Sunday, July 24, 2011

Java "Script"

Do you ever get confused by the labels on coffee? Fair Trade, Bird Friendly, Shade Grown, Organic, Rainforest Alliance……and so on. It can be frustrating to wade through all of them in a quest to be more “socially responsible”. You almost need to bring along a dictionary when shopping to figure out what everything means.

Then….once you have determined what kind of coffee to buy, you have to consider what kind of cup you are going to drink it in. Are you going to use a china mug, or a TO-GO cup and is that TO-GO cup plastic? And if so, is it BPA free? And what the heck is BPA and why should I care about it?

Advertisers know this and they also know how to wordsmith themselves into your shopping cart. Which brings me to a conversation I had recently with a 20 something young lady with a tight budget. Disclaimer alert***Please bear in mind that while the premise of this story is real, the other part is made up to make it funnier and/or to protect the innocent :)

Melissa was shopping at Rostco (the uber wholesale store) and was on a tight budget. She desperately needed to restock her coffee supply and had been standing in front of the coffee selection for the past ten minutes, unable to make up her mind.

Normally Melissa purchased Fair Trade coffee beans and then ground them at home. On this particular day, she was struggling with the price difference between the Fair Trade coffee beans and the remaining brands on the shelf and unfortunately was going to have to purchase a “non” Fair Trade brand of coffee until her bank account recovered sufficiently. Normally the two or three dollar difference didn’t weigh that heavily on her decision making process, but after watching a television marathon of “Til Debt Do Us Part”, Melissa had been bitten by frugal bug and her grocery “money jar” contained a limited supply of purchasing power.

Not willing to completely abandon her sense of social responsibility, she was carefully weighing the choices before she made her decision. There were two different types of coffee and each indicated that, while they weren’t Fair Trade, they did give a portion of their profits to children. Hmmmmmmm…..Melissa was perplexed. Does she buy the coffee that supports children in sports? Or does she buy the coffee that supports children in the Arts? Relieved that she had brought along her iphone, Melissa quickly Google searched each coffee company prepared to compare “apples to apples” or actually, “coffee to coffee”.

Each company extolled the virtues of their corporate social responsibility and generously listed all of their community accomplishments. Satisfied that she had done her due diligence, Melissa decided to purchase the coffee from the company that supported the children in the Arts and reached for a bag. It was at this point, that out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a ribbon on the corner of the other coffee package. After pausing to examine the ribbon more closely, is appeared to be cream coloured with a gold edge. The presence of a ribbon on one of the bags certainly trumps the sports versus arts comparison. “What does a cream ribbon with gold edging support?” Melissa wondered aloud, getting more frustrated and confused by each passing moment. All she wanted was a bag of coffee – but all of a sudden that simple bag of coffee was becoming a personal and political statement.

Once again taking out her iphone she Google searched “what does a cream ribbon with gold edging stand for?” and watched the search icon blink…..and blink….and blink. The answer? Ribbon status: pending.

To make a long story short, unable to make an informed decision that would enable her to sleep at night, Melissa left Rostco without purchasing any coffee.

Like I said, I took the liberty to change a few things in the story, but the premise remains the same. Advertisers like to baffle us with steer manure in an attempt to gain our purchasing power. Melissa was an informed individual willing to research her way towards a coffee purchase and even she was left confused.

I should have something eloquent to say now to wrap this up. A famous quote about choices, a comment about sustainability…..but I have nothing.

Making decisions in the 21st century is exhausting and stressful. Make the right one and you send a child to school; make the wrong one and you have supported child labour or denied a worker an honest, living wage. Such pressure, but oh so much power!

And you thought you were just buying coffee….


Shawna McKinley said...

"Advertisers like to baffle us with steer manure in an attempt to gain our purchasing power."

So true and soooo frustrating!

Completely agree that so much of ourselves gets wrapped up in our decision too. It's not just the product, but the statement it makes and how people perceive us as a result.

Great story to illustrate an important point!

The Green-Eyed Event Planner said...

Thanks Shawna - and there seems to be more and more steer manure all of the time..... :)

We almost need to walk around with a disclaimer stating, "This purchase was made considering the following facts....we are not responsible for any facts which came to light proceeding this purchase which may have affected the outcome"