Tips for a conscious and calm Christmas

By on 23rd December 2017 in Uncategorised

Hi there Baluers,

Feeling festive? Feeling eco-conscious? Want both at once? Here are a few tips to help you have a sustainable holiday and to find calm among the festivities.

A Conscious Christmas day

As a vegan in a sea of ravenous (and vociferous) omnivores, I struggle to have any positive influence on the christmas day menu planning. But maybe you’ll have better luck! You can start here with Jamie Oliver’s vegan christmas menu. Swapping just one meaty item for a vegan one is a major win.

What are your traditions? They should reflect the way we want to live now, not the way someone else lived before. Take inspiration from these minimalist holiday traditions, crowd-sourced and wonderful.

And as for receiving gifts, if you do get stuff you don’t want or need, give it back. This might seem controversial, especially if you’re worried about Aunt Maude’s response when you ask for the receipt for the 3 way pasta-maker/mop/hat. But consider the alternative. In 2016 the world generated enough e-waste to fill a line of 18-wheelers from New York to Bangkok and back. (PS Don’t fall back on recycling: chances are it won’t happen. Only 20 percent of e-waste was recycled last year)

Give and make

It may be a little late but we’re going to put this out there anyway….make instead of buy? If you don’t think you’re the making type, take inspiration from Hubbub’s amazing DIY christmas gift pinterest board. Other ideas we love are making the foodie in your life a hamper of edible goodies. If you are last min buying, these creative and social-goody ideas from Nesta are awesome, including language classes by fully trained refugees. Time to get cracking with Mandarin, Urdu, Arabic…

And….breathe

If christmas stresses you out (cue once-used wrapping paper scrunched up in the bin, your (very cute) nephew discarding his presents after 4 minutes play, your red-cheeked great aunt bringing up Brexit), then it might be time to focus on relaxation. This year, don’t compromise on your own wellbeing (others will benefit from that too!). So here’s some ideas I am going to try to stick to this year:

  1. Make time for yourself. A little downtime can go a long way. This can be whatever you want it to be. Some favourites of mine are curling up with a cup of tea and a book, getting into a podcast or taking a walk at dusk
  2. Get into nature. Your immune system and mood will benefit. But moreover, its nice!
  3. Unplug from your phone. This is a tough one but its worth it. Here are four surprisingly helpful tips to disconnect
  4. Seek out moments of gratitude. If you’re anything like me, it can be hard to find the gratitude when your inner voice is shouting ’STOP GIVING ME STUFF!’ to every relative within earshot. But Christmas is about more than that. Take a moment to reflect, remember and give thanks
  5. Give back. I find giving back gives perspective, makes me feel useful and like I have a least a little power to make the world better. There are lots of ways to give back, whether locally or globally. Three ideas I like are: starting local and going on a litter pick around your area (a good way to burn off christmas lunch too), joining the campaign to protect our oceans, making small changes that add up

All that’s left to say is….

Happy Christmas and see you in the new year

Giselle and Brian at Balu

Best of Balu: Friday 8th December

By on 8th December 2017 in Blog, Christmas

Hey there Baluers,

What’s been going on this week

First, the bad. You might have heard that the wilds of Utah are being threatened. The US President wants to massively reduce the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. I travelled to Utah to hike in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 2014, and it remains one of my favourite places in the world. But that’s not why we should defend it. Ethical retailer Patagonia have been quick to point out the cultural, environmental and economic benefits (not to mention the moral imperative) of protecting the areas. Take action to defend the land we have left.

Now you’re ready for the good things. The Co-op supermarket are cracking down on food waste by (transparently) selling food past its best before date. We love these guys, and not just because cooperatives are great. They’ve also been the first to back a Government deposit return scheme for bottles, which is a great way to encourage recycling and reduce waste.

Talking of reducing waste, we want to give Freiburg in Germany a big old high five. They’ve introduced a city-wide scheme whereby people pay a €1 deposit for a reusable cup. They get their cash back when they return the cup to one of 100 cafés in the city. It’s been running for a year and has been very successful so far. Ask your elected representatives to do the same in your city!

Christmas is… happiness and oranges

You’ll probably hear ‘Happy Christmas’ a lot this month. But are we happy? (Sorry to be a downer). Action For Happiness are trying to help us get there, and they’ve released a kindness calendar for December. With doable tips for each day, it might just bring the kind of happiness that doesn’t come with a receipt.

So now we’re happy, let’s decorate 🙂 But how to do that ethically? Pebble magazine have some great ideas, and Wonderful DIY have A LOT of ways to make good with orange peel.

Another area we like to highlight this time of year is gift wrapping. Traditional gift wrap is single-use and often not recyclable. That’s a disaster – so let’s do it differently. TreeHugger have 10 great tips on eco-friendly wrapping options and Olio, the zero waste experts, have a nice little vid on this too.

And what about ethical brands?

Shopping-wise, this week’s shoutout goes to Birdsong and their new concept store. It’s packed with amazing ethical brands and you’ll find the very friendly Birdsong team on hand to help you out.

Next week we’ll have more on a Makers Christmas: how to create useful, beautiful gifts rather than buy them. But if you are wanting to buy gifts, remember to use Balu’s ethical search engine.

Big love from Giselle @ Balu

Best of Balu: Friday 1st December

By on 1st December 2017 in Blog, Christmas

Hey there Baluers,

Here’s our round-up of our fav things this week. Enjoy!

On how we live 

  • Traditions should reflect our best side. Yet 7 in 10 Americans said they would skip exchanging gifts this holiday season if their friends and family agreed to it. How about this year we make space for these conversations and make the holidays a stress-free time of year that reflects what we love?
  • When you buy stuff, you get more than you pay for, and not in a good way. In the UK, when we spend £1 on food, we bear the burden of another £1 in hidden costs, including environmental degradation and biodiversity loss
  • Recycling. We all love it but are we doing it right?!

If you’re buying, this is the good stuff

  • Finding shoes with soul: The Good Shopping Guide continue to impress us with ethical league tables. Balu brands Ethletic, Po-Zu and Veja are the top three!
  • Game on:Jenga Ocean is Jenga but better. The blocks are made from 100% recycled plastic from fishing nets
  • It’s warm, it’s woollen and it can be worn six different ways. This is a snazzy and ethical winter addition for a capsule wardrobe, from Nomads
  • Ok, so it’s a little cliché to be talking about socks at Christmastime, but we can’t help it. They make our feet happy and they’re essential. And Thought are giving a pair to Shelter for every pair they sell. Nice.
  • Big shout out to Balu brand Wills, who have gone 100% plastic-free across their supply chain. We salute you!

 

That’s it for this week. See you next time,

Giselle @ Balu

Best of Balu: Friday 24th Nov

By on 24th November 2017 in Blog

Hello there Baluers,

Here’s the first in our ‘best of’ series. We pick some of our favourite products, campaigns and stories from the week and share them with you. Here we go….

Rocking around the christmas tree 

It’s Christmaaaaaaaas! We’re getting to the t minus one month mark now, so I say let’s get festive. But how to navigate the season while keeping our ethics intact? We’ll talk about this a fair bit over the next month. Here’s a few ideas to get us started:

  • How to buy a sustainable christmas tree…. the debate rages on (Pebble)
  • Decorate like an (ethical) pro . We found some lovely sustainably-made decorations at Little Cherry
  • Problem: The christmas dining table is a bit too warm for a christmas jumper. Solution: a reindeer t-shirt! It’s stylish too. Bought to you by Sunderland’s finest eco-friendly brand, Joined in Life

These are ethically-made options, so if you’re buying things, buy these things! But it goes without saying that less consumption  = more sustainability, so it’s always best to look at other options (make, borrow or get secondhand) before you take the purchase-plunge. 

A few bits to make you smile 

And finally ideas for taking action

  • There’s a lot of talk about plastic in places it shouldn’t be. Riz are doing there bit by organising litter picks. Even better than getting rid of the stuff is that Riz make the litter into board shorts. Get involved, or even take the lead in your area.
  • This is make something week. There are lots of ideas and resources to get you started. Get making!
  • Like Zero waste living but find it tough? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, according to  Lindsay Miles. Listen to her TED talk for more (TreeHugger)
  • If you’re trying to cut your addition to the dairy industry (like your blogger), get some ideas from on how to ditch the diary (The Food Rush, to whom we attribute our feature image)

See you next week

Giselle @ Balu

Birdsong pops up in London

By on 13th December 2016 in Blog

Birdsong are an ethical marketplace, selling beautiful items that have been made with no sweatshops and marketed with no no photoshop. Here at Balu we’re big fans of theirs because they combine the brilliance of beautiful ethical products with socially conscious marketing.

So we were very excited to hear about their new pop-up. It’s here until 19th December – and it’s great! Here are a few of our snap shots…

Warm things: all of Birdsong’s knitwear is made at two elderly day care centres in collaboration with Birdsong designers. The creators donate their revenues to charitable causes or re-invest it in the centre

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Funky threads hand-painted by the ethical brand Such A Fan!

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The bare necessities – these pants from Pico benefit the workers that make them (as well as the people that buy them!)

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These t-shirts are hand-painted by Mohila, a group of migrant mothers based in Tower Hamlets, London

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Swimming cossies made from recycled fishing nets by Auria

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Christmas cards and stocking fillers that inspire and educate as well as entertain…. And yes that’s Eleanor Roosevelt, courtesy of the Craftivist Collective!

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Jewellery that funds all-female bomb disposal squads in Lao

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And more than a little dash of colour! These jackets are made by the Heba Women’s project on Brick Lane, who provide a safe space and a living wage for migrant and refugee women

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The Birdsong pop-up is around from 13-19th December in London. Pop by while it’s here! And they’re hosting some fab events too, including a launch party, documentary night, bookclub among others. We’ll be at a few and hope to see you there.

If you’re not in London, shop online at birdsong.london or find them on Balu

Migrating Balu off Parse.com

By on 8th December 2016 in Blog

Reinventing the wheel is overrated, so we were always intending to build Balu on a “back end as a service”. These services are great. They are hosting services with lots of trimmings. They mean you don’t need to fiddle around with databases; they come with analytics out of the box; user authentication is just two lines of code. Months of effort saved.

We decided to go with Parse.com.

It seemed like a safe bet – owned by Facebook, and used by some big players. And then there was the tagline…

“Building apps isn’t easy, but we get you pretty close.”

Sounds perfect? It was.

Until Facebook decided to turn it off.

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They pull the plug, and Balu dies.

So we’ve spent the last two months learning a lot of new tech, and putting in some serious hard graft, to move Balu off Parse.com. This has been really frustrating for us, because all those hours of work (156, to be precise) could have – should have – gone into taking Balu forwards. Instead, we’ve taken Balu sidewards.

But we’re done now, and the new version will be released very soon.

Chrome will automatically update your browser extension for you – it will happen sometime in mid December. Unfortunately you’ll be forcibly logged out. Sorry, nothing we can do about that. But the next time you’re shopping, Balu will tell you you’re logged out and you can get back in with the same username and password.

Any problems, please get in touch at info@getbalu.org

Some technical stuff about the new environment

To (slightly) redeem themselves, Facebook open-sourced the Parse Server. That means the code that used to run on Parse.com is now available for us to run ourselves, on our own computers, or hosted on a cloud service like AWS (Amazon Web Services) or Heroku.

So that’s what we’ve done.

We’ve migrated the Balu database over to mLab, and set up our own Balu Parse Server and a Balu Parse Dashboard on Heroku. This was a bit painful, but thanks to a wonderful online tech community, who had explored and resolved many issues before we got to them, we struggled through.

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A sample of some of our project time tracking from November

So with our new server set up, we turned to our apps…

Thankfully, the Balu Chrome Browser Extension pretty much worked straight away. It talks to Heroku, Heroku talks to mLab. Fine.

But our main web app (an admin tool for adding new ethical brands to Balu) needed to be entirely rebuilt in Node and Express. That’s what took the bulk of the time. Our other web app, the directory on the website, will just about continue to work with minimal changes – but not perfectly. We’re less bothered about this, because it was always a rushed job that needed a proper rebuild. So now that the key stuff is done we’re going to tackle the directory properly.

Alternative giving

By on 3rd December 2016 in Blog, Christmas

Giving can be about much more than things that fit into boxes or be tied up with bows. Some of our favs:

You can also make your own – there’s lots out there on homemade gifts but here’s some ideas to get you started, and lots of articles in the Stylist magazine’s handmade Christmas edition!

Have other suggestions? Comment below or let us know at giselle@getbalu.org

Have an ethical Christmas: The Cheat sheet

By on 3rd December 2016 in Blog, Christmas

Have an ethical Christmas

Our top tips for having an ethical christmas:

  1. First thing’s first – try to relax during this busy time of year (and if need be, take in mind some tips on how to deal with family who don’t share your values on sustainability at Christmas)
  2. Christmas trees are beautiful and tend to give us the warm fuzzies – and they can be sustainable too if you know where to look
  3. Alternative giving: christmas doesn’t have to be about things that fit into a gift-wrapped box. There’s lots of other ways to give. Here are our recommendations
  4. …But if you are giving items, give well. See our top tips below
  5. It’s not just the gifts that matter- the wrapping matters too! Gift wrap the eco-friendly way
  6. Similarly greetings cards can do good rather than evil. Go paperless or support good causes when you buy yours – check out some options here
  7. Eat well – We heartily recommend these tips from Farmdrop about how to have an eco-conscious christmas dinner, including the most ethical turkeys, and MoralFibres has some great veggie christmas dinner ideas

Buying Gifts

Our first suggestion would be to use Balu of course! Shop online like normal and the app will pop up with ethical alternatives, or use our directory. But if you’re looking for gift guides or specific sources there’s lots out there too! Some of our best tips:

  • Find treasures at Oxfam‘s online store, with their second hand stock as well as their own lines
  • If you’re buying gifts, buy ones that last! Buy Me Once have great gift guides (and their winter survival pack is good too)
  • Use Ethical Consumer’s comprehensive guide to the best retailers, including their guide to buying books, and the Sustainable Fashion Directory gift guides (US-based)
  • Take in mind that ethical is as much about supporting the good as it is about avoiding the bad. Here’s the Guardian’s guide to avoiding Amazon
  • Ask the blogsphere! There’s excellent ethical guide gifts from TartanBrunetteAnna Jones and Designed By Good People (who have a great Pinterest board of ethical gift ideas too)
  • Go to your favourite ethical brand for their suggestions. For example, there’s a broad range of gifts to chose from at Ethical Superstore, which includes gifts under £10. Moral Fibres have lots of thoughtful gift guides on their blog, as do the wonderful Birdsong for your bestie and your crush! And Decorator’s notebook have a guide to stylish and ethical homewares
  • Go to local markets / fairs: Londoners may like the Fair Christmas Fayre, an ethical marketplace taking place on Saturday 10th December (2016). For other markets and fairs in London: see here and here
  • And check out these tips on sustainable gifting from The Pool blog

Thanks to the brilliant suggestions from #EthicalHour contributors in early December!

Have other suggestions? Comment below or let us know at giselle@getbalu.org

6 Great Eco Apps to Make Your Life Greener

By on 1st December 2016 in Blog, Press

Eluxe Magazine: Making time to consider the environment in your daily schedule isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s just simpler and less time consuming to ignore your better judgment and throw that tuna can in the garbage or pick-up that cheap, drugstore lip gloss.

Luckily, 21st century technology can help ease your way into better, environmentally conscious habits. A number of eco apps for smartphones have been designed to inform and advise overwhelmed consumers who are looking to make smarter choices.

We’ve picked our top 6 eco apps that we think are truly are changing the way we buy and think when it comes to beauty products, clothes and sustainable living.

Read more here

Transformational Tech: Apps that are changing the world

By on 29th January 2016 in Blog, Press

Salt Magazine: Balu is a browser plug-in, and soon to be an app, which helps you make ethical choices when you shop online. It’s attempting to spotlight the companies doing business in the best possible ways, as the plug-in allows the ethical choices to jump to the top of your results when you search for products on Google, Amazon or ASOS.

Read more here