Category Archives: buying green

Collaborative consumption in France

Goat rental at 10 euros/day in the French Alps for natural lawn care from E-loue

One step removed from barter (but getting closer every day), and a hot new trend documented by two new business books in 2010 – “What’s Mine is Yours” and “The Mesh” – the mode for sharing and renting our physical assets is being driven by the economic recession and a wider societal backlash against wasteful and mindless consumption. If you’re ready to jump in, here are some resources for France:

Zilok, the French version. Rent anything from a car to a lawnmower or power drill. A Citroen C1 rents for 40 euros a day.

E-loue Goat rentals for lawn mowing etc. for toys (4 toys for 6 months at a monthly rate of 15.9 euros)

Supermarmite – Buy and sell home-cooked food in your neighbourhood. They call themselves the first social network for sharing home-cooked meals. Car sharing platform.

Louerunetudiant Outsource your business needs to a student: market research, telemarketing, design, animation, translation etc.


What’s behind the Sustainable Palm Oil label

Understanding what is behind certification for concepts like fair trade, organic agriculture, organic cosmetics and more broadly anything which claims to be “responsible” or “sustainable” is at the heart of the ongoing dialogue among consumers, retailers and manufacturers. Yet what goes on in the supply chain is only dimly understood by even the most well-informed consumers. Unless some brave soul starts developing “supply chain tourism”, it is unlikely that we will ever get a firm grasp on exactly what we are paying for beyond the feel good concepts of saving an orangutan or two somewhere in Borneo.

So palm oil has experienced a big shift in consumer perception this year due to successful lobbying efforts of Greenpeace and a fall-out in the European Union over the health risk contained in high levels of saturated fat contained in Nutella, which has been abruptly de-throned from its place as a symbol and repository of happy childhood memories throughout Europe.

Industries which rely heavily on palm oil as a cheap input for their products – mostly food and consumer items – are responding to consumer pressure to “clean up” their palm oil supply chains, and a number of solutions are available today.

Here’s a short primer on currently available certification which should help to de-mystify what you are getting when you buy a product which says “sustainable palm oil”.

Sustainable palm oil producers are grouped together in a body called Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)  which was set up in 2003 and brings together growers, processors, food companies, investors and NGOs. The members represent around 40% of palm oil producers., so they can’t be said to represent critical mass in the industry.

The RSPO defined the principles and criteria of sustainable palm oil in 2005:
•    No more replacement of ‘High Conservation Value Areas’ for new plantations
•    Respect for the righs of local people
•    Respect labour laws

RSPO has approved 3 supply chain models for RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil:

1.    Segregated  – Most stringent option: sustainable palm oil is kept segregated through the chain. Mixing is possible only with other RSPO Certified Palm Oil. This is the only certification that allows retailers to claim that the product “contains” sustainable palm oil.
2.    Mass Balance – Sustainable palm oil is followed through the chain. Mixing with conventional palm oil is possible provided this is administratively possible. Retailers can claim that the product “supports” the production of RSPO sustainable palm oil.
3.    Book and Claim – Chain is not followed. End-users buy certificiates directly from the producer via web-based trading platform (premium for sustainable palm oil is currently valued at $13 per tonne). Allows buyers to claim that their product “supports” the production of RSPO sustainable palm oil.

So basically when you buy a product that carries either of those claims: ie “contains” or “supports the production of sustainable palm oil”, you will be getting one of the above three options.

Cheap, cheerful and green holiday gift ideas

It’s that time of the year again. Here’s a selection of low-cost, guilt-free ideas for stocking fillers if you still can’t quite face doing the “No Impact Christmas”.

1. Global green garbage bags vy Kenjiro Sano, made from polyethylene, sporting a deep blue map of the globe to remind us all that, yes, we are connected. Earth Garbage Bag, 8 euros for 10 45-litre bags, available only from concept store Colette.

2. Fight the dross that fills up newsmagazines in doctors’ waiting rooms by donating money or your old digital cameras and laptops to International Reporting Project, which provides opportunities to U.S. journalists to cover international issues that have been neglected in the media. I stumbled upon this recently while reading an article in Business Week about the land grab in Africa, and thought to myself, hmm this doesn’t seem like the usual Businessweek fare.

3. Anything from this list of online shops which were part of the Noel Ethique operation last year.

4. Organic champagne from Fleury

5. Natural makeup from the new line called UNE by Bourjois

Natural mosquito repellents for summer

Summer is here at last, with the promise of leisurely evenings spent outdoors under the stars, eating grilled meats and catching up with friends. The yearly mosquito scourge hasn’t arrived in France as the weather has been unseasonally cool, but it’s time to start thinking about natural remedies and protection that do not involve DEET.

DEET (N,N-diéthyl-3-méthylbenzamide) is a registered pesticide classified in the US as “slightly toxic”. It is a member of the toluene chemical family, an organic solvent used in rubber and paint removers. Between 9 % and 56 % of DEET is absorbed through the skin, mostly within two hours following application. Neurological problems have been linked to DEET exposure and research in rats has revealed that high levels of DEET can kill neurons in areas of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration .

Here’s a list of alternatives available in France. Most can be purchased online:

Anti-Pique by Abiessence.

In this unpressurized atomizer, a blend of essential oils of lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, peppermint, geranium, lemongrass, sage and cinnamon provides lasting protection from mosquitoes. Spray generously at 20 cm from the skin and massage lightly. Re-apply several times a day.

Abiessence, La Source. 33-4-77646488

Mousticare from Végébom.

Composed of purified geraniol extracted from citronella, this spray can be used both on clothing and curtains, tents, strollers and cars. The manufacturer says it is effective for six weeks, and requires re-application after each wash.

MoustiCare, Végébom. 33-1-45004629

Outdoor lotion with citronella, from Druide.

Certified by Ecocert, this citronella-based lotion from Quebec’-based natural cosemetics firm Druide is safe to use on children from two years and upwards. It contains citronella, terpenes, aloes, betacarotene and tea tree oil.

Lait Hyrdatant Citronelle by Druide. Available at biocosmeo.

Répulsif insectes volantes from Gravier.

At night, try putting this mixture of lavender and cloves and geranium and citronelle into a diffuser for some bug-free beauty rest.

Répulsif insectes volantes, Gravier. 33-4-72443868

via Quelle santé magazine

Safety in cookware: PTFE vs nano-ceramic coatings?

Belgian cookware manufacturer Beka has come out with a handsome line of products called Beka Eco-Logic which replaces the traditional Teflon anti-stick coatings containing PTFE chemicals with a ceramic coating which they call Bekadur Ceramica.

Like many of the more recent PTFE-free offerings, such as Green Pan, these pans are covered with a durable nano-coating in ceramic. These ceramic coatings are water-based and can resist much higher temperatures than traditional coatings. Debate over the potential health risks of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) – best known by the DuPont brand name Teflon – has raged for years, so at first glance this seems like a no-brainer for any green-minded kitchen.

According to the most conservative scenario, PTFE starts to deteriorate after the temperature of cookware reaches about 260 °C (500 °F), and decomposes above 350 °C (660 °F). This can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.

But the debate on potential health risks of nano-technologies is only just beginning.
The main issue, as stated by ETC in “A Tiny Primer on Nano-Scale Technologies” is “Governments, industry and scientific institutions have allowed nanotech products to come to market in the absence of public debate and regulatory oversight.”

There are very few toxicological studies on engineered nanoparticles “but it appears that nanoparticles as a class are more toxic than larger versions of the same compound because of their mobility and increased reactivity.” This is important because nanoparticles can move easily into the body and slip past the body’s immune system. At 70 nanometres, nanoparticles can burrow deep into lung tissue; a 50 nm particle can slip into cells. Particles as small as 30 nm can cross the blood-brain barrier.

The bottom line is: we just don’t know. And how reassuring is that?

Buy an electric scooter in Paris and get 400 euros

Paris Town Hall authorities are offering to give away up to 400 euros (not exceeding 25 % of the retail price) for every purchase of a new electric scooter. The offer, which begins on March 21, applies to anyone or any business resident in the French capital. All you have to do is fill out a form available online at the Mairie de Paris website. The aim of the program is to encourage a shift towards quiet and clean two-wheeled transportation. The offer applies only to vehicles with a maximum speed capacity of 45 km/hour.

Best organic mascaras

I’ve always had minor allergies associated with mascara, and have tended to blame the problems on inefficient eye makeup remover, but once you look at the mascara ingredients it makes more sense to blame the mascara. There are some decent choices of organic mascara out there now; the only problem is that none of them can be kept for longer than six months

Invented in the 19th century, mascara was originally a mixture of coal dust and vaseline. Today’s waterproof mascaras have a composition based on a volatile solvent (isododecane), animal-derived waxes, mineral origin wax (ozokerite, paraffin), pigments (iron oxide, ultramarine) and filmifying polymers. They are basically similar in composition to oil-based or solvent-based paints.

Organic mascara is made from hydrolates – by-products of the process of making essential oils – such as camomille or linden; vegetable oils such as jojoba, sesame and macadamia and beeswax. To increase the viscosity of the product, some manufacturers add xanthan gum. To nourish and protect lashes, some add extracts of thyme, rose and lavender. Grapefruit seed extracts are used for conservation

Here’s the pick of the pack:

Terre D’Oc, available from Natures et Decouvertes. Only keeps for 6 months. Certified Ecocert and Cosmebio


Dr Hauschka, certified BDIH (German certification).

Phyt’s, certified Ecocert and Cosmebio. Only keeps for 3 months.


Logona, BDIH certification. available at Cosma Terra.

Organic perfume goes upscale

The benchmark study on toxic chemicals in perfume appears to be the Greenpeace one from 2005 which tested 36 different fragrances and found both phthalates and artificial musks in almost every single sample. Most commercial scents contain either animal substances such as musk, civet, castor or ambergris which have been obtained at some price to the animal’s welfare; or synthetic substitutes of those substances which are made from the same toxic chemicals found in household products and air fresheners. Applying these chemicals to your skin means they are absorbed into your body – and they have been linked to respiratory and allergic reactions, as well as reproductive problems.

Organic alternatives are still quite thin on the ground. Here are some of the latest offerings. Kibio, a French brand, introduced Eau de Parfum 100% last November, a blend of citrus aromas and amber.

Brazilian brand Natura launched Amor América in October 2008, a line that uses elements from the Andes and Patagonia, including oils such as Palo Santo (from trees in Ecuador) and Paramela (from Argentinian bushes). The company claims that it uses 100 % organic alcohol; whether this means the fragrance would meet, say, Ecocert organic standards, I’m not sure. At any rate, here is the ad from Brazil, complete with Caetano Veloso soundtrack.

Finally, in the luxury niche (retailing at around 140 euros a bottle), and sold only at Printemps department store, is a new line of organic fragrances called “Honoré des Prés” by Olivia Giacobetti, with names like Nu Green, Bonté’s Bloom and Sexy Angelic.

Green, good and beautiful holiday gift ideas

Earlier this week I spent half an hour browsing in a traditional French candy store. The candies are sold in bulk from big glass vats and have names like “Les Negus de Nevers” and “Les Briques du Capitole” which evoke place and regional identity. Each variety of candy – the name, packaging and craftmanship – is designed to summon up a small town or region in France. For a small sum of money, you can choose an assortment of high quality candies, have them gift wrapped in cellophane and ribbon, and watch your fellow shoppers morph into children as they gaze at the jars. So I’ll kick off my list of holiday gift suggestions with a visit to my favourite candy store in Paris:

1. Anything from A La Mere de Famille – founded in 1761, oldest confectioner in Paris, the ultimate old world treat. Main store is 35 rue du Faubourg-Montmartre in the 9th arrondissement. I’m also very fond of their house chocolates. Four other locations around Paris.

store image from La Mere de Famille

2. A massage or facial at the Espace Weleda – all the organic products from the fine old German house of Weleda, plus a fairly recent, relaxing, zen spa space in the avenue Franklin Roosevelt, 75008.

3. Cosmetics, perfumes, haircare products (some organic) at cut-price rates from Cherchminippes, an upscale thrift store which recycles all the latest products (brand new) which the beauty editors and press attachés drop off here.

4. Chinese poetry – nothing like a few choice lines from classical masters Tu Fu and Su Dongpo to help you get zen, fast. Check out anthologies from Red Pine, David Hinton and Eliot Weinberger.

5. Whimsical greeting cards from my friend Andi, available at illustratrice.

6. Anything from the Ethical Fashion Show.

7. Socially responsible investment: The Zebu Overseas Board in Madagascar allows you to acquire a zebu which will then be rented out to a local farmer who will pay back your initial investment over three years. You get to travel to Madagascar (at your own expense) to get repayment for your loan in local currency, or you can decide to have it reinvested in other socially responsible ventures.

The website advises: “A Zebu is also an ideal gift, even for your most jaded friends. Even the most degenerate members of the consumer society, those who are least interested in beauty, goodness and nature, their faces will light up at the prospect of owning this noble animal which will carry their name.”

Ethical Fashion Comes of Age

The fifth annual edition of the Ethical Fashion Show opened its doors yesterday at the Carrousel du Louvre, an incredibly grown-up location which is symbolic of the industry’s position at the threshold of the mainstream. From an eclectic gathering of 20 designers in 2004, the event has grown to be a showcase for some 130 odd designers from all over the world who are committed to integrating ethical values into design and manufacturing.

Last year the show took place at the Tapis Rouge near the Canal Saint Martin, and it still had the hip, cutting edge vibe of creative individuals working at the fringe. This year’s feel was completely different – many of the same people – but housed in a slightly clinical showroom with too much empty space punctuated by booths touting organic cosmetics and natural dyes. Many new lines of clothing made from organic cotton – especially for children – were apparent, as were the staple accessories and bags made from recycled plastic, rubber tyres (Cyclus) and leather cuttings from car factories. Newcomer “Como No” – launched by French designer Candice Augereau this summer – has a delightful line of whimsical accessories and boots in fresh colours crafted from a roughspun cotton (technically it is not organic as these are fields ‘in conversion’) grown in Argentina.

Great accessories – including a nifty fingerless wraparound glove – from Deux Filles en Fil, all made from recycled materials. 

Clementine Nguyen from Sobosibio, who launched her first collection this summer, makes very wearable soft and fluid organic cotton clothes with the innovation of a unique number code which clients can use to trace each step of the production process on the website. One of my favourites is still Les Fees de Bengale, which makes beautifully cut pieces in muted contemporary tones with a luxurious feel.

Of the many socially responsible projects, one outstanding example was Les Filles du Facteur, a project which helps women in Burkina Faso and immigrant women in a Parisian suburb earn a living by crocheting recycled plastic into an appealing line of accessories such as tablecloths, bags and placemats. Good holiday gift items in a world where self-destructing financial markets have given fresh impetus to value-based consumption.


One of the founder members of the ethical fashion community in France, Sébastien Kopp of Veja, made the point that big corporations need to get on board with changing their production systems in order to accelerate change. He also forecast that we are heading for a big change in the way people consume, stressing the “back to quality” paradigm over the old model which relies heavily on advertising and marketing. “The world of selling products with Gisele Bundchen is so over for me,” he said.

The show continues through Sunday October 12.