Last week, our office meetings were all about the money – budgets, grants, financial retirement planning, and fair trade. As Americans, often our real power comes not from our ballots, but from our wallets. Yet with markets and companies so hopelessly intertwined, and with all the different steps and materials that go into each product, it is extremely challenging – and not always the most rewarding – to shop responsibly. For example:

· Most retirement portfolios invest a substantial percent in “large-cap” companies, which includes major arms manufacturers, oil companies, and others with questionable records (Nike, Wal-mart, Nestle…), because these companies have the largest returns.

· Seemingly reputable brands are often owned by disreputable parent companies. Both Kraft foods, Nabisco and Philip Morris are owned by Altria

· With so many variables to consider, which do you choose? Fair trade or organic? Sweat-free or locally produced? Environmentally sustainable or socially responsible?

Luckily, with a little research, there are ways to spend responsibly without sacrificing your budget, retirement fund, or sanity. Here are some solutions and resources to help you become an informed shopper:

1) Be Label Savvy – Know your symbols: Fair Trade, Organic, etc, and look for Who (brand),

What (ingred.), Where (produced), and How (its made)

2) Act Local – Support local producers and ask local shops to carry responsible products

3) Invest in the Future – before making a big purchase or investment – from a diamond ring, to

a college education, to a retirement fund – know where the money is going,

and ask the institution or company to divest from irresponsible sources

Learn More:

The Rough Guide to Shopping with a Conscience –covers shopping, finance, travel, and more

The Blue Pages – rates companies based on ethical policies and practices

The Green Pages – directory of socially responsible companies / products / services – Fair Trade – information on socially responsible investing