Challenges of Conscientious Consuming

I wouldn’t exactly call myself the queen of conscientious consumption, which is why I must give supreme kudos to the marketers of a company called CREDO Mobile for getting me to stop and think about it.

Among the holiday cards in my mailbox this week was an envelope with these words under the address: Does your phone company support anti-choice politicians?

Yes, you read that right. We’re not even in the envelope yet. Instead of shredding it into tiny pieces before opening it, as is my habit with solicitous mail, I was too curious to resist. What I found inside was a letter (complete with chart) and two promotional pieces listing some of the issues of the day and how AT&T (T), Verizon Wireless (VZ) and CREDO stack up with regard to political contributions.

While I am frankly aligned with CREDO on many of the progressive causes it supports, my research tells me that if I really wanted to give my business to the companies/products I agree with the majority of the time it’s far from a black-and-white issue. In the interest of full disclosure, my mobile phone contract is with AT&T (T) and I am more than satisfied with my service.

But I digress from the real point, which is how in the world we could ever consume conscientiously all, or even most, of the time. It’s so complicated it would be a full-time job. For example, Verizon’s vast list of political contributions from the first half of this year includes candidates who are Republican and Democrat, as well as on the federal, state and city levels. Trying to decide if the company is “in my camp” is like playing a veritable game of ping pong.

Taking this example further, back in 2004 The Center for Public Integrity published its findings after an investigation of campaign contributions and said “lobbying expenditures and other spending shows that the communications industry has spent at least $900 million since 1998 to affect election outcomes and influence legislation before Congress and the White House.” The top six recipients of communication industry contributions, according to Federal Election Commission records, were President George W. Bush, Senator John Kerry, Senator Thomas Daschle, Representative Richard Gephardt, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator John McCain.

Informative and a little mind-blowing, but what does that tell me with regard to which company gets my business? Nada.

While I love the idea of ethically produced products and have in fact written Game Plan columns this year about Fair Trade chocolate and bloodless diamonds, I think we can only take this to a certain point before we’re lost in a maze of good intentions gone mad. Am I going to poll my dentist, personal trainer, and attorney about their political affiliations and pet issues and cut them off if they disagree with my point of view? How about the guy at 7-11 when I pick up a pint of milk? How exhausting.

Certainly we can pick and choose specific situations that allow us to take a stand and even feel good about it. I confess to being one of the folks who decided to never darken the door of a Wal-Mart (WMT) when it chose in the 1990s not to sell T-shirts that read, “Some Day a Woman Will Be President” featuring Margaret from Dennis the Menace because it was against the company’s “family values.” That one was a no-brainer, even when Wal-Mart relented on the shirts.

I would imagine there are still a number of gay people in America who can’t stomach drinking orange juice after Anita Bryant’s anti-gay rights stance in the late 1970s. The complexities of conscientious consumerism were perhaps most prominently on display in a recent flap over a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by Whole Foods (WFMI) CEO John Mackey in which he offered an alternative to President Obama’s health care plan. A lot of customers were outraged and declared a boycott.

This brings me to convenience. How far is one going to drive – or in the case of me and my urban friends, walk – to stay aligned with our causes when we want to pick up a few items for dinner?

I suppose the bottom line is that we all have our limits and sometimes there is no room for compromise. And, heck, I admit that personal taste dictates where much of my money goes. I like my Paul Newman salad dressing and it’s a nice bonus that the profits go to charity. Short of finding out the good folks who make Lindor truffles are sending money to Charles Manson, I won’t be giving up those any time soon. Nor my occasional but deeply appreciated moments with a can of Diet Coke.

And, well, service on my BlackBerry is rockin’ and rollin’ very nicely, too. I’m not about to fix what isn’t broken, especially when it comes to communication.

So thanks, CREDO, but I have a credo of my own.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is Please direct all questions/comments to