10:10 – the ethical purchase of a microwave is not straightforward

I’m a car- and plane-avoiding, local-holidaying, good energy-buying, recycling, ecos paint-using, FSC-buying vegan, currently sitting in a sleeping bag to write this because I feel bad, in the knowledge that national domestic emissions far outstrip the individual ones I’ve just outlined above, that I haven’t done the recommended draught exclusion (I will!).

Interested readers will have followed my tribulations trying to live up to my 10:10 campaign pledge to cut my emissions by at least 10% by October 2010.

Well, this weekend our faithful old microwave went crunk and a burnt smell invaded the kitchen. We have a small baby, just on solids, and a little girl coming to stay next weekend, and no way of hanging round the house waiting for a weekday delivery, so we wanted to move fast. How were we going to choose a microwave?

Here’s the problem: the ethics-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Ethical Consumer, Good Shopping) don’t care about quality and the quality-oriented consumer guides (e.g. Which) don’t care about ethics.

A further problem – Ethical Consumer’s Ethiscore for microwaves is at least three years out of date, and doesn’t tally at all with the Good Shopping score.

A further problem – the most recent issue of Ethical Consumer mag had a sunny ‘Boycott Israel Special’ news roundup, in which the only dissenting voice was a tiny expression of dismay from David Miliband. In this jolly little special, they promoted the academic, social and material boycott campaign without setting out what they hope to topple with the boycott (end Israel?), nor the ways in which they expect the boycott to effect this (clerical fascists win?), nor the endpoints for the boycott (Israel is cancelled), nor the difference between avoiding helping the settler movement on the one hand and boycotting all of Israel on the other (the difference is enormous), nor any history of the conflict (i.e. that there are two sides). I found Ethical Consumer deeply unethical, and am almost certain that they would have been promoting a boycott of Jews in 1930s Germany, simply because it was going on at the time and consumer boycotts make them happy. So I find this unsettling, as would you if you were trying to buy in such a way that you did the right thing by people, animals and the planet, and the organisation you turned to for serious input revealed some rather squalid practices of its own. To put it another way – I no longer have confidence Ethical Consumer’s judgement. Good Shopping’s write-ups are undated. Incidentally, I haven’t analysed the difference between Ethical Consumer and Good Shopping. Perhaps they split back in the day… rivalry at the top or something.

So, after toying with a Whirlpool model which cost £100 more and didn’t seem to promise any extra quality, we ended up going for a simple £64 Sanyo model. Sanyo’s a good company according to Good Shopping, and a medium scorer according to Ethiscore back in 2006, with a good score on the environmental side of things. Although Which said ‘Don’t Buy’, that was because the Reheat function wasn’t achieving 70% in the required time, or without considerable loss of the food’s volume. We figured that you’d only care about that if you are worried about being poisoned by the water-injected animal flesh you shouldn’t be eating. If we want to find out if something’s hot enough, we tend to put our finger in it.

We got the new microwave from Curry’s because they recycle our old one – less car trips (should we have waited and recycled via council facilities, though?).

All this took a while. I’m not happy. Do I really have to check everything in this life? In the absence of good ethical international law about manufacture, distribution and investment, can somebody sort out a merger between, for example, Which and Good Shopping?

In other news, when we gutted our house I kept a working fireplace so we could eat and keep warm in the event of the power cuts I predict. This year, because of 10:10, I have finally got a draught-excluding chimney balloon. (Why not a bin-bag filled with bubble-wrap, you ask? Too dirty when you take it out and hard to store when you want the drafts in summer.) Pathetically, half of my procrastination was down to a dread of putting my hand up the chimney to take its dimensions. To do – end the drafts in our still-gutted kitchen, including the terribly windy keyhole. Get sausage dogs for the doors (but are they too much of a trip hazard?)

10:10 is living proof of the power of a pledge.

Update: I should mention work too. Last week I prevented the purchase of a laminator by lending ours (which is mostly unused). A setback though – a new colleague prints out emails for me even though I’m one of the addressees, and uses fresh paper as scrap paper, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Well, I offered to do his recycling (it’s on my way). Maybe if he realises somebody is concerned about such things he’ll also be concerned, out of natural supportiveness. It’s easier with my other colleague – I just use his daughter’s future well-being as a stick to beat him with (we have a very married-couplish relationship, so I can get away with it, moreover he is a big-minded kind of bloke who rises above the discomfort of a guilt trip and considers the issues at hand). Also at work I successfully suggested a recycling scheme for a certain type of oil-based product which, though very durable, is thrown away nearly-new on a horrifying scale as if it were disposable, but which is always in demand. It went to the top, they liked it and apparently there will now be boxes for these objects in each department. It remains to be seen how long it will take (I’ve been warned). But it feels very urgent… landfill tax…


5 thoughts on “10:10 – the ethical purchase of a microwave is not straightforward

  1. Although the original ethical consumer report on microwaves on the free area of our website was done in 2006, the ethiscore table which ranks companies is updated more frequently. In this case there is one dated October 14th 2009 now on the website.
    You are right that there is a problem with Which? doing just price and quality and Ethical Consumer doing just ethics. We are working hard at trying to resolve this but there are difficult structural and resource issues behind it.
    There may well be a difference between our ranking and that of Good Shopping Guide as they use their own research methodology. They do not publish the core data behind their rankings as we do, so it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons.

    Here at Ethical Consumer we don’t have an editorial line on the boycott of Israel.
    This is largely due to the fact that there are many diverging opinions
    on the subject within the organisation. In general we report on what is
    happening with the boycotts rather than endorsing them.

    The short articles on the page reflect the nuances that exist within the
    debate on the left.

    There was more than one dissenting voice on the page. As well as David Miliband the European court ruled against the French mayor’s attempt to impose a boycott in his area.

    The TUC article talks about targeted action and not a general boycott.

    The PACBI article talks specifically about criteria in order to avoid a
    blanket and indiscriminate boycott.

    One of the articles was concerned with the boycott of Motorola who
    supplied equipment to
    the IDF. No peace activist could surely argue with this boycott?

    There are clearly elements who boycott Israel for all the wrong reasons such as the far right in Europe. However people such as Ken Loach (or Ethical Consumer staff) simply cannot be put into the same category as these people.

    In addition there are many other boycotts that we do not cover,
    such as the American Christian rights boycott of Pepsi over its links
    with gay rights groups. We cover boycott calls addressing human rights, animal welfare, environmental or corporate responsibility issues.

    As for aim of the boycott, it is not called by Ethical Consumer so we
    don’t have one. You may want to ask the PACBI or Neve Gordon the Israeli academic we covered.

    On a personal note I am not in favour of the Israel boycott but am happy to write about it just as I don’t agree with increased green taxation but covered it in my last report. I report the news as the by line to the page read “Reflecting an upsurge in activity around boycotts targeting Israel our boycotts page in this issue focuses solely on updating you on boycotts in this area”

    As for promoting a fascist agenda I find this deeply offensive. There
    are very clear differences between the boycott of all Jewish good within the Third Reich as part of a systematic program to eliminate a race of people and the boycott of a nation state that, according to the UN, has committed war crimes. It was however interesting to see that you have a quote from Hitler on your site on the “about flesh is grass” page.

    • Tim, thanks for the info about the microwave – glad you have updated your site.

      Thanks also for your detailed response. I will prioritise.

      1. I don’t have the issue to hand, but the account of the European Court ruling will not constitute a dissenting voice against the boycott for many of your readers. It will for some be another instance of bourgeois (also often perceived as ‘Zionist’) law interfering with the honest and rightful will of the people. The law is not an argument. An ethical consumer knows this – why doesn’t your publication?

      2. The Editorial Line in ethical consumer is to breathe the oxygen of publicity into the boycott of Israel. You talk about it a lot, and you don’t due justice to the issue i.e. you present the pro-boycott side only. I think the Ethical Consumer coverage has been dire, and fits nicely in with the ‘Israel is the world’s Jew’ way of looking at Israel. Your publication should be more ethical, and at *absolute* least, explicitly distance itself from those who are using the Palestinians as a pretext for their own plans and hopes to eliminate Israel (most of the leading boycott campaigners are anti-Zionist first and foremost, pro-Palestinian only incidentally). Please note: my advocacy for Israel stems not out of a tribal urge to defend Israel, but out of smelling a rat with this boycott.

      3. The Nuremberg Laws were not viewed as “part of a systematic program to eliminate a race of people”. They were advanced as taking a stand against a dangerous group of people with a malevolent shared purpose. Boycotters frequently depict Israel and Zionists in the way that Jews were painted by Nazis. Just one of myriad examples: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1752

      4. I too am ‘happy’ to write about the Israel boycott. The difference is in the way we would frame it. Your publication is pro-boycott, in that it raises awareness without any due critical engagement. I, on the other hand, think the boycott is futile, does not address the problem, exascerbates the already-enormous role of fear and mistrust in the conflict, deepens the divisions. Israelis don’t respond to pressure any better than Palestinians do. Smart sanctions to end the viability of the settlements is another matter – they don’t attract antisemites, are targetted, discriminating (rather than discriminatory) and have endpoints – in short are constructive to anybody who supports the view of the majority of Israelis and Palestinians – that there should be one viable state of Palestine alongside a viable state of Israel. So, government requirements for labelling which clearly indicates the provenance of ‘West Bank’ goods helps boycotters, but only pro-settlement people will object to it.

      But your publication bundles all Israel boycott activity into one ‘Special’ page, and without critically engaging with it. Not only is this disappointingly simplistic, but your publication also becomes a bystander to the antisemitism in the boycott movement.

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