About UniGuide

The Short Version

UniGuide® is a blog for people who like cool stuff but don’t want cool stuff at the expense of harming animals or the environment. It’s also a blog for people who just like cool stuff. On UniGuide, eco and vegan entrepreneurs – the business underdogs of our day – are the heroes, because their dedication and hard work provide benefits that extend far beyond their customers and profits to a greater good.

You can read my disclosures for information on how I am compensated for some of the products and services that are promoted on UniGuide.

The Long Version

UniGuide is just a humble blog in a constellation of a gazillion other blogs, twinkling at varying levels of brightness. It was started when I was at an impasse in my life and unsure of how to get over the obstacles before me. I wanted to live my life better – in a number of ways. I thought, If only I could tap into some kind of universal guide to show me the way…

You see, people who have a really good sense of direction have always filled me with a certain awe. It’s as though they have a compass implanted in their foreheads that automatically tells them in which direction is true north, and they navigate their lives accordingly, making good choices all along the way. They’re the kind of people who never forget where they parked in a multilevel parking lot.

I am not one of those people.

Maybe you know people like me. Maybe even, you are one.

We’re the types who take a more haphazard route. Perhaps it’s because we get lost easily, or maybe it’s because we willfully choose to bushwhack our way through life. We make rash decisions, and overly emotional ones. We make the well-charted folks wonder, Have they gone completely astray, or are they merely taking the scenic route?

When well-meaning people give us directions, we completely ignore them, and then get sidetracked by dead-end streets and carnival sideshows.

Wayward choices were leading me astray in many areas of my life: career, relationships, money, and consumption of all kinds. I felt like I was running in circles, putting out all this energy to get somewhere, and still seeing the all too familiar places. When I finally got on a traditional climb-the-corporate-ladder kind of career path, I went full steam ahead, mainly just so I wouldn’t slow down long enough to screw it up. After all, being focused is practical and important, no? Or else, how the heck are you going to get anywhere?

But then the opposite problem occurred. I became so laser focused on succeeding on the path I was on that I developed a serious case of tunnel vision. I began charting my life course by looking through a periscope – Ok, goals: promotion, better titles, more money, house, stuff, better vacations, more stuff… the side effect of which was putting blinders on my awareness: my self awareness and my global awareness, my physical awareness and my spiritual awareness. I narrowed down my scope so tight in an attempt to stay on the straight and narrow that I ended up getting lost anyway. I thought, WTF, how did I get here? Wasn’t there supposed to be more purpose to my life?

You may have asked the same questions that I did and then, hopefully, the next one:

How do I make substantive changes to lead a better life?

In my case, I went back to baseline: What do I love? What do I care about? For starters: my family and friends; but also social issues, children, animals, the planet, art, and music. I’ve always wanted to leave this place better off than how I found it. I’m probably not that different from you.

Deepak Chopra, one of my heroes and a generous source of wisdom in my life, talks about the importance of consciousness, of becoming more aware. I wanted to open up the full spectrum of my awareness to live better, exist better, and let in a beaming rainbow of consciousness to guide me on my life course.

Then I started thinking too much, and felt like I was going loony tunes. When I start thinking too much like that, I get overwhelmed by the challenges in the world: disease, climate change, poverty, war, human suffering, animals suffering… Where to begin? It’s enough to make Atlas himself keel over, drop the globe, and curl into a fetal position as the world goes bouncing off his shoulders and rolls into the abyss.

So, I decided to dial that rainbow of consciousness in a little. Start small, but drop that damn periscope. Take a broad look around, then consider what you can control and influence, like your day-to-day choices, what media you’re paying attention to, what you’re consuming, what you’re buying… I had to give myself permission to drop the periscope, with its limited perspective, and let myself look down a kaleidoscope instead – a focused but colorful mix of inputs, in my own unique view, that I could turn and influence.

I thought about how Tony Robbins, another one of my heroes and a limitless source of motivation in my life, talks about how you are what you focus on: “Where focus goes, energy flows,” Tony says. In the same vein, Oprah Winfrey (I can’t leave the divine Oprah out here!) says, “Your thoughts are your prayers.” We are all a product of our daily thoughts and day-to-day habits. And our world today has become a product of our collective human habits.

As you are what you eat, so you are how you get your energy, and where you direct your energy. I remember what a wise (perhaps “clever” is a better word) massage therapist once said to me when I asked if I’m supposed to tip her if she’s working in a doctor’s office. She smiled (and I won’t go so far as to say it was a Cheshire Cat grin, but still…) and said, “Money is just a crystallized form of energy. It is entirely up to you where you direct your energy.” I gave her the tip.

It’s a continuous work in progress, but I committed myself to learning more about how my day-to-day activities were impacting things I care about. I read about environmentally sustainable and cruelty-free, or vegan, alternatives to what I was buying and consuming.

Animals and the Environment

Why eco-friendly and cruelty-free? Well, I believe we all come into this world with certain gifts. In many cases, we think those gifts are a curse because they can hurt. For as long as I can remember, I have had an acute sensitivity to animals and nature. I can’t stand the idea of an animal being harmed or exploited, or the devastation that humans are doing to the paradise that is this planet we live on.

As a little girl growing up in Houston, Texas, instead of playing with my Easy Bake Oven (as my cooking skills today will attest), I was in our backyard, crouching over holes in the ground, waiting for little gray and yellow toads to come out so I could catch them. At the age of six, I must not have been all that sensitive to animals because I was completely oblivious to the fact that the reason the little toads were peeing in my hand is that they were terrified. Of course, I always set them free after they took a spin in Barbie’s convertible.

As I grew up and learned the ways of the world, I realized that a lot of animals are harmed by humans and, for better or worse, a lot of natural things are destroyed so humans can live better. Anyone who has a sensitivity, whether it’s to children, to older people, to people who are oppressed or sick, to animals, or anyone else, and is knowledgeable of the deeper issues around that sensitivity, will tell you it’s a painful awareness. Undoubtedly, it’s why so many of us numb ourselves out with food, alcohol, shopping, sex, or all of the above – because to feel can frigging hurt!

The danger is when our sensitivity renders us avoidant and, therefore, ineffective. We retreat instead of taking action. We are not using our gifts. And gifts are meant to be shared and exchanged. As we take action and teach each other about our sensitivities, we help each other become more aware – more conscious.

Because of my sensitivity to animals and the environment, I’m of the opinion that although human beings are the dominant species on the planet (mainly because of our ability to destroy everything), we have a responsibility to other species and their habitats, which is akin to the responsibility a parent has to a child. Sure, a parent can mess up their kid in all manner of ways, even when they don’t want to! But really, the parent’s job is to love, nurture, and protect the child. And loving, nurturing, and protecting can overcome any unconscious failings. That’s what I think human beings’ responsibility is to animals and our natural world: not to destroy (or exploit); but to love, nurture, and protect. All over the world, when children are taken care of, the grownups benefit. I believe when animals and nature are taken care of, we humans benefit.

Cool Stuff and Entrepreneurs

With all these lofty ideals and sensitivity, I admit, I also have a sensitivity to cool stuff. I’m a consumer and I’m attracted to interesting things. I know my Amazon and Etsy passwords by heart.

How does one harmonize these two aspects of one’s personality? The consumer and the animal lover or environmentalist; the person who likes shoes but knows a lot of shoes are made of leather, which harms both animals and the environment.

All I can think is there are two ways, and both are about being a better consumer:

  1. Get in the habit of pausing before I buy something and asking myself why I really want it, and will I want it and use it next year?
  2. If I am going to buy something, be a more informed consumer. Are there alternatives that are less harmful to the environment and animals?

Businesses bow to the will of consumers. Better consumers inspire better businesses. Consumers hold all the cards, even though we don’t always realize it.

Along my journey to live life more in line with my values, I did some volunteer work for a new non-profit that would serve as an incubator for inventors and entrepreneurs who were trying to bring clean technologies to market, in areas such as energy efficiency, green building, agriculture, water, and waste management. The Cleantech Open (CTO) was a labor of love because it became another full-time job, only I didn’t get paid. (And truth be told, there were other immortal volunteers who worked far harder and longer than I did!) But when I look back at the “work” of my life, helping to get off the CTO off the ground is one of those endeavors of which I am the most proud.

What I learned through this experience is that the path of the entrepreneur can be one of the most perilous and grueling a person can take. Yet it became clear to me that the answers to some of the most complex problems of our day will come from entrepreneurs.

In addition to cleantech, I believe solutions will come from cottage industries: the folks making dog collars from hemp or recycled bicycle tires, biodegradable cell phone cases from flax-based bioplastic, and vegan delicacies that even hardcore carnivores can’t resist.

You can say that UniGuide is both a commercial site promoting products and an exploratory travel journal of sorts, from a person who is trying to find the pot of gold (a world of healthier consumption) at the end of the rainbow – by looking through her kaleidoscope. I am by no means the perfect consumer, but I will never stop trying to be, and I will always share what I learn.

About the Person Who Wrote All That

Are you actually still reading this? Ok, then, I’ll be accountable and explain a bit more about the person who wrote all that. As tempting as it is to write a bio of myself in third person, I know that would be a little disingenuous given the novel in first person I wrote up above.

My name is Kristen Merrill Stanton and my life before this blog was leading up to this blog.

In my 20s, I was idealistic. I was an environmental studies major, protesting logging in Northern California, reading The Monkey Wrench Gang, and canvassing for Greenpeace. I was living with a bunch of vegetarian roommates and writing a lot of letters for animal rights.

Then I took a wrong turn and got my MBA.

Suddenly, everything I was learning wasn’t theoretical anymore, or about lofty ideals; it was tactical and measurable, and the end goal was different – it was a number on the bottom line.

I happened to be graduating from business school at the height of the dot-com boom and I excitedly jumped on the Internet bandwagon like everybody else. The Internet super highway delivered me to jobs at a lot of startups, many of which were in the most traditionally un-Earth-friendly industry there is – the car business.

But the car business was fun. I enjoyed working for fast-paced startups that were revolutionizing old business models, and my appreciation for entrepreneurship was born. I also learned a lot about the power of technology by working with people who thrive on driving technological innovation.

Yet, always at the back of my mind, I was thinking about animals and the environment, and wondering how I could apply all I’d learned from prior experience to help protect them.

Today I am an independent marketing consultant and a new blogger, doing my best to direct my energies to earning a living by supporting entrepreneurs, and some grownup companies, who are producing products and services that do not exploit animals or the environment, and with that – are good for people too. Because Earth- and animal-friendly will trump lesser products every single time.