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:
Buy from companies that offer ethically sourced diamonds
Consider a lab-created diamond
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.
Ethical diamond sourcing isn?t just about importing from mines across the world. Diamonds can be grown in labs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Picture this: you?ve just moved into your new home. All of the walls and furniture are bright builder?s white and you can’t wait to paint over it. But the paint you’re about to use probably isn’t toxin-free paint. The fresh-paint smell that makes you feel proud after a long day of painting is not necessarily good for your health.
What makes Paint ?Toxic??
Most store-brand paints have chemicals called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Leading with the word ?volatility? makes these chemicals sound scarier than they are. All it means is that some of the chemicals in the paint evaporate in a normal room. The VOCs in your paint are what make them so easy to paint with and part of why the colors look as rich and bright as they do.
But many VOCs are known carcinogens. If you smear those brightly-colored VOCs all over your walls, you probably won?t notice the effects immediately. However, if your house is poorly ventilated or you use a lot of paint at once, you may feel headaches, dizziness, and nausea. Less irritating paints only result in eye, throat, and skin irritation. In more extreme cases, overexposure to these paint fumes could lead to liver damage, kidney damage, and even contribute to the development of cancer. If that wasn’t enough reason to switch to toxin-free paint, there’s a great environmental impact, too.
Fine, it may not actually care. But it does notice. When high-VOC paint reacts with the nitrogen in the air, it depletes the ozone layer and contributes to urban smog. One household might not make a difference, but how many people have just painted new homes for their families? How many have just decided to repaint their homes? All of this adds up to impact our planet. Thankfully, there are options available that benefit the people in your home and reduce pollutants released into the environment. More and more people are switching to toxin-free paint.
There are plenty of paint brands that you can choose from that have low or zero-VOC paints. For starters, you can visit Home Depot?s page that shows you their toxin-free paint options. Home Depot is a massive distributor, so if you can find it there, that’s probably the easiest way to go.
Other companies produce toxin-free paint exclusively. ECOS Paints produces zero-VOC paints, wood varnishes, primers, and stains. They even have pet-friendly paints to help keep your pets safe and healthy.
If you don?t want to look into specialty brands, Behr, Sherwin-Williams, and Benjamin Moore offer low and zero-VOC paints. All of these paints seem to perform just as well as conventional paints, so you don?t have to sacrifice?paint quality. Even better, most of these paints don?t cost very much more than a $30-gallon drum from Home Depot. It?s a win-win!
Toxin-free paint does have fewer harmful fumes than traditional paints. However, the colorant that’s added to it probably doesn?t. When you go to Home Depot to pick out the right shade of lavender for your room, you?ll get a base color and an additive that will change the paint color to your perfect shade of lavender. A lot of times, that additive has those same VOCs that you tried to avoid.
If you want your paint to really live up to your wildest expectations, you need to make sure that everything you use is VOC-free. Don?t spend all that time and energy keeping your home healthy with conscious choices, only to throw it away because you thought the slightly lighter lavender would make the room look bigger. Read the fine print so you know what?s going in your paint and, more importantly, in your home.
Imagine that you’ve just spent three hours painting your walls. Now your home can look good and you can feel good about your hard work. Choosing to be a conscious consumer doesn?t mean sacrificing quality or your wallet. It simply means being mindful about how you spend your money and the impact those purchases have on the people around you and our planet. There are new conscious products being developed every day, whether it?s the paint on your walls or the credit card in your wallet. What other purchases can you make that will make the world a better place?
Blake Jones, co-founder of Namaste Solar and Clean Energy Credit Union, was growing frustrated with the poor financing choices available to his customers. Turns out you can get better financing for a t.v. or couch than you can for solar panels. So he set out to do something about it. Jones and his team are launching the Clean Energy Credit Union. Their goal: to offer the lowest interest rates to consumers looking to purchase renewable energy products and services.
A Gradual Epiphany: From Oil & Gas to Clean Energy
How did Blake Jones, a visionary leader in the renewable energy movement, go from working in oil and gas, to launching an employee-owned cooperative solar installation company, a solar purchasing cooperative, an impact investing fund, and now the Clean Energy Credit Union?
Blake Jones, Boulder, CO
?It was a slow awakening?, says Jones. ?I was working in the oil and gas industry right out of college when I went to work for a subsidiary of Halliburton. I was in love with the oil and gas industry. It sounds strange to admit that. I had read a book calledThe Prize, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Daniel Yurgin, about the history of oil.
I thought oil was the neatest thing and made the world go round. I was ambitious, wanted to make a lot of money, and wanted to work abroad. And I got all of those things.
But fortunately I had an older brother who is passionate about renewable energy. He helped me open my eyes to some of the disadvantages of our over-dependence on fossil fuels and what it does to our planet.?
Over time, Jones shifted his passion for oil and gas towards renewable energy. He went to work in Nepal for 3 years, installing solar systems in remote villages along the foothills of the Himalayas. ?And I loved it?, says Jones.
It was here that he learned about renewable energy technology and small business management.?After theRenewable Energy Standard passed in Colorado in 2004, Jones came back to co-found Namaste Solar.
Namaste Solar: Employees Are Owners and Decision Makers
Namaste Solar?s employee-owned cooperative model is their secret sauce and the reason they?ve seen a 50% compound annual growth rate over their 13-year history, while other solar companies have struggled.
??we were all on the same page about the different kind company we wanted to start. We thought, if we?re going to do this, we?re not going to start a conventional company. ? Everyone at Namaste Solar thinks and acts like an owner.?
Jones and his team started Namaste Solar as a 100% employee owned, democratic workplace. In the early years of the company, everyone made the same salary, including the CEO. Today, there?s a 6-to-1 cap on highest-to-lowest total pay. Every employee gets an equal vote in important decisions, like who to elect to the board. Their one-person-one-vote model makes employees feel like true contributors.
?We are completely transparent. Every bit of company information is shared, including pay ? which stands to this day. And we donate 10% of our profit each year to the community.?
According to Jones, their secret sauce of employee ownership, democratic workplace, and extreme transparency has attracted many people who are passionate about both solar and proving there?s a better way to do business than the conventional norm.
Namaste Solar is now known as prime example and champion of theB Corporation movement, the idea that the power of business can be used to solve social and environmental problems.
The Dark Side of Solar
Namaste Solar is now 13 years old, employs 175 people and brings in $50 million in revenue per year. ?
But it hasn?t been easy. They have done very well in an industry that has seen a lot of shake-out. While the solar industry has been super-hot, the market is so competitive that many solar companies have gone bankrupt.
?There?s a dark side to solar?, says Jones. ?It turns out that most of our competitors are not profitable. But they can raise a lot of money on Wall Street because their top line is growing so quickly. The focus for these companies is on land grabbing market share.? ?
This makes for strange competitive dynamics since Namaste Solar is going up against companies that are solely focused on expanding total sales through aggressive marketing by using money raised from Venture Capitalists, rather than trying to run a profitable business.
Finding Investment to Fund Sustainable Growth
Yet, it turns out there is a path to raising capital for growth from people who believe in sustainable growth.
In the beginning, Namaste Solar was 100% employee owned.
?Being na?ve first-time entrepreneurs, we thought that if we took external capital we?d lose control. We were getting a call every 2 weeks from Venture Capital or Private Equity firms, offering lots of money but it had strings attached. They wanted us to grow quickly and provide a liquidity event in the next 5 years.?
Because they sought to keep control of the company with their employees, they made it a core value that they will never have external investors. ?In hindsight, that was a little misguided or misinformed?, says Jones.
They started meeting other like-minded companies, some of them through the Certified B Corporation community and theNational Center for Employee Ownership. They met large and successful cooperatives like Organic Valley and Equal Exchange and learned that they could raise capital without losing control. ?These cooperatives had issued a class of non-voting preferred stock, which means that external shareholders would not be able to change the company?s philosophy or direction.
?When we saw that model we thought, why didn?t we think of that??
Namaste Solar can how raise capital via a class of stock that doesn?t have voting rights and allows them to keep their cooperative model and governance structure intact. Seeing that cooperatives could successfully find mission-aligned investors showed Jones that it could be done. ?
Beyond Solar: Creating Momentum for Impact
One of the most interesting things about the interview was how this community of social entrepreneurs helps each other out, even when they compete.
Since founding Namaste Solar, Jones launched an impact fund that invests in private companies that provide social or environmental impact. He also co-founded Amicus Solar Cooperative, the first purchasing cooperative in the U.S. for the solar industry. The purchasing co-op is jointly owned and managed by its 48 member-companies.
And now, with the launch of Clean Energy Credit Union, any individual or contractor selling renewable energy products (from any renewable energy provider) will be able to access the lowest rates in the market.
Jones and his team have proven over and over that their sustainable and democratic approach to product, services and capital raising can and does work.
Living clean is not easy. Scratch the surface and you’ll find plenty of dirty little secrets about what goes into our food, our environment and our bodies. Cleaning agents are no exception.?
Take a walk down the cleaning supply aisle and you’ll experience the familiar smell of chemicals emanating from plastic bottles. It’s enough to that make your head spin.
According to an Environmental Working Group study, 53% of cleaning products under review contained lung-harming ingredients and only 7% of the cleaning products even adequately disclosed their contents.
Why would our household items contain carcinogens, asthma instigators, and poisons? Does having a clean home need to come at the expense of our health? While there are many so called ‘natural’ brands that promote green cleaning products, let?s take a look at 3 sure fire ways we can clean up our act without breaking the bank.
1. Wash your windows with white vinegar
Window cleaners can contain shockingly toxic mixes of ammonia, ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, and methanol. Side effects from inhaling or ingesting these chemicals can include insomnia, dizziness, throat swelling, and even skin burns. While there are new types of window cleaners that are considered better, why not swap the toxic ingredients for something safe, natural, and less expensive like white vinegar? Vinegar is completely non-toxic, antibacterial, and is much more economical than standard window cleaners. Just mix one part hot water to one part distilled vinegar and add to your very own spray bottle. Clean as usual.
2. Clean your oven and your mouth with baking soda
Standard oven cleaners emit toxic fumes and contain large amounts of sodium or potassium hydroxide. While these chemicals can dissolve crusty baked on grease, they can also burn skin, lungs, and eyes. To clean your oven naturally, sprinkle baking soda liberally to cover the bottom of the oven. Spray with water, wait 8 hours, then scrub and wipe clean.
The fact is, air fresheners do not clean or purify the air. They merely cover up odors by emitting undisclosed mixtures of chemicals. These fragrance components can actually trigger allergies, asthma attacks, and impair reproduction. It may sound old-fashioned, but simply opening windows or installing a fan can make a huge difference. Better yet, if a room has an odor problem find the source and eliminate that instead of masking it with artificial fragrances.
Pro-tip: grab that box of baking soda and pour some into a bowl. It’ll absorb odors in your bathroom or fridge. ?
It’s Easy Being Green
While there are many wonderful brands out there devoted to making green products with accurate labels and effective ingredients, the costs can really add up. Simple decisions like swapping baking soda for toxic toothpaste or throwing out the Windex for something safer and more natural like white vinegar may seem small, but these little acts of integrity pay off in the long run for the mind, body, and planet.
As impact investing enters the mainstream, many people are asking how they can make a difference and get a better deal. Yet the change they need to make may be right in front of them. If you wanna change the world, you may need to change your bank.?
The truth is that, outside of investing, every dollar you use or save is doing something somewhere.
Every time you spend a dollar, you are having some impact on something outside of you which you may not realize.
Simply picking up your go-to bathroom cleaner at the store can create an impact of sorts, both on the environment and on your family?s health, that you may not be aware of and may not approve of.
Your money could be contributing both to the destruction of the environment and the health of your family. How can you know? Today we are lucky to have organizations that provide us with information about products and services. Information educates, and consumers who learn can push for change.
For example, when consumers first learned of the harmful chemicals in Johnson & Johnson?s baby products by referencing Skin Deep, an online database containing ingredient information for more than 75,000 personal care products, consumers pushed back and demanded change. Johnson and Johnson reacted by removing?Formaldehyde from their baby products and?have promised to reformulate others. Today, if you are wondering what’s in the personal care products you’re buying, all you have to do today is click and read.
The same applies to your bank account. If you have a bank account, your money is not lying in a box with your name on it, waiting for you to withdraw whenever you choose. In fact, if every bank customer tried to withdraw their money at the same time, they couldn?t. This is because banks do not hang onto your money, they loan it out and earn interest off it. Banks make money by loaning it out at a higher interest rate than the cost of the money they lend. And these loans may be financing all kinds of enterprises that you may not be too happy about.
Whether you like it or not, you are inadvertently investing in whatever your bank decides to do with your money.
The fees you pay to maintain your bank account, the interest you pay on your credit cards, every cent you contribute to your financial institution, in any way, will be used to make an impact somewhere. And it may not be inline with your values and beliefs.?
Many people discovered this in 2016 when social pressure forced the disclosure of Wells Fargo and other banks? funding of the DAPL pipeline.
This prompted the city of Seattle to completely cut ties with Wells Fargo.
So if you feel powerless, think again. Sustained social pressure is powerful.
Regardless of where you stand on that issue, if you were against the pipeline and you banked with Wells Fargo, you would be living against your personal beliefs. Without information, we may be blindly contributing to the very things we abhor. As consumers wake up to this, the market is responding with a plethora of alternatives. And this a good thing.
The traditional paradigm that separates capitalism and philanthropy is crumbling quickly.
Paying high-interest rates to financial institutions engaged in sketchy investments, and then turning around to give money to a favorite charity that may be fighting those very investments is a lesson in futility that consumers are waking up to. We owe it our communities to find out where our money is going, and we owe it to ourselves to find out where we can get a better deal.?
You don’t need to be an “investor” in order to make conscious change through spending choices and reap financial benefits. What you need is access to information about the choices available so that your money is working in line with your beliefs and providing you with the best deal possible. It is our mission at Wellwallet to provide consumers with information they need so that they can decide for themselves whether their money is being used in line with their convictions, and is working in favor of their financial health.
Money is money, whether you save it from avoiding high banking fees, or whether you make it by investing wisely. It can be difficult to find out whether your ?big bank? is investing in something that you may not agree with, but it isn’t difficult to compare the interest rates and fees with good banks who are both committed to socially responsible investing and are quite transparent about their investment decisions.?Right now good banking services are competing for your business. Look into them and decide whether it’s time to change your bank.
What are good bank services? They are both customer-centric while financing values-driven enterprises for the good of the community and the planet. They want to offer you a better deal and show you what they are doing with your money.
Good Banking Services Offer You A Better Deal And Show You The Good They Are Doing With Your Money
Aspirationis divested from oil and gas and they put your deposits in places you can feel good about.?
Here?s a quick overview of Aspiration’s Summit Account*:
Pays you up to 2.00% APY interest – at least 100X more than traditional banks offer.
No minimum deposit – you can open an account with $10.
No minimum balance – no minimum balance required, ever.
No service fees – their Pay What Is Fair philosophy allows you to pick your fee, even if it?s zero.
No ATM fees – Aspiration reimburses ATM fees worldwide.
Deposits are FDIC insured
Certified B Corp
Industry Level Security?
An app that lets you track whether you?re actually voting with your dollars. If you use their debit card, a People and Planet score is assigned to every merchant at which you shopped.?
They also commit to donating ten cents of every dollar to charities that help struggling Americans get off the ground (microloans.)
We, as consumers, must take ownership of our financial choices on all levels, from debt to investment, in order to make a change in both our finances and our world. And today we can. By choosing well, you can create good on all levels. No matter how small. You are already an investor and your money is already making an impact. You can?t escape this as a consumer in a capitalist system. If your bank is invested in bad ventures, simply change your bank.
You already have more power than you think you do. Now all you have to do is use it.
*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 clickhere.
Deposits are insured by the FDIC up to $250,000 per depositor. For more information about FDIC insurance coverage, please visit theFDIC website.