Archive for August, 2011

Solicitation: guest posts and ideas

Do you have a question or topic you’d like to see covered on Effectivism — something involving activism, volunteering, environmentalism, etc.?  Please leave suggestions here.

Also, if you or someone you know would be interested in researching and writing a guest post on a topic you’d like to see covered, please let me know in the comments or by email.

I have a number of posts in the works, but I’d be happy if others want to chip in and help address topics they care about.

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Link roundup

Trying something different from the normal, more extensively researched style.  Should link roundups become a regular feature?  Do you have any suggested links?

Greener Choices – A site from the publishers of Consumer Reports which is chock-full of information about environmentally friendly purchases and habits.  They’re very focused on quantifying impact and offer useful side-by-side comparisons and calculators.

Guide to food labels – What do food labels really mean?  Which ones are regulated?  Greener Choices also offers an Eco-labels center addressing overlapping issues.

Khan Academy and education reform – the online math-focused education website, Khan Academy, is radically changing the way some classes are taught and some students are learning.  Can this technology revolutionize education?  When, how, and for whom?

A Lever Long Enough covered innovative and effective ways to spread e-books and literacy across the world.

Charity rating systems still coming up short – I’ve written previously about problems with rating charities.  A recent scandal demonstrates how different rating methods currently used remain insufficient.

How to stop solicitations by mail – giving anonymously is not the only solution.

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how to buy a greener book

What has a lower carbon footprint — buying a book from a local store or ordering it online?  What about buying your books via a Kindle or other e-reader?

Amazon, the leading online seller of books, has been very coy about revealing their carbon footprint (although they point out lots of things they do to make their deliveries more environmentally friendly).  However, the findings from a case study of may provide insights into the eco-friendliness of e-commerce more broadly.  The study finds — perhaps surprisingly — that shopping online is often more energy efficient than shopping locally.

On average, shopping online was 30% more energy efficient than shopping locally, but there was a large amount of uncertainty and variability in many of the numbers that went into that analysis.  By varying several of the largest contributing factors, shopping locally can easily end up being the greener option.  In particular:

  • Shipping express or otherwise getting an item via air delivery increases the e-commerce carbon footprint dramatically.
  • By far the largest source of CO2 in local purchases is the customers driving to and from the store.  Short driving distance, high fuel efficiency, or alternate forms of transit can all shift the balance in favor of shopping locally.
  • On the e-commerce side, two potentially large but highly variable factors are the carbon footprint of the product packaging (which Amazon has made efforts to reduce) and the efficiency of the delivery from the local distribution center to the customer’s house.  For instance, having electric or hybrid delivery trucks and efficient scheduling can greatly improve the eco-friendliness of e-commerce.

Of course, there are other reasons besides carbon footprint that may also influence your decision to shop locally vs. online.

What about owning a Kindle or other e-reader?  Obviously, buying an electronic copy of a book eliminates most of the sources of energy expended in buying a print book locally or online.  However, a lot of energy goes into building an e-reader, and also into disposing of old ones.  They take energy to run, as well.  How does all of that compare to the carbon footprint of buying print books?

One well-publicized report by CleanTech concluded that buying your books on a Kindle is more energy efficient than buying (new) books in print, so long as you read 23 books or more per year.  However, Eco-Libris has critiqued this analysis, pointing out that there is too much uncertainty about Amazon’s carbon footprint to know how many books are needed to make a Kindle the greener option.

Eco-Libris also has an extensive collection of articles and other reference material addressing the environmental impact of e-readers more broadly.  While there’s no conclusive answer about the relative greenness of e-books vs. paper books, it clearly makes a huge difference how much you read and whether you buy your paper books new or used.  Unless you are a voracious buyer of books and/or periodicals, it looks like you should not consider the environmental impact as an argument in favor of buying an e-reader.

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staying off mailing lists: anonymous online donations

Here’s a situation I’m sure you can relate to if you’ve ever donated money:  First you feel happy for having contributed to a cause you care about.  Then you feel dismayed at the flood of resulting mail that comes pouring in from the organization you donated to and everyone they sell your contact information to.  Most of us don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of all this mail, or know that we’ve indirectly caused a tree massacre.

In the past, people have avoided the dead tree deluge by donating anonymously through a third party such as an attorney, a broker, or entity such as Fidelity Charitable Trust.  These days, another easy way to give anonymously is to donate via an online service.  JustGive and Network for Good both help users make one-time or recurring online donations. If you specify that you want to make the donation anonymous, both will keep your personal information private from the recipient of your donation (as well as the rest of the world).  In this way, you can avoid a deluge of mail.

JustGive charges a 3% processing fee;  Network for Good asks for a minimum 5% tax-deductible donation to their organization (4.75% for recurring donations; 3% for donations to non-profits that have subscribed to the site’s DonateNow service) on top of your donation.  These sites also make it easy to donate online to sites that don’t offer that option on their own websites.  Both sites are endorsed by American Institute of Philanthropy.  CharityNavigator has partnered with Network for Good and explains why, although I still haven’t found a convincing reason to prefer the more expensive of the two services.

If the organization you are donating to offers PayPal donations, PayPal’s fees are smaller than either of the above options, so long as the charity gets at least $3000 a month.  PayPal doesn’t allow anonymous donations, but you can also check the “no shipping required” box to hide your shipping address from the recipient.  However, according to the PayPal Privacy Policy,

If you are buying goods or services and pay through PayPal, we may also provide the seller with your confirmed credit card billing address to help complete your transaction with the seller. The seller is not allowed to use this information to market their services to you unless you have agreed to it.

If you do not pay by credit card (instead paying from your PayPal account balance), it sounds like you may be able to avoid sharing your mailing address with charities altogether.

Have you used any of these services, or found other ways to stay off of mailing lists when donating? What’s your favorite method?

Also, bolding main points of the post: obnoxious or good?  Please give feedback!

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