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ECONOMIC AND ETHICAL CONFLICTS
CONFRONT THE GREEN INDUSTRY

With the increasing popularity of organic products, the green industry has been expanding rapidly. In terms of consumer sales, the most appealing organic merchandise is produced from pesticide-free organic agriculture. However, when economic pressures confront green companies, can they adjust to rising wholesale prices without compromising their values or defacing the integrity of the organic label?

The organic farming industry must follow regulations established by the Organic Foods Production Act. Not only are there restrictions prohibiting synthetic pesticides but also synthetic fertilizers. With restricted use of these chemicals that control pests and promote plant growth, increasing crop production has some limitations.

In organic agriculture, the farming system works well but net product yield pales in comparison to inorganic agribusiness. Today, with rising costs including salaries and benefits to workers, profits are starting to drop in organic farming. Organic agriculture has provided the foundation for the emergent organic food and clothing industries. Organic food sales have been growing about 20% per year and organic fiber or clothing at about 15% per year (Organic Trade Association). However limited crop yields are making it more expensive to produce organic food and fiber. Some of these costs are being passed on to the organic food and clothing industries that are now facing similar financial concerns.

The preceding discussion illustrates the difficult ethical and economic conflicts for green companies who by definition have ethical goals. Lobbying Congress to review the Organic Foods Production Act to redefine the chemical requirements of “organic” is always an option for the organic agriculture industry. But lowering standards would deface the value of the organic label. Similar economic and ethical conflicts are confronting the organic food and clothing industries dependent on organic agribusiness.

Organic apparel has no legislative restrictions as compared to organic agriculture or food. Essentially, everything is based on voluntary compliance with industry standards set by industry organizations.

Organic clothing companies have described their products as ethical fashion, conscientious clothing or simply eco-friendly. Many of these businesses call their apparel eco-friendly based on their use of low impact dyes and inks. They also have used the term “sweatshop free” guaranteeing safe working conditions and fair salaries for their workers. Sadly, these conditions are not always present overseas.

Since the costs of organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, etc. are rising, profits are being reduced for the organic wear industry. In order to maintain expensive eco-friendly standards, these lower profits might mean rising prices will be passed on to the consumer. However, higher retail prices in a slumping economy could still reduce sales and profits. In that case clothing companies could turn to organic agriculture overseas with uncertain working conditions and questionable product standards. Each clothing company must resolve their own ethical /economic conflicts and select what they believe is the “best” course of action.

Even if organic clothing production is kept in the US, there are sad economic alternatives to consider along with their related ethical concerns. Some apparel corporations might consider less expensive dyeing and printing methods that may exclude the use of costly low impact dyes and inks.

It’s apparent that reducing chemical standards in organic agriculture, purchasing and manufacturing organic apparel abroad, or using less expensive but toxic dyes and inks can destroy everything the organic label stands for in the organic food and clothing industries.

When economic pressures confront responsible ethical commitments, how can green companies compromise their values in such conflicts? How do they choose between alternatives that have negative consequences no matter what they decide? Should the federal government intervene and financially support the popular green industry when Congress already has many higher priorities? Today, these priorities range from energy independence, to health care, to social security, to defense spending etc. In comparison, the organic industry seems small and not a high priority.

However green commerce in the US is very substantial, quite diversified and growing rapidly despite economic concerns. The industry still addresses some key federal priorities.

For example, the green energy industry provides us with environmentally sound alternatives to using organic fossil fuels. Consumption of nonrenewable, carbon based fossil fuels results in environmental degradation, release of greenhouse carbon dioxide and a larger carbon footprint. The green energy industry includes wind, geothermal, and solar energy. Certainly they address two of the highest priorities for the United States ...protecting the environment and achieving energy independence.

Resolving economic and ethical conflicts for any corporation is a challenging task. This is especially true for the organic industry due to their ethical commitment to the environment and the public. The long term prognosis for resolving this problem and maintaining the integrity of the organic label is unclear and depends in part on the course of our economy.

However, some organic apparel companies have set a new standard for initiative by searching for an additional no cost approach to promote rather than compromise their ethical standards. Working independently these companies actually came up with the same solutions to sustain their missions. They use their organic clothing to address ethical principles and environmental responsibility.

One online retailer of organic cotton clothing, based in Baltimore, provides an example of how this method is implemented by their design and production team. They simply display inspirational messages on all their organic wear. They trust their positive messages will help create an ethical lifestyle of responsibility to ourselves, our planet and the human race.

Can the organic clothing and food industries (including many retail shops, department stores, online organic companies, supermarkets and organic restaurants (such as the Green Restaurant Association), join forces to lobby Congress. They need to persuade their representatives to keep standards where they are and provide financial support or incentives to keep them economically viable along with their link to organic agribusiness.

When confronted with economic or political problems we can’t control, we all need to think about alternative approaches to achieve our goals. All of us can think of different alternatives to reduce our carbon footprint. We can always persuade our elected state and federal politicians to follow an ethical path toward just legislation in the face of economic pressure on an industry that has become an integral part of the American lifestyle.

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