The earth is our home, and creating a sustainable world with natureis a valid and feasible goal for us all. But is that where we’re going?According to my crystal ball, yes. Just don’t expect it to be easy.
To nurture humanity, businesses must respect nature. For asustainable business, such respect is a prerequisite, regardless ofthe financial picture. Thankfully, entrepreneurs and corporations arerealizing respect for our planet pays in many ways.
However, disagreements carry on, which influences policy makersof organizations to formulate standards in the first place. Hunters,farmers, city lovers and animal rights activists all share support andridicule for their opinions.
Most consumers are rightfully confused over labeling withoutstandards. Think about the cosmetics industry, for example.Standards lead to certifications, pro and con. Attempts to globally,(or even nationally), label, seal and certify everything is noteveryone’s dream, but it is a legitimate approach to educatingconsumers. Understanding relieves confusion.
Organic farmers want to attest to the respectable manner in whichfood and fiber reach you, but certification requirements have to befeasible. With seals of approval or not, explaining how goods areprovided is more important to consumers than ever before. Wiseconsumers increasingly demand that their suppliers verify theirmanufacturing methods with details. Vendors need to be preparedto prove their explanations.
The National Organic Standards, developed by the Organic TradeAssociation (OTA), goes into effect before November 2002.Because OTA members want to educate the public, they havecreated communications guidelines for the media. OTA supportersbelieve that the standards mean organic living has truly come ofage.
The best way to ensure consumers that they get what they pay forwhen they choose organic, is to strictly control the labeling oforganic agricultural and fiber products. Four categories of organiclabels are approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
If a product’s content is 100% certified organic, it may wear theUSDA seal. If at least 95% of content by weight (excluding waterand salt) is organic, it may display the same USDA seal. In order toprint Made with Organic on the product’s label, at least 70% ofcontent must be organic with up to three specific ingredients listed.Products containing less than 70% organic content may identifyorganic content only on the product label’s ingredient list.
Sound complicated? Actually these standards are concise, but somebusinesses don’t like it. The problem with national standards is thatgeographic conditions and traditions have to be respected toeducate and progress. Community needs have to be fine-tuned.That’s because admired development and manufacturing policies inone part of the globe may not be so favorable in another.
New Zealand's plague of possum is a prime example. The furfanatics and environmentalists both wanted them dead. TheAustralian brush-tailed possum were declared pests of epidemicproportions by 2001 spring season. They were causing death anddestruction to much of the unique native habitat on the South Pacificcountry's islands. Native trees were decimated and local birds’ eggswere eaten.
Then New Zealand entrepreneurs got interested and decided tomarket possum products. And the country’s environmental groupsgave them thumbs-up support. Anti-fur protesters stayed clear. Itmade sense for the place and time.
Many of these products come with a label that reads, "Thank you forbuying possum fur. You are helping to save our environment." Couldthis be ethical, eco-friendly fur?
If a New Zealand possum fur trader sells and exports naturallytanned pelts to a U.S. business who chooses to abide by theNational Organic Standards, a possum bikini could be entitled toone of the four USDA categories of organic labels.
Such a scenario (much like beaver in Canada) may not suiteveryone’s ethics, but it certainly is a sustainable and environmentalway of doing business. But don’t limit your pondering to the furindustry. How do you feel about wool, or animal-based fibers ingeneral? Are you aware that alternatives are often full of chemicalsresulting in more pollution?
If you’re attracted to the fashion side of organic living, you need toknow where you’re going with it. As usual, education is the key andpolitics always get messy. Yet standards, labels and verificationshelp relieve shopping confusion. By my standards, that makes life alittle easier.
Written by: Delia Montgomery, Chíc Eco
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