or month. It just has to matter enough to you. Second, you might want to check with your favorite charity to see if there is an option that fits your current lifestyle. You don’t know until you ask. For example, through Out of Darkness, I write letters monthly to a woman in a long-term recovery program. It’s something that doesn’t take a lot of time given my schedule and other conflicts, but it provides her with a source of comfort and encouragement consistently each month.
  9. Give inconsistent time. Maybe you have a skill that can be utilized infrequently, that would still be a huge help to an organization. Like to clean or organize? Are you a business professional that can consult? Do you have first-hand industry knowledge that could benefit others? Can you teach a seminar? Have a couple extra hours one month to run errands? I’ve had friends do all of these things. And I personally consult on public relations, advertising and social media for my friend’s organization. I probably only do it a couple of times each year for a few hours, but it’s beneficial to them.
  10. Buy well. There is no shortage of this topic on this blog. I’m a HUGE proponent of utilizing the money you’re already going to spend on something that has a bigger (and better) impact. Luckily, we see this form of social enterprise everywhere now. This can be anything from clothes to dinner out to eyeglasses to comforters to chocolate to sports gear to flowers to .  . . really almost anything these days. You get the point. It’s easy to do. It may take some habit changes in the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll become a pro in no time. And you’ll feel better about where your money goes each month, which is priceless. Here are some resources to get you started. And, I’m an avid Amazon shopper, so when I use that site, I use Amazon Smile to donate to my local charity.
  11. One to Grow On: Give your life event. Charity Water can probably be credited with starting this movement, but many others have done similar things. If you’re reading this post, it’s likely you have a birthday. You may even have an anniversary, or something else you celebrate regularly like a holiday. Those are super easy ways to let others in on your desire to give and tell them about your favorite organizations. Charity Water asks people to donate their birthdays by setting up pages on their company website in order to help build a well from small donations in lieu of birthday presents. I’ve seen similar things for Christmas presents, and even read about a couple who asked their wedding guests to make small financial donations to their favorite org instead of bringing gifts. Last year, I had my friends donate $10 Chick-Fil-A gift cards to Out of Darkness for my birthday. This way the women could be taken out of the house for a treat without it being a financial strain on the house moms, staff or budget. As discussed above, I can imagine that you, like me, have enough. So, why not use these events as opportunities for others to have enough as well.

 

Well, that’s my list. What else did you come up with, or have you done? And if you do any of these, or anything else, let me know how it goes!


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I’m Buying HOPE, JOY and PEACE This Holiday Season

This is a repost of a blog I did last year about this time because it’s a message that still resonates strongly with me, and I hope it will with you too. May your holiday shopping be full of hope and happiness for all.

 


 

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A few months ago I read Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma. I wasn’t expecting the book that it turned out to be, but it was still very good. It sort of turned out to be a Bible study on justice. I would definitely recommend it, and not just for those passionate about the issue like me, but even for the mildly curious. I learned a lot and will be marinating on it for a long time to come.

There were a few things mentioned in the book that stuck with me, but none more than what I wanted to share with you now. Did you know that it costs approximately $21 billion to get clean, safe drinking water to everyone in the world? If you weren’t aware, almost 1 in 7 of the world’s population doesn’t have access to this most basic need. $21 billion. I know, right, it sounds like a lot—like a whole lot! It sounds like scratching our heads and calling summits and raising money and finally reconciling ourselves to the fact that $21 billion is impossible to find in a world drowning in debt. Sometimes it sounds like giving up.

And then I found out…

The National Retail Federation estimates that over $600 BILLION will be spent in November and December this year. I’m sorry, what? That’s just this season. When I think about it, that makes me sick. In fact, the contrast in those two numbers has literally haunted me since I’ve read the book.

I think about people I know that rush around trying to buy gifts, any kind of gifts, for the people on their Christmas list. Mostly those are close family and friends, but usually there’s at least one obligatory gift on there as well. I think of gifts that aren’t bought out of need, but out of courtesy. I think of the stress so many people feel when it comes to the holidays. It seems to be more about putting anything under the tree that caring about what it is, as long as you’ve checked that box.

Something. Has. To. Change.

I love the holidays. I love the chill in the air, and the warm drinks. I love watching Christmas movies. I love decorating my apartment. I love seeing twinkle lights go up everywhere. And I love buying gifts. Gift giving is one of my love languages. It makes me happy to see the look on people’s face when I give them a gift. In fact, the anticipation of seeing their faces when I give them the gift makes me happy! I have always tried very hard, whether it’s a birthday or Christmas, to find the perfect gift that will make the recipient smile. It’s a challenge that I relish.

And, if I do say so myself, I’m pretty good at it. But the last few years, ever since pursing justice myself and learning more about supply chain and slave labor, I’ve tried to challenge myself in a new way. I try very hard to find not only gifts of meaning, but gifts that do good or do not perpetuate slave labor. I’m also an environmentalist, so I try to cut down on packaging and reuse when possible. So, really, I thought I could pat myself on the back from up on my high horse—until I read those statistics.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to do more. I can’t completely give up gift-giving, because I love it so much, but there is more I can do. For one thing, I can help educate you. What if we all started buying differently? What if we started contributing more and consuming less? What if we took a hard look at the real difference between shopping and giving? What if the presents had real meaning, not just for the recipient you know, but those who created it or will benefit from the purchase? What if?

Here is an awesome video by Advent Conspiracy to help illustrate. In fact, they have a lot of great personal and church resources to help you explore this idea. I’m looking forward to reading their book this season.

As I said, I don’t have this all figured out, but I’m trying. I want to contribute, not just consume. I want buy better and think better and live better. And even more, I want that for everyone else. I want it for you, and those you know, and those around the world who don’t have clean water or adequate shelter or who live in fear. We all share this world.

The holidays are a season of hope. Hope, joy, peace—we see those words written on everything this time of year from cards to commercials. What if they weren’t just platitudes? What if we added those to our Christmas list? What if, when we started buying gifts, we kept those three words in mind? Will the things we buy this season promote hope or joy or peace? If not, then let’s not buy them. Find a better alternative. I bet there’s one out there.

Here are a few places to help you get started:

Purchasing on Amazon? Use Amazon Smile

Purchase with Purpose

Free2Work

Not For Sale Store

Better World Shopper

Greater Good

Free to Shop

World Vision Gift Catalog

Fair Trade USA

Ten Thousand Villages

Charity Water

Kiva

Living Water International

International Justice Mission Gift Catalog

Notes From a Thoughtful Life

The Good Shopping Guide

Ethical Consumer

 

There are so many more, though, so keep looking! And if you need to go the department store route, you could even institute your own TOMS-esque one for one model. For example, if you give someone a shirt, donate one as well. Challenge each other to be better, think creatively and give more.

Give gifts that tell stories, and write yourself a new one in the process.

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And here’s a great article from the TODAY Show about families who try to put more meaning into gifts and the holidays.

Here is another from LearnVest, a money budgeting site if you’re looking for a more frugal point-of-view.

One more from journalist/activist, Nick Kristoff, whom I greatly admire.

 

DID I MISS YOUR FAVORITE RESOURCE? PLEASE ADD IT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION! I’D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT.

 

(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)


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Book Reviews: Where Am I Wearing? Where Am I Eating?

WhereAmIWearingBookJacketIf you like social justice, you’ll like these books. If you are the teensiest bit curious about the origins of your food or clothing, you’ll like these books. If you like to learn, you’ll like these books. If you like to read, you’ll like these books. In short, a lot of people should give these books a good read.

I’m not quite sure how he did it, but author Kelsey Timmerman has done a smashing job of blending information and humor with an overall narrative you want to continue long after you’ve put the book down. I loved both of these books, and have recommended them to a mess of people since reading them.

In Where Am I Wearing?, Kelsey travels from Honduras to Bangladesh to Cambodia to China to find out the genesis of his favorite clothes: jeans, boxers and flip flops. He takes you through the process of tracking down where his clothes are made, and then into the factory themselves. He speaks to the workers both on the jobs and in their homes.

Eating-Cover1In Where Am I Eating?, his follow-up book, Kelsey explores the humble beginnings of his family’s favorite and most common food and drink. His adventure takes him to coffee fields in Columbia, a cocoa plant in Ivory Coast, a banana plantation in Costa Rica, a lobster boat in Nicaragua, and the apple orchards of Michigan (via China).

Both books are completely eye-opening. I definitely had some thoughts, opinions and preconceived notions going into these books. And they changed me. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of researching supply chains (the process by which goods are made), but Kelsey helped me go deeper. Now, I must admit there are some areas where I have more questions than I’d previously had answers. But I believe I have also created some better habits. If these books do one thing, besides make you laugh, they’ll make you think.

I’ll give you two examples:

  1. I was Miss Western Culture holding up my picket sign for “No Child Labor!” before Wearing. But, his book makes you realize that there is so much more to the face, however young, of the issue. It’s a systemic issue, not fixed over night by the banning of goods or mandates set by those on the other side of the world. In cultures where it is normal for kids to work because the adults have already passed their prime, families could starve. Well…that’s not an outcome I want either. There are layers to this issue. I don’t like it, but they’re there. There are so many things that need to happen in those societies before/during/after children are pulled from the work force. Mindsets have to change. Hearts have to change. And people fear change. So, what am I to do? You know, I am still not 100% sure. I know one thing that has to happen is that I have to be informed. So, I learn and I research, and I make the best choices I can with the information I have. And that’s where I’ve landed…for now.
  2. I used to work at an eco-organization, so I thought I had a pretty good handle on food supply. I know what harsh chemicals are used to grow and treat food, and what we label “food” which could more adequately be described as a science experiment. So, I thought I was ahead of the curve on this one. But again, I realized how short-sighted I had been. It made so much sense when reading it. It felt more like a “duh” moment than an “a-ha” moment. And that was because I’d been buying regular produce for thick-skinned items because the chemicals hadn’t reached the food. I’d buy organic for thin-skinned because they were treated with chemicals. Well, despite my efforts and proclamations to be a good global citizen, I’d completely neglected that the people working in the fields with the thick-skinned items (ex: bananas) had been doused in chemicals. I hadn’t given them a whole lot of thought. But I certainly don’t want anyone to be harmed in the process of getting food to my table. I want to know that these items improve their lives, not send them to the hospital or lead them to an early death. So, what do I do now? I buy organic and local as much as I can.

 

You may be reading this thinking that it’s all well and good for me, but it costs a lot of money to buy organic or a lot of time you don’t have to research clothing. And I get it. I do. I was there once upon a time. But friends, ignorance isn’t bliss. I know the decisions I make when I purchase impact others, and I want those to be good decisions. I do the research and I buy organic because I have personally made it a priority. We all find time, energy, effort and money for the things we decide to make a priority. That’s a fact. Start small.

This is not a guilt trip. It’s just an attempt at a conversation I feel needs to happen. Like I said, these books are funny and honest. Kelsey doesn’t set out to provide you answers and three steps to better buying decisions. He is curious, and he takes you along for the ride. You’ll feel like he’s a friend by the end. I honestly think you’ll want to be a part of the conversation after reading these books. (By the way, Kelsey is very active on social media, so yes, you can actually have a conversation with him. He’s awesome.)

There is good news, however. There are more and more companies who care. I think by making these more informed decisions, we are telling businesses that we want to see more ethical production take place. And I think that’s the best way to move forward.

Besides Kelsey’s books, here are some other resources to get you started:

Free2Work (Website and App: The website has reports on clothing, coffee and electronics)

Purchase With Purpose (Web link: I helped author this one.)

Better World Shopper (Website and App)

Good Guide (Website and App)

If you know of others, please fill me in!

 

And thank you to Kelsey, for these amazing books. I can’t wait to see what you write next!

 

(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)