Author: Chris Gerlacher

6 Conscious Companies that Help You Make and Save Money

6 Conscious Companies that Help You Make and Save Money

It?s easy to think of business and only think of profits. But some companies care about more than money. They care about the environment. They care about the people living on this planet. Some of them even care about both. But the most innovative companies are the ones that do social good and save customers money. Here are six conscious companies that you can trust to do both.

1. Spend and Save with a company that puts you and the planet first

When you put 10% of your paycheck into your savings account (like the savvy saver we know you are 😉 ), traditional banks could invest that money into things that you?ve never even heard of. Or, even worse, into things that are working against you and your conscience.

Aspiration is different. They are a banking alternative that offers high-interest banking services (200x more interest than the big banks), allows you to pick your management fee (even if it?s zero), refunds all ATM fees worldwide, and tells you exactly where your deposits are going.

Aspiration are a fossil fuel free company that cares about the future of our planet. Now you can feel good about where your money is going. This means you are empowered to vote with your dollars. Try finding that at a traditional bank. So if you want to divorce your bank and start voting with your dollars, check out our in-depth review of Aspiration* here?here.

Related: We Found An Amazing Account

2.?Invest with the good guys

Have you been looking to get into impact investing but don’t know where to start? We know that investing can be good for our wallets, especially over the long term. But information overload is a real thing. Swell Investing makes investing easy by placing your money?in high growth companies that are solving the biggest challenges facing our planet. Swell gives you six impact portfolio ?themes? to choose from:

  • Green Tech
  • Renewable Energy
  • Zero Waste
  • Clean Water
  • Disease Eradication
  • Healthy Living

That means you are investing in your future and the future of the planet. Four of these six have outperformed the S&P 500 from September 2016 to September 2017. We did an in-depth review of their services. The best part? You only need $50 to get started. Investing with Swell is a great way to invest in both your financial and our planetary future. That sounds pretty swell, doesn’t it?

Related: Start Impact Investing for as Little as $50

3. Save money with clean energy

Living in Boulder, Colorado, I know how expensive rent can be. Arcadia Power helps make it easier to pay for mountain views by lowering your utility bills. How do they do it? They identify ways for you to get the best deals on energy in your area with their Price Alerts service. They also switch some of your power to clean energy sources. You don’t have to install pricey solar panels or even own your home. All you need to do is link your utility bill to Arcadia, and they take care of the rest. It took 5 minutes to set up.

They offer both free and premium services, so they are accessible for everyone. (Even those of us living on a college budget). If you switch 50% of your utility bill to Arcadia, the service is free. You just keep paying your energy bill the way you normally would. If you switch your bill to 100% renewable energy, they add $0.015 per kilowatt hour.?They will even give you $20 credit on your next power bill just for signing up.?Arcadia is a great way to switch to clean energy and save money on your monthly utility bill.

Related: Switch to Clean Energy without Pricey Solar Panels

4. Get smart about your money

Even though I’m not “credit savvy”, I pay attention to my credit score. I?ll pay attention to any number that could impact my bank payments or even my job prospects. If you want a good interest rate on your loans or a good credit card deal, your credit score is first thing you need to know.

Credit Sesame offers free credit score reports, identity theft protection, and personal tips to help you manage your finances and increase your score. Their benefits are valuable for those who obsessively check their credit score, or for those who don?t want their credit score to impact their ability to get low interest rates on loans or land a job.

Credit Sesame is conscious about the impact a company like them can have on your personal finances, and you can sign up for their services?for free. They have helped millions of people reduce their debt and increase their financial literacy. If you want to become financially savvy in a way that is not scary or intimidating, Credit Sesame is a company that could help you.

Related: Know Your FICO – A Guide to Understanding Your Credit Score

5. Forget Amazon. Shop this eco-friendly marketplace.

Earth Hero is an online marketplace that offers sustainably sourced products from companies that give back to people and planet. For example, SOLO Sunglasses?restores one person’s vision in a developing country for each pair of sunglasses they sell. How cool is that?

Earth Hero?products range from sustainably sourced headphones to wallets made of old sailboat sails. Even better, if you browse their site and find something you like, you can get $20 off your first order. This is a great place to find unique gifts for the important people in your life while remaining conscious of your environmental impact.

Related: How This Social Start-up is Changing the Way We Shop

6. Feel good about paying off your credit card debt

If you are carrying credit card debt, you can?save money by consolidating?to a much lower interest rate via a personal loan.?Payoff is a company based in California that is taking a different approach to personal loans. They hired a team of financial professionals, psychologists, data scientists and technology experts to help people reach financial wellness.?They are known for their excellent customer service and unique approach. Another thing we like about them: their partners. Their loans are originated by a marketplace of credit unions and industrial banks. In other words, no big banks.

In short: do well and do good.

All of these companies are great choices for people who want to put money back in their pockets and make their money matter. By spending money with these companies you can become an impact investor who creates value and drives change. Check these companies out, and join a growing community of conscious consumers who care about the differences they make with every purchase.


*The Annual Percentage Yield ?(?APY?) associated with the Aspiration Summit Account is variable and accurate as of [January 2019]. Rates may be changed from time to time without notice.

Based on a comparison of Aspiration’s up to 2.00% APY interest rate to the following checking account interest rates reported by Bankrate for January, 2019: Wells Fargo (0.01% APY), Chase Bank (0.01% APY) and Bank of America (0.01% APY).

All ATM withdrawal fees will be waived for your Aspiration Summit Account. In addition, your account will automatically be reimbursed for all ATM fees charged by other institutions while using an Aspiration Debit Card linked to your account at any ATM displaying the Mastercard?, Interlink?, Cirrus?, or Maestro? logos. The reimbursement will be credited to the account the same day the ATM fee is debited from the account. Please note, there is a foreign transaction fee of one percent that is not waived, which will be included in the amount charged to your account.

Aspiration Partners, Inc. and its affiliates are committed ?to “All Extra Services Provided at Cost,” meaning that we’ll only charge you what it costs us to provide the extra service (such as a wire transfer), and not a penny more. Besides these at-cost service charges, the only account fee you pay is the fee you choose, even if it?s $0, which is why we call it Pay What Is Fair.

The Aspiration Summit Account provides customers with the ability to see Aspiration Impact Measurement (AIM) People and Planet scores on a range of merchants where they shop using the Aspiration Debit Card. These scores are determined using a proprietary algorithm that incorporates several measures of sustainability performance. For more information, please click here.

Deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor. For more information about FDIC insurance coverage, please visit the FDIC website.

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Create a Budget by Asking Yourself Three Questions

I hate budgeting. It forces me to look at my money, realize that I don?t have any, and then limit my spending. (Post-grad life is a blast so far.) But for all of the complaining I do about it off the page, budgeting is one of the most important financial management things I do.

Why should you create a budget?

Running out of money is a lot worse than sitting down and planning out your spending. It lets you figure out how much your lifestyle costs and how much it would cost to change it. Budgets keep you organized and making one doesn?t have to be a headache. It?s as easy as asking yourself three questions:

  1. How much money do you make?
  2. How much money do you get to keep?
  3. How much money can you spend on stuff you want?

How much money do you make?

This is a pretty easy question to start out with. You probably get a paycheck or maybe you?re still getting some help from home (I sure am, no judgement here). It?s an important starting point because it sets up the boundaries of your budget. It also determines how much you pay in taxes. Since a chunk of your money will go to paying taxes, you need to know how much money you make after taxes.

Don?t make the mistake of thinking you get to spend $50,000 because you made $50,000. Get a rough idea of the percentage of your gross income you will owe the government, start socking it away and don’t touch it. You might even consider opening a special savings account to dump this tax money into. This way, you aren’t caught with your pants down when March rolls around.

Related: How to Save Slowly:? A Beginner’s Guide

Don?t make the mistake of thinking you get to spend $50,000 because you made $50,000.

How much money do you get to keep?

Now that you?ve paid your taxes, you know what your disposable income is. However, there are other things you have to spend money on too. You probably also want to do things like eat food and live in a house, so you?ll have to pay for those, too. Figure out what you absolutely have to pay for after taxes:? rent, utilities, insurance, food, transportation, student loan payments, etc.

Knowing how much money you must spend on essentials will also help you figure out how much it costs to live the way that you want to live. This lets you plan your present and your future all at once. It also gives you an inside view on any expenses that you might be able to lower or cut out altogether.

Related:? 7 Ways to Make your Home a Sustainable Source of Income

Knowing how much money you must spend on essentials will also help you figure out how much it costs to live the way that you want to live.

How much money can you spend on stuff you want?

Now that you?ve paid your taxes and bought your food, you can look at what your discretionary income. Discretionary income is money that’s fair game for spending. Whether it?s a nice dinner or a trip to Barnes and Noble (my treat to myself), this is the pool of money that will pay for it.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to spend all of it if just because you have it left over. Whatever disposable income you have leftover can be put into an emergency savings fund, used to pay off credit card debt, attack your student loan balance, or invested. This will give you even more wiggle room for future budgeting cycles.?Remember, the goal of budgeting is to make sure you don’t run out of money, today or tomorrow.

Related:? Emergency Savings – Is It For me?

This all seems like a lot to keep track of!

It is. But you don?t have to look at your whole year all at once. You can look at one month at a time and go week by week to understand how much you spend. If your spending is consistent, then you can just multiply one month by 12 to see what your full year will look like. For example, if you know you spend $1,600 per month, then you’ll spend around $19,200 during the year.

Breaking everything down by shorter time frames makes everything much more manageable. Once you set up a system that works for you, it just takes a bit of maintenance to keep it going. You’re much better off knowing where you stand each month than flying blind with your wallet in your hand, hoping you make it till next pay day.

Related:? Start Impact Investing for as Little as 50$

You’re much better off knowing where you stand each month than flying blind with your wallet in your hand, hoping you make it till next pay day.

So how do you make the budget?

Now that you can break your money down into three categories, how do you actually create a budget? There are plenty of free apps available on the App Store or Google Play that will automatically track your spending and help you create a budget from there. Do a bit of research and pick the free app that appeals to you. Your bank probably also has some sort of tool that helps with budgeting too. My bank has an online dashboard that shows me how much I spend compared to how much a deposit into my account, so I can keep an eye on it that way.

My personal favorite tool is Microsoft Excel. Using a spreadsheet, I can see where my money comes from, where it goes, and how it can grow over time. If I make $60,000 a year instead of $50,000, my spreadsheet will tell me how much money I will have to spend. There are templates available, but if you know how to use Excel, you can prepare a bunch of different scenarios with your money. This also allows you flexibility as your financial needs change in the future.

Your Budget Can Make a Difference, Too

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference with your money.?While you’re saving and planning your money, you can also use your money to invest in companies with positive social and environmental impacts. Budgeting doesn’t have to prevent you from creating positive change with your dollars. If you can incorporate sustainable investing into your budgeting practices, you can grow your money while doing good for the planet and people.

Related:? 4 Ways to Make Real Money with Sustainable Investing

However you decide to budget your money, you should strongly consider doing it. It will give you a clear picture of how much your lifestyle costs today, how much your desired lifestyle will cost tomorrow, and set you up for success as you continue managing your finances. Budgeting is tedious, but it?s worth it to understand how you can get the most out of your money. And if you are just stating out, like me, don’t worry about feeling like you don’t know what you are doing. We will have to budget the rest of our lives. Might as well get started now.

 

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Why Salary Transparency Improves the Workplace (and how to do it)

Talking about money can feel super uncomfortable. Imagine how awkward it would feel to ask a co-worker how much they make. The conversation becomes even more risky when you consider that 23% of companies ban discussion of salary and 38% discourage it.

Yet salary transparency is growing in popularity. More people are sharing compensation details with each other. Resources like Glassdoor, Salary.com and PayScale.com have further legitimized salary transparency.

Believe it or not, this could actually be a good thing.?Salary transparency can improve your workplace in four ways:

  1. Increases your negotiation leverage
  2. Decreases the gender and race pay gap
  3. Forces better HR practices
  4. Increases engagement (i.e. you’ll like your job more)

1. Transparency improves your negotiating power

Before you joined your company, salary consideration was likely near the top of your list. Were you terrified of asking for more than what was offered? You are not alone. Turns out that many groups, like the majority of women and people in technical fields (e.g. engineers), don’t feel comfortable talking about salary.

Or maybe you really needed the job and didn’t want to rock the boat by asking for more. If you fall into these buckets, you could benefit the most from salary transparency.

One of the reasons companies have the upper hand in salary negotiations is that they know what everyone in the company is paid. They have an idea of what?s fair. But you don?t. A tech startup isn?t going to pay the same rate as Google. You may think you?re getting a great deal, but you have no frame of reference. Even resources like Glassdoor and Salary.com are far from perfect.

Salary transparency improves your ability to negotiate a better salary …or it might not. Remember, salary transparency works both ways. If you’re looking for a big jump in salary and it’s out of the published range, you’re going to have to make a very strong case.

Related: 3 Unconventional Strategies That Get You Promoted

2. It helps close the pay gap

No matter how you feel about the gender pay gap, it?s real and observable. In fact, the breakdowns of gender pay by race and state are staggering and symptomatic of more complex societal issues. There are steps we can take steps to close this gap.

Dane Atkinson of SumAll practices extreme salary transparency. He makes all employee salaries public for anyone to see.

?Salary transparency is the single best protection against gender bias, racial bias or orientation bias.??~ Dane Atkinson, Founder, SumAll

Salary transparency lets everyone know what their company thinks their contribution is worth. What would happen if the entire office learned that the women were paid less than the men? Suddenly, there is hard data that cannot be denied. If your office culture lends itself to seeking this kind of transparency, it can create a more equitable and trustworthy culture. Even if your office decides not to do it, now you know the kind of office you?re working in.

So.. why did he get that salary anyway?

Chart of Salary-Negotiations-Men-Women

89% of companies set aside funds for salary negotiations. And yet, only 30% of women even bother to negotiate.

Pay differences are of course oftentimes justified. Top performers deserve top salaries. If you’ve exceeded performance expectations, pay differences make sense.

But that’s not the only reason why people have higher salaries. As it turns out, many companies adopt an art over science approach when it comes to compensation. Unfortunately, that can result in compensation imbalances.

For example, studies show that men are significantly more likely to engage in salary negotiations. That alone can widen the pay gap.

Related: How to Have a Better Negotiation with your Boss

3. Salary transparency forces HR to be really good

Every company tracks their employees’ salaries. But not all of them track why those salaries are what they are. If your entire office knows everyone’s pay, everyone will know when those pay rates change. HR will have to make sure that the reasons for those changes are sound. Your collective knowledge makes management accountable to all of you.

Managing compensation is one of HR?s most important responsibilities. If you think talking about it is hard, imagine trying to justify a pay gap of $20,000 between two employees in a similar role.? Transparency creates incentives for HR and management to work together to determine salaries fairly.

4. …it also increases trust and engagement

Think about it. What kind of company would you trust more: one where salaries (or salary ranges) were made public or kept secret? If everyone was on the same page regarding what it takes to make it to a certain position with a certain salary, then everyone (employees and the company) would be more accountable to each other.

That being said…read your employee handbook

Some of you are at companies that forbid or discourage disclosing your pay.?You should be familiar with your company’s policy and the consequences of violating those policies. If salary transparency is that important of an issue for you, consult your HR handbook, your HR team, or a labor relations professional, and decide how far you want to go with it.

Related: How to Find Purpose in Your Job

These companies made it work

Salary transparency may sound radical, but there are companies putting this in place right now. There’s early evidence that salary transparency is associated with higher work performance, which your boss should absolutely love. Even big companies are adopting this model. Whole Foods believes salary transparency improves the workplace so much that they’ve had this policy in place since 1986.

Members of the startup community have also reaped the benefits of salary transparency. Namaste Solar?is a solar energy company in Boulder, CO that began with an employee-owned co-op model. Not only are salary ranges transparent, but employees also get equal voting rights on issues as important as board member placements. The result? They are one of the only profitable solar companies in the country, and they’ve been around for 13 years.?Namaste’s founder, Blake Jones, has credited his company’s success to that high level of transparency.

There’s something to be said for Namaste’s success and the trust that seems to have been built into the company’s culture via this level of transparency.

Related: Three keys to success from the founder of the Container Store

Try it out… just be skillful.

One of the biggest fears people have when they even think about talking about salary? Reactions from co-workers. One of my old professors said it best when she said ?people don?t ask why you?re making that much money. They?re asking why they?re not making that much money.?

But before you march into HR or your boss’ office:

  1. Do your research. Find out the pay range for your role and your geography using the online resources in this article. Keep in mind: location makes a big difference.
  2. Try bringing up salary with a few people you trust. If they are co-workers, read your employee handbook first.
  3. Don’t forget to count benefits when comparing to others. That bonus pool, healthcare package and free gym membership are worth something.
  4. Make sure your own contribution is up to par before asking for more. Build your case.

A lot of times, you?ll find that pay differences are justified. Most companies don?t mean to sow discontent with their pay policies. But if you find something is off, discuss it with your superiors. Just be sure to do it in a skillful way. Learning how advocate for yourself and, by extension, the good of the company is one of the best skills you can master.


 

?Photo by?Alexis Brown?

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Green Retrofit your Home on a Budget

You?ve bought your eco-friendly light bulbs and figured out how to recycle batteries. But your utility bills haven?t gone down as much as you expected. Is there anything else you can do on a budget? Turns out you can retrofit your home to help our planet and save more money.

Retrofit. That sounds expensive, doesn?t it? It doesn’t have to be. There are steps you can take to make your house environmentally friendly, save money and make yourself more comfortable at the same time.

Mind the Gaps

When I was growing up, I had 6 big windows across one wall of my room. There were little gaps in them, so my room would freeze in the winter and be scorching hot in the summer. Even in northern Texas, that was too much. I actually asked for insulation for Christmas my junior year of high school and got it.

If your doors or windows aren?t air-tight, then your thermostat has to work harder to keep the temperature steady. That?s not just uncomfortable. That?s money leaking out of your home and out of your wallet. There are DIY options that can save you 5-10% of your heating costs each year. If you can afford caulk, you can go a long way for maybe $40.

You can go a step further and hire an energy auditor. Energy auditors will find every air leak in your home and plug it. That can reduce your energy costs and your home?s environmental impact even further. In fact, this could be a good step to take if you’re planning a bigger remodeling project anyway. The Department of Energy can connect you with local energy auditors or you can look for them in your area. Check with your utilities department to see whether they offer energy audits for free. Otherwise you can hire one for $200-600. That may or may not be “low budget” for you, but the savings would justify the expense over time.

Related: 7 Ways to Make your Home a Sustainable Source of Income?

The Other Black Hole of Cash: Water

If you decide to retrofit your home, then water-usage is another major hot spot for energy use. Almost half of the water used in your home is used in your bathroom. The toilets and showers are the two biggest drains on water (pun intended.)

You can change your shower head to a low flow shower head that saves water and money. You can order a pack of two 1.5 gallon per minute shower heads for $12.98 from many hardware stores. Just for some perspective, an average shower head uses about 2.1 gallons per minute. That’s 24 gallons of water in 40 minutes.

Your toilet could also use less water. There are water bags that cost less than a dollar, but they’re temporary, so you’d have to keep buying them to cut water. It’s cheap, but it’s kind of a pain. You may be better off just buying a WaterSense toilet. They run about $160-$200. Even if your toilet already flushes at an efficient 1.6 gallons per flush, the WaterSense toilet can cut 20% of your water usage per flush. The more people you have in your home using it, the more water – and money – you’ll save over time.

Related: How to Save Slowly – A Beginner’s Guide

You Can Retrofit your Home Without Much?Effort

But what if you live in an apartment with a radiator? You don?t have the authority to call someone to dig through the inside of the walls looking for air leaks. The good news? You probably have control over what you do with that radiator.

Radiator Labs has a product called the Cozy that can cut up to 35% off of your heating costs from a radiator. The Cozy covers your radiator and lets you control the heat settings from your phone. When you decide what temperature you want, the Cozy regulates the temperature in your apartment so that you stay comfortable. This stability keeps you comfy, reduces the fuel needed to power the radiator, and puts money back in your pocket. Who says being green has to be expensive?

OHM Connect is a wall attachment that actually pays you to save power. You can set a time when you’d like to turn some power off or reduce your usage, and you’ll earn passive income while you help the planet. If you don’t want to do a full remodel or if you feel like you’ve done everything to retrofit your home, this could be another option for you to go that step further.

Related: Save Energy and Get Paid

Turning your House into a Home

Making your house into a zero-energy wonderland isn’t just about saving money (although that can be a BIG perk.) It’s about being a good steward of the environment. The house you call a home is part of a much bigger home: our planet. When you choose to green retrofit your home, then you make our planetary home that much better.


 

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Hunters? The Surprising Origin of Conservation and Why it Matters

Like it or not, there?s stuff that we need from our planet. We need food, we need water, and we need the land to get both of those things and much more. But that doesn?t mean that we have to tear the world apart to get it. We need to work with the planet, not against it. Conservationists understood this from the beginning and Larry Nielsen shows us why it matters.

Who is Larry Nielsen?

?Conservation is really understanding that it?s not save everything, or people are evil, but that?together, nature and conservation can produce great things.?

Larry Nielsen is a professor at N.C. State and the author of Nature?s Allies, a book that follows eight notable conservationists and their triumphs. Conservation and environmentalism sometimes get bad names (especially where I?m from.) But those movements aren?t just about humans sacrificing everything to stop taking from our planet. It?s just about being smart.

Related: The Future of Work and Why it Matters

Environmentalism vs. Conservation

Back home, environmentalism conjures up images of people chaining themselves to trees to save rainforests. And sometimes that?s what’s needed. But Larry draws a line between environmentalism and conservation that removes that ?zero-sum? mentality.

?The conservation perspective is the important one, I think. We recognize that our lifestyle, our quality of life, is really a function of using nature well to provide the resources that we need.”

Instead of trying to stop every person in the world from taking from our planet, we can simply be smart. We can strategize about the best way to use the resources that we have so that they can sustain us for the long term.

Related: How Crickets and Buildings can Save the World

Conservation?s Surprising Origins

Conservation is a young movement and a young discipline. It?s only about 100 years old – much younger than environmentalism. However, conservation didn’t start with environmentalists who wanted to stop taking from the planet. It came from hunters.

?The people who have supported conservation and developed conservation were originally hunters and fishermen. That?s where the conservation business came from. They were people who lived and enjoyed being close to nature, close to those resources. And they [were] the first ones to realize when things [were] going off the rails. And they were the ones that said we need to support conservation.?

Crazy, right?

Some people think of hunters and fishermen as people who take indiscriminately from the world around them. But think about the regulations that they have to follow. Hunting and fishing seasons create boundaries and limits on how much they can hunt or fish. Those controls establish a partnership between our planet and the people living on it.

Related: How this Social Start-up is Changing the Way we Shop

Why Conservation Matters

The idea behind the controls for hunting and fishing are about creating a balance between what we take from our planet and what we leave alone. Those ideas can be extended to the energy we consume, the food we grow, the land we cultivate, and so many other vital industries. Conservationists don?t demonize you for harvesting from the earth. They just want to make sure we don?t overload the systems we rely on. I think Larry says it best when he says:

?It seems to me that the work of conservation is to find that balance, that genius, that allows us to live sustainably on earth with nature as a partner, rather than something to be conquered.?

Couldn?t agree more, Larry. Conservationists look for a win-win between the people living on this planet and the planet itself. That sounds like a pretty good partnership, doesn’t it?


This interview is part of the?Prosperity Roadmap.?Photo credit?Wade Basuel.

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Create Impact with a Unique Ethical Engagement Ring

The craziest part of graduation isn?t finding my life?s direction or figuring out how to make my freelance writing business works. It?s scrolling down my Facebook feed and seeing all of my friends in hidden-camera proposal pictures. All those pictures are precious, but some of them have dark backstories. It?s (usually) got nothing to do with the couple… and everything to do with the ring.

The beautiful diamonds that make the ring ? and the proposal pictures ? don’t always come from the best places. In the worst cases, paramilitary factions own mines that use slave labor to mine precious stones to fund illicit goals. Although world leaders have stepped forward to fight the blood diamond trade, diamond mines also have a massive ecological and environmental impact.

Which means… you don?t just want an engagement ring. You want a unique ethical engagement ring. There are ways to avoid companies that aren’t transparent about their diamond sources or the mine’s environmental impact. Here are three options:

  1. Buy from companies that offer ethically sourced diamonds
  2. Consider a lab-created diamond
  3. Forgo the diamond (not the ring)

Good Jewelers Despise Blood Diamonds

Many jewelers hate blood diamonds enough to be transparent about their sources of your unique ethical engagement ring. Vrai & Oro was founded in 2014 and is committed to ethically sourcing diamonds. Vrai & Oro is also committed to lower prices.

Their website outlines the steps they take to lower the typical markup that customers traditionally pay. Vrai & Oro jewelry is made in downtown LA, so they save import costs and know the exact source of their diamonds. Buying from them gives you transparency, ethical sourcing, and potentially lower prices than a traditional jeweler.

Today, the blood diamond trade is far less of a problem than it was even in the 2000s. In 2003, the UN ratified a piece of legislation called the Kimberly Process. The Kimberly Process requires jewelers to certify that their diamonds are conflict-free and have that certification ready and available. It also includes a monitoring process to ensure that any certified company maintains those ethical sourcing standards. Blood diamonds aren?t gone, but world leaders have taken steps towards ending the blood diamond trade and we must remain vigilant to ensure it remains that way.

Related: 4 Ways to Make Good Money with Good Companies

Diamonds can be Lab-Grown

Ethical diamond sourcing isn?t just about importing from mines across the world. Diamonds can be grown in labs.

Seriously.

A diamond in a mine is formed when?carbon is pressurized and heated in extreme conditions. A modern lab can simulate those same conditions in more accessible settings. So, instead of taking hundreds, thousands, or millions of years to form, synthetic diamonds only take a few weeks or months, depending on the lab. That?s one less giant hole in the ground and far less mining equipment puffing greenhouse gas into the air.

Do Amore is a startup in Houston whose synthetic diamond sales make up about “30% of their gemstone sales.” The founder, Krish Himmatramka, said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle that the synthetics are “just as good [as natural diamonds…] and more cost-effective.”? In addition, this company also uses some money from each sale to provide water for communities in developing countries.

Check your local jeweler and see whether they offer synthetic diamonds. A ?synthetic? diamond may not sound like the unique ethical engagement ring of your dreams, but many synthetics are similar in quality to real diamonds and don?t have the negative environmental impact that a real one does.

Related: 4 Ways to Make Real Money with Sustainable Investing

And the Radical Subhead ? Do you need a Diamond?

Alright, hear me out. This won’t be the option for everyone. But you must face the harsh reality that diamond rings can be uncomfortable. I know three moms who don?t wear their diamond rings anymore because they interfere with the small joys of parenthood – like hugging their children.

If you?re a practical couple, then you can get an engraved band instead of a scratchy diamond ring. It?s completely up to you. If you want the diamond for your unique ethical engagement ring, there are some great options out there. But if you don?t need the diamond, your decision just became is a lot simpler… and potentially more creative.

Related: Why We Can’t Save

A Dash of Realism

You?re not a bad person for buying a diamond ring. This is not that type of article. Think of these other options as ways that make your purchase matter to people beyond you and your beloved. The more we bring these types of stories to light, the fewer blood diamonds we’ll have in circulation. Plus, buying lab-grown diamonds will decrease the environmental impact that the diamond industry has on the environment. Or forgo the diamond altogether for a more comfortable and creative option that holds even more meaning.

A diamond engagement ring is an expensive purchase, but while you?re putting so much effort into finding the unique ethical engagement ring of your dreams, you can make a real difference with your choice.


Photo by?Jeremy Bishop

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