Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

When most people walk into the mall, they're usually drawn onto stores based on big sales, hot new styles, and maybe in response to the latest marketing gimmick. But these days, some consumers also want to shop in a manner that furthers their ethical or political beliefs. This month, we've been running a series on shopping conscientiously. And today we look at how holiday guides could help in that pursuit.

Our guest is Daryl Herrschaft. He's the director of the Human Rights Campaign Workplace Project. Herrschaft is part of a group that publishes the HRC's Buying for Equality guide which grades businesses based on their commitment to supporting gay rights. He's with us now in our D.C. studio.

Also with us is Wendy Koch. She writes the Greenhouse Environmental blog for USA Today. She's posted a Green Buyers Guide on her blog to increase consumer awareness of alternative options during the gift-giving season. And she joins us from member station WETA in Virginia. Welcome to you both. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. DARYL HERRSCHAFT (Director, Human Rights Campaign): Thanks for having us.

Ms. WENDY KOCH (Reporter, USA Today): Thanks, I appreciate it.

MARTIN: So, Daryl, let me start with you. How did this buying guide start? Is this something that you guys in HRC thought up or is this something that members or supporters of the organization asked you for?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: We started doing this guide in the year 2002. What we do is we rate companies on a scale from zero to 100 based on how fairly their treat their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

MARTIN: Oh, their employees?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: Their employees and also what the corporation's stance is towards the LGBT community. So in terms of philanthropy, advertising, sort of their engagement with other external groups. We look at domestic partner benefits for gay employees' families, also really importantly, non-discrimination policies and other things that they do in the workplace for their employees.

MARTIN: How many people use the guide, or how many people buy the guide or get the guide?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: Hundreds of thousands. This is the most popular publication of the Human Rights Campaign.

MARTIN: How do you know?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: It's downloaded the most from our Web site. We know that there is over $750 billion a year that is spent by the LGBT community. And more often than not, LGBT people look at these policies, more so than their heterosexual counterparts in making their purchasing decisions.

MARTIN: Wendy, what about you? How did your guide start? And, of course, and you have to know that some people think it's inherently not green. I don't know what the what's the antithesis of green, not green? But there are some people who think that by definition, being green means trying to reduce consumerism. So how did you get the idea for your green guide, and tell us some of the things that are on it.

Ms.�KOCH: Sure. Well, actually, our guide is new because Green House is a new community for USA Today. And we've included not only items that you could buy that are made from recycled old junk or also gifts that have nothing to do about stuff. And there are so many things that you can do, whether it's donating to charities or giving experiences to people, whether it's a massage or an afternoon tea or if it's simply giving of your time, cleaning someone's car, which frankly would be a pretty nice gift, I think.

MARTIN: Now, there are critics of this particular form of environmentalism. We spoke recently to Mike Tidwell of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He wrote a piece for the Washington Post where he essentially said, just stop it, just stop all these individual efforts, it doesn't mean anything. Let me just play a short clip of what he said. Here it is.

Mr.�MIKE TIDWELL (Chesapeake Climate Action Network): We are being distracted by the go-green-mania that results in very little change. Every time we pick up another green issue of Vanity Fair, every time we see 10 ways to go green at the office on some Web site, we have the impression that broad change is happening, when it's not.

MARTIN: What do you think about that?

Ms.�KOCH: Well, I actually am familiar with that piece, and I, to some extent took Mike to task in my blog earlier this week about it. And part of that is Mike has really walked the walk, and he has made a big effort to make his own house very green. In fact, I've been in his dining room as he has played his own homemade video on what you can do to green your own home. And so he's really tried to do that.

The problem I have with saying stop it, just stop doing this, is that most people will never write their member of Congress in favor of the climate treaty because they are not motivated by concerns about the environment. Most people who take energy, eco-friendly steps, if you will, at home do it to save money. And survey after survey will show that, that they're motivated by lowering their utility bills, not by saving the planet.

MARTIN: Daryl, the pushback on your guide, for example, is that why should philanthropic spending, for example, be part of the Buying For Equality guide? There are some who would argue, and forgive me for being I hope this isn't excessively blunt, but some people would say, well, that's kind of a shakedown. What you're saying is, give my groups money, give my advocacy groups money, and then I'll support your product. But other people might say giving good value at a good price, treating workers fairly, that that really should be the basis for inclusion in your guide. What do you say to that?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: I think that external engagement is actually a really important indicator of a company's position when it comes to diversity in the workplace, when it comes to their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. It changes the culture, it creates a reputation, and it sends a message to consumers and also to employees that this is an organization that is serious about treating people fairly, and...

MARTIN: But you could see where people might say, well, basically you're saying give HRC a couple bucks and then be in the equality guide and how that might not sit well with some people.

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: It's important to us to make sure that that connection is not made. And that's why within our organization, those two functions, in terms of fundraising and the rating of corporations are entirely separate.

MARTIN: How should use the Buying For Equality guide? For example, UPS scored a 100. FedEx only got a 70 in your index. What accounted for the difference?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: UPS has been well out in front of its competitors, FedEx, in treating their LGBT employees fairly and in extending those eligibility for benefits to their union employees much faster even than some other corporations. So it's important when you're doing that shipping to your friends and family that you look at using companies that treat their employees fairly, and UPS falls into that category.

MARTIN: Okay, Wendy, what about you? Is there a favorite items on your list that somebody might not have thought of? I'm always interested in that perennial gift card for babysitting, and I never get that. I never get that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So anything in particular you want to bring our attention to that somebody might not have thought?

Ms.�KOCH: I do agree that the babysitting for friends' kids is just a wonderful gift. And I like some of the other ones that really involve more doing things with your friends, you know, whether it's taking someone ice skating. I also have some things that are kind of practical and may not be the most exciting, but volunteering, for instance, to weatherize their home, if even in a small part. And I do think simple things, even if you've taken pictures of a friend or relative that you thought were particularly good, framing them perhaps and giving them to someone is really meaningful.

MARTIN: Now finally, Daryl, do you ever find a conflict between values? And you have to I understand that your particular guide is focused on LGBT equality, but what if you come across a company that's doing a great job with LGBT issues but is a big polluter, or you find that their workplace practices overseas are different? How do you handle that?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: Well, we recognize that this is just one portion of what corporate responsibility is and we encourage everyone to, you know, take into account all of those things that they think are important, whether it's the environment or labor issues.

Still, it's very difficult to put a number between zero to 100 to a corporation and say that that explains, you know, everything that the company is doing. But it's corporations are well out ahead of government in treating LGBT employees fairly and, you know, we think this is an important enough issue for people to take this into consideration when they're doing holiday shopping.

MARTIN: Do your companies listed in the guide ever object to their rating? Do they ever say I should actually get a 90 and not a 70?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: Yes. We often have sort of heated conversations on the phone with companies that think that they're doing something that should meet the criteria and we don't think that they are.

MARTIN: Wendy, what do you want Santa to bring you?

Ms.�KOCH: Well, I actually I'm building a new green home. So I think Santa's taking care of me.

MARTIN: Okay. Daryl, what about you? What do you want Santa to bring you?

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: I would like Santa to bring marriage equality out to the District of Columbia, which is just around the corner.

MARTIN: Daryl Herrschaft is the director of Human Rights Campaign's Buying For Equality guide, and he was with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Wendy Koch writes the Green House, an environmental blog for USA Today. We'll have a link on our site so you can check it out. She joined us from member station WETA in Virginia. Thank you both.

Mr.�HERRSCHAFT: Thank you for having me.

Ms.�KOCH: I appreciate it, thank you.

MARTIN: And happy holidays.

Ms.�KOCH: Happy holidays.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: