Monday, October 29, 2007

Carnival of the Green # 101!

Welcome to the Carnival of the Green! If it's new to you, read up about it and how to submit at TreeHugger, and check out all the previous editions. You can also visit last week's edition at The Good Human; next week, it's at Natural Collection. (If you're new to Money and Values, check out some of my highlights here.)

The personal (tips and stories):

The global (news and collective action):

The kinda-green (posts with environmental implications):

That's it. I hope you enjoyed the Carnival, and thanks for visiting!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I don't think God gives very good financial advice...

... but thank goodness for the Utahraptor! (I meant to post this when it came out a few weeks ago, but am only getting around to it now.)

See also The Motley Fool's take; as they point out, God doesn't seem to know there are high-yield savings accounts that offer 5% APY and beat inflation...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

All about co-ops & how to find one near you

So it turns out that October is not only Fair Trade Month, but also Co-op Month!

Co-ops are businesses that are owned and controlled by their members/customers/workers. There are actually a lot of different kinds, more than I'd realized: a wide range of consumer co-ops (from grocery co-ops to credit unions to child care co-ops to telecommunications co-ops) to housing co-ops to farmer co-ops (Land O Lakes and Florida's Natural are examples of really big ones, but they vary widely in size) to my favorites, the worker co-operatives. (Apparently there are even patient-owned health care co-operatives; anyone use one of these and see a difference?)

Co-ops are pretty awesome because generally they're really rooted in the community, and are more interested in good products/services, good working conditions, and good relationships with the community than companies that are owned and run by shareholders and distant CEOs. (Obviously there will be some variation in how this happens in practice!) There are actually seven core principles of co-ops that you can read about, including democratic member control and member economic participation.

I'm a member of a local co-op grocery store, which means I can run for the board and vote in board elections, and there's a different kind of accountability to member-customers than there is to ordinary customers at a big chain store. (My current campaign is to get certified humane dairy products stocked; I'll keep you posted!) I am a fan of co-ops in general.

So I was really excited to find this search engine for U.S. co-ops on the Co-op Month website. You can narrow it down by type or just search for all co-ops near you. My search brought up tons of credit unions, but also a few worker co-ops that I hadn't known about, more grocery stores, several agricultural co-ops, a few preschools, and even an electric utilities co-op (not covering my immediate area, though.)

Do you use co-operatives? Why or why not? What are your experiences with co-ops of different kinds?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 Blogger Challenge

Better late than never, I'm pointing you towards the personal finance bloggers' entry into the October Blogger Challenge at lets users fund specific projects proposed by public school teachers for their students. I'm somewhat conflicted about it, because funding these projects almost feels like support for the idea that charity can just pick up the slack when our students are denied their right to sufficient public funding for a good education. But on the other hand, while our funding system remains skewed and unfair, there will be schools and students that are underfunded, and this website helps us do something about it.

Anyway, enough of my soul-searching. The point is, we are all teaming up to donate to some personal finance-related classroom projects, and are over $2000 (and 100 students impacted) so far! There are still a few left on our list to be funded, so go check them out-- or search the site and donate to another project-- or donate to something else altogether (my offer to match donations to Oxfam still stands!)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Little decisions: minutes or cents?

In Washington DC (and many other cities, I'm sure) public transportation has tiered pricing, which means that fares during rush hour are higher than non-rush hour fares.  Usually this doesn't make much difference to me; I pay whatever the fare costs when I need to ride. 
But every so often, I find myself standing at the entrance to the station just before 7pm (when the prices switch over), thinking:  "Do I catch this train, or wait 5-7 minutes for the next one and save 80 cents?"
Of course, $0.80 is not much money at all to be concerned about.  But on the other hand, how much difference does a few minutes make?  I usually have a book to read or something else with me to occupy my time. 
In the end, I usually make different decisions on different days, depending on how tired I am and if there's a particular reason to get home quickly.  I'm more likely to just get on the train and pay a little more, but there are certainly times that I've waited the few extra minutes.
Do you pay attention to little trade-offs like these, or do you figure they're not worth worrying about? 

Monday, October 15, 2007

Green Electronics Guide: how do companies address the e-waste problem?

Greenpeace has put together a consumer guide on how environmentally friendly various electronics companies are. Drawing attention to the serious and growing problem of discarded electronics (e-waste), it ranks the companies based on their use of toxic chemicals and their policies and practice around take-back and recycling of their products.

According to their latest update (9/07), Nokia leads the pack and Sony Ericsson is not far behind; both companies have stopped using some of the most hazardous chemicals (PVC plastics) and are in the process of phasing out others (BFR flame retardants). Both companies also support Individual Producer Responsibility (the concept that manufacturers should take back their electronics products and be responsible for their recycling and/or safe disposal) and have take-back policies in most countries where they sell products, but get dinged for a lack of information about how successful these policies are in practice.

The worst? Panasonic, HP, and Apple. All three have problems with take-backs and recycling; plus, Panasonic has no timeline to phase out the chemicals, while HP is planning to get rid of them in some components (internal wiring) but not others.

The full list:

  • Nokia: 8 (of 10)
  • Sony Ericsson: 7.7
  • Dell: 7.3
  • Levono: 7.3
  • LGE: 7
  • Fujitsu Siemens: 7
  • Samsung: 6.7
  • Motorola: 6.7
  • Toshiba: 6
  • Acer: 5.7
  • Apple: 5.3
  • Hewlett Packard: 5.3
  • Panasonic: 5
You can read the whole report here(PDF), with more details about what each company is and isn't doing. If you're an Apple customer, send an e-mail to Steve Jobs to ask him to do more.

Does this sort of information affect what electronics you buy? I'd like to try to keep it in mind next time I'm shopping for them. But the biggest thing I'm taking out of this report is how much of a problem the e-waste from discarded electronics really is, and it strengthens my intention to get the very most out of my devices before I buy new ones.

(This is my post for Blog Action Day 2007!)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

New Savings Account: 5% APY Plus Social & Environmental Impact

Big news! ShoreBank, the oldest and largest socially conscious bank in the U.S., has just unveiled a no-minimum high-yield online savings account with 5.00% APY. They'll use your money to strengthen low-income communities and help the environment; you get an interest rate that matches or beats almost all your other options.

This is huge, in my opinion. I've written before about several money market accounts and CDs where you can support a variety of good causes at interest rates that rival anything else out there, but getting a competitive interest rate from a no-minimum savings account was always the missing piece. Now anyone with $1 and an interest in supporting ShoreBank's mission can put their money where their heart is by opening an account.

How this kind of banking works

When you deposit money at a bank, they take your money and lend it out so they can earn enough to pay you interest and make a profit. Most banks do this based solely on financial criteria, which means your bank could be using your money to do things you don't approve of (maybe it's funding cluster bombs or enriching the Sudanese government, for example). But mission-based financial institutions target your money to accomplish social and/or environmental goals. (Read more from me or from The Community Investing Center.)

ShoreBank's mission-based lending

ShoreBank, which was founded in 1973, works in the Midwest (Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit) and the Pacific Northwest making loans that support community development in low-income neighborhoods and/or a healthier environment.

ShoreBank furthers community development in low-income and financially underserved neighborhoods by providing financing for locally-owned small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations. ShoreBank also funds affordable housing construction and rehab, and offers mortgages and financial education to community members. They lent $365 million in 2006 for community development (62% of total lending), including $129 million to small businesses.

ShoreBank's environmental lending funds the construction and renovation of energy-efficient homes and businesses, clean-up of contaminated sites, financing changes in business processes to improve energy efficiency and decrease waste, and much more. In 2006, $202 million (35% of their loans) were for these purposes.

5.00% APY-- helping others and yourself

As you probably know, 5.00% is a fantastic annual interest rate for a no-minimum savings account. According to, as of 10/12/07, there are only three accounts with higher rates that don't require $500 or more to open, and even the best of those,, is offering 5.17% APY-- a pretty small difference, less than $2 per $1,000 over a year.

Spread the word!

This is big news for everyone who's been wanting to use their banking dollars for a good cause but were worried about earning too little in interest-- and those people who never thought about the option, too! I am really excited about the potential for this savings account to put a lot of our money to work in socially and environmentally beneficial ways. If you think this is as awesome as I do, please write about it, link here or to the account sign-up page, or do anything else you can think of to spread the word.

Also, keep an eye out here at Money and Values; I'm in the process of opening an account, and I'll post a review of how user-friendly the online banking interface is as soon as I get access!


  • If you're interested in other socially conscious banking options-- including CDs and money market accounts that fund causes from international microcredit to fair trade to child care to independent media-- read more here.
  • If you're interested in mutual funds that do socially responsible investing, check out my series starting here or use this handy tool/search engine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fair Trade Sales, Promotions and Contests (Fair Trade Month, Part II)

Yesterday I wrote about some fair trade events going on this month around the U.S., and how you can get involved in making Halloween a Fair Trade holiday. Today, here are some sales, promotions, and contests in honor of Fair Trade Month. (Read more about fair trade here.)

  • eConscious Marketplace is a site selling fair trade and other socially conscious products-- with 50% of the profit going to the non-profit org of your choice! Here's their Fair Trade Month deal: 10% off their fair trade products and a free year's membership if you use the promotional code "moneyvalues." (You don't need a membership to shop there, but it gets you extra discounts throughout the year; it's a $30 value.)
  • Frontier Natural Products is running a 15% sale this month. They sell a huge variety of fair trade teas, plus cocoa, vanilla, and some interesting baking mixes that use fair trade sugar.
  • Despite their big talk, it's usually tough to get fair trade coffee at Starbucks-- but this month they're featuring their only fair trade blend (Cafe Estima) as coffee-of-the-week three weeks straight. So if you're a Starbucks drinker, be sure to ask for your fair trade coffee this month! (You can ask for the Cafe Estima the rest of the year, too, but they'll have to French-press it especially for you and the baristas sometimes refuse because they don't know it's company policy... try the Starbucks Challenge year-round anyway.)
  • has a Fair Trade video contest with a prize of a trip to Peru. They also have a sweepstakes where you can win a gift certificate for $100 of fair trade products. The site includes information about fair trade and stories about its impact, fair trade recipes, and more.
  • Divine Chocolate is running a recipe contest through December 15th; scoring will be 60% based on the recipe and 40% on a written statement about why you believe in fair trade.
  • Keep your eyes peeled if you live in a city; apparently there are some rush-hour fair trade giveaways in the works this month.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Trick-or-Treat for Fair Trade; Farmers & Free Samples (Fair Trade Month, Part I)

October is Fair Trade Month, and there's all sorts of great stuff going on! Below are actions you can take and events to participate in. Check in tomorrow for a list of Fair Trade Month sales/promotions and some contests you can enter. (What is fair trade, you ask? Click here!)

Take Action for Fair Trade

  • Try reverse trick-or-treating for fair trade! Children and/or their parents can do this going door-to-door, spreading the word about fair trade chocolate and other fair trade products.
    • If you apply by October 12, you can get free kits complete with fair trade chocolate if you're with a school, church, or other organization working with children, and you're willing to work with the media-- click here.
    • You can order free Halloween fair trade cards by mail at this link before 10/12-- or print out your own here.
    • Global Exchange is selling their annual Fair Trade Trick-or-Treat Kits for Halloween; for $15 you get 42 pieces of fair trade chocolate to give trick-or-treaters and informative Halloween cards to go with them (plus hand-crafted fair trade Halloween streamers!)
  • Celebrate the launch of Fair Trade Towns USA; download the free toolkit and start a movement to make your town a Fair Trade Town.

Attend Events and Meet Fair Trade Farmers
  • Equal Exchange is coordinating a Faces of Fair Trade tour this month with events in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Boston, New Haven, NYC, Philadelphia and Washington DC-- international and local farmers will speak about fair trade, and most events include tastings.
  • Divine Chocolate, one of my favorites because the farmers not only get fair trade prices for their cocoa but are also part-owners of the company, is also holding events with fair trade farmers (and free, tasty chocolate giveaways!) Most of them are in the midwest (Chicago, Twin Cities, Madison) but they'll also be in Baltimore on October 20. Click here for details.
  • Check out this page at the United Students for Fair Trade site to see what the college students in your area are coordinating for Fair Trade Month.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Oxfam: fighting poverty and injustice around the world

This post is part of ProBlogger's Birthday Bash; as part of the festivities, FreeMoneyFinance is generously sponsoring a $1,000 donation to the favorite charity of a randomly selected winner who has written about the organization on their blog (and submitted the link by 9am EST Sunday.)

It's hard to choose my favorite non-profit organization-- there are so many that I love supporting-- but Oxfam is right up there and it's one that I think everyone should know more about.

There are two reasons that Oxfam really stands out to me. One is that it addresses an incredibly broad range of issues and needs in international development. And the other is its commitment to addressing problems by empowering ordinary people to improve both the symptoms and the causes of poverty.

It never ceases to amaze me how much Oxfam is doing. They do important day-to-day development work, like providing microfinance (and helping communities grow their own banks to save and lend); helping small farmers diversify their crops, improve production, organize into cooperatives, and access higher-paying fair trade and organic markets; supporting women in increasing their education, empowerment, and rights; and helping indigenous people and other minorities.

They also respond to emergencies, like hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts, and violent conflicts, by addressing immediate needs quickly and effectively and then supporting communities in rebuilding. (They have a special Global Emergencies Fund that does this.)

But Oxfam also really works on getting to the roots of poverty. They work hard on issues like fair trade, trade agreements, foreign aid and debt forgiveness, access to affordable medicines, helping local communities share in profits from and decisions about their land and resources, and much more. Two of their big umbrella campaigns are Make Trade Fair and Health and Education for All. They're a co-founder of the ONE Campaign against poverty.

In short, Oxfam does pretty much everything I could want from a non-profit organization, and I trust them to take a large percentage of my yearly giving budget and put it in the right places around the world to make a difference.

I donate through Oxfam America. But Oxfam is actually a network of 13 affiliates headquartered in different countries (find yours here). I strongly encourage you to read more about Oxfam and consider giving-- if you do, please let me know, and I'm willing to match your donation! (They also have the great Oxfam Unwrapped program if you want your donation to be a gift to someone.)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance #18

Welcome once again to the Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance.

Before I present this edition's great posts, I wanted to let you know I'm considering switching the Carnival to a once-a-month format. Any thoughts? This is partially because hosting every two weeks is pretty burdensome for me (volunteers to host are always welcomed!) and also because I think it will let us feature more, better, on-topic posts. Please leave your feedback in the comments!

Now, without further ado:
Thanks for contributing; please help spread this edition far and wide! And submit for next time using the carnival submission form.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Guide to Socially Conscious Banking Options

[I'm still feeling under the weather, so I'm running this post that I wrote for J.D. at Get Rich Slowly in July. The text is the same (with a few small edits) but the interest rates and other details about the accounts are updated as of today, 10/3/07.]

If you’ve ever looked into socially conscious personal finance options, you may be familiar with Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), probably in the form of mutual funds. But did you know that there’s a whole world out there of products like savings accounts and CDs that will allow you to participate in socially conscious banking?

When you put your money in a bank to earn interest, the bank is actually turning around and loaning your money out again, to earn enough to pay you plus turn a profit. When you invest in a typical bank, the bank makes investments it thinks are best based solely on financial criteria, and you don’t know where your money is flowing — it could be spent on manufacturing cluster bombs or financing companies that enrich and support the government in Sudan, to name just a few of the unsavory possibilities.

Other financial institutions, on the other hand, use a broader set of criteria — making investment decisions based on a combination of financial and social and/or environmental factors. This doesn’t just mean avoiding negative investments — it allows funding to be targeted to specific causes in order create positive social and environmental impacts. The most common institution is your standard community development bank or credit union (find one here), which helps strengthen poor and financially-underserved local communities through offering fair and affordable mortgages to residents, supporting community members’ small businesses, funding affordable housing, and the like — often as the only resort for individuals with little credit history or collateral. But there are many other options, too, if you know where to look — ways your savings can support making businesses more environmentally friendly, provide microcredit abroad, fund fair trade cooperatives, even support niches like child care or independent media.

There’s a wide range of community development/socially conscious products available, from checking and savings accounts to money market accounts and CDs, at hundreds of financial institutions. In general, the interest rates are considered market rate and are roughly comparable to what you’d find at an average bank– although they’re not always going to match the very top rates available. Here are some of the highest-earning (as of 10/07) and/or most interesting socially-conscious options I’ve found, compared with the highest interest rates currently offered (via Bankrate):

Low- or No-Minimum Savings Accounts: This is where you’ll find the biggest gap from a non-socially minded strategy. While there are dozens of community development banks that have savings accounts, you’re looking at 2% or less, usually under 1%. While this compares well to plenty of traditional banks, it’s well shy of the rates you’ll get from online high-yield accounts. Update: But now there's a high-yield account at ShoreBank!

  • ShoreBank Direct: 5.00% APY, no minimum
    • Supports the environment and community development (small businesses, affordable housing, etc) in low-income neighborhoods-- read more here
  • Compares with:, 5.17% APY, no minimum

Money Market Accounts: These accounts require minimum balances, but in return you get higher interest rates, and usually a limited ability to write checks from the account.

  • Domini Money Market Account: 4.23% APY, $2500 minimum
    • This is where I keep all my non-retirement savings. The money goes both to ShoreBank (a general community development bank) and to ShoreBank Pacific (an environmental bank).
  • Self-Help Credit Union: 4.21% APY, $500 minimum
  • Compares with: Zions Bank Money Market Account, 5.30% APY, $1000 minimum

Certificates of Deposit (CDs): In today’s interest rate climate, you can get rates in a high-yield savings account that match or beat CDs. But while savings and money market accounts have variable rates, CDs lock in interest rates, which helps protect you if rates fall. And while your money is only available at the end of the CD’s term (or with penalties), this may be an advantage for you if you want to make sure emergency fund money is only spent on emergencies.

  • Calvert Community Investment Notes: 3.0% APY, 1-10 years (not FDIC insured)
    • Can be targeted to support: International/Microcredit; Gulf Coast Recovery; Independent Media; Social Enterprise (revenue-generating businesses that promote social/environmental aims); Affordable Housing; or any of eight regions in the US
  • ShoreBank Pacific: 3.13-3.38% APY, 1-5 year CDs, $500 minimum (3.88-4.15% APY with $2500 minimum)
  • Equal Exchange: 4.45% APY 3-year CD, $1000 minimum (not FDIC insured)
    • This investment helps Equal Exchange support democratically-run fair trade farmer cooperatives of farmers and promote their coffee, tea, and chocolate products.
  • Self-Help Credit Union: 4.52-4.72% APY, 3 month-5 year CDs, $500 minimum
    • Your CD can support the broad community development mission of Self-Help, or you can target it to support child care or environmentally sustainable development.
  • Compares with: GMAC 1-5 year CDs, 4.70-4.95% APY and $500 minimum

(These are just a handful of your options; you can search for more here.)

In many cases, you’re looking at about a 1% difference in APY or less — or $10 in yearly interest earnings on every $1,000 you’re putting into savings. Even if you were to give up 5% in interest, which is about as wide a gap as possible right now, that’s only $50 a year sacrificed for every $1,000 invested.

You may decide that the benefits are well worth the cost, flat out. I know that I’m so glad to feel proud and excited rather than worried and guilty about what my savings are doing, that I don’t think much about my “missing” 1%. It’s also a sort of “automatic giving”/”pay charity first” method that makes sure I’m supporting my greater social goals on a monthly basis, which is great since I often struggle to make as many charitable donations as I intend to… mostly due to forgetfulness and procrastination on my part, but if your challenge is that you spend the money before you have the chance to give it away, this could work for you too.

And if you’re really concerned about the hit in interest earnings from switching to a socially conscious bank, and you decide that you’re unwilling to come out behind monetarily, it’s worth asking yourself: How do I feel about cutting $10-$50 a year from my charitable giving budget in exchange for putting $1,000 to work for causes that are important to me? That’s a deeply personal decision, and you’ll have to figure out what feels right to you, but it’s one well worth exploring.

For more information: