Middle Eastern Grassrooters That Keep It Environmentally and Socially Responsible

Not all environmental organizations and projects have tunnel vision – some focus on social responsibility as well.

It’s unfortunate that environmental and social responsibility don’t automatically go hand in hand.  What green changes would be possible without effecting society?  And since when does anything involving society or people not effect the environment?  But most organizations and initiatives take a narrower look at things and avoid the environmental-and-social-responsibility-bigger-picture combo.  Which is why it’s so great when you finally do hear of an organization, person, or initiative that casts a wider net.

A few projects encompassing both environmental and social responsibility have popped up in the Middle East over recent years, in all kinds of fields including (among others) food, clothing, and the arts. Here’s a quick look at a few grassroots projects:

SAHA Fair Trade Products

An acronym meaning “fair trade” in Hebrew and “bon apetit” in Arabic, the SAHA fair (and local) trade food organization was launched by Green Action – an Israeli environmental and social welfare organization.  SAHA sells fair trade olive oil, olives (pictured to the left), sage, zaatar and grape syrup made by Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, thus ensuring that the farmers receive fair wages and that the products are sold locally (helping the locavore movement).  Social and environmental change.

Avi Levi, the director of Green Action, said that while many Israelis start purchasing SAHA products for political reasons, they keep buying them for the delicious, local and organic flavors.

Shtaim Second-Hand Store

This second-hand store, tucked away on Tel Aviv’s oh-so-trendy Sheinkin Street, has become a neighborhood staple despite the fact that stores change owners around there at the pace that most people change socks.  Standing strong since 2001 and opened by two former lawyers who wanted something better to do with their time, Shtaim strongly supports the idea of reused and recycled clothing – a concept that is obviously kinder to the environment.  But Shtaim not only encourages shoppers to buy as many used (as opposed to new and wasteful) items as possible, it encourages them to do so in reusable cloth bags (made from clothing that just wasn’t salvageable).

And that’s where the social responsibility kicks in.  The cloth bags sold at Shtaim are sewn in a factory that specifically hires people with disabilities.  That’s a lot of good for one vintage t-shirt.

Guy Lougashi’s Recycled Baskets

Colorful, recycled, and socially intertwining, Israeli designer Guy Lougashi’s paper baskets combine traditional craftmaking skills with forward environmental and socially responsible thinking.  Low on environmental impact, these beautiful baskets are handmade from recycled papers (which means that they were woven without electric machines and required no new resources).  But beyond being green, the weavers themselves are a collection of different populations who are brought together by the task that Lougashi has presented to them.

The pieces are made at a Jewish-Arab factory in Baqa Al Garabia, where both Jews and Arabs resurrect traditional basket weaving techniques.

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