In a world of limited resources, a system that advocates an ever-increasing level of consumption, and equates such consumption with personal well-being, economic progress and social fulfilment, is a recipe for ecological disaster - ethical.org.au
We are the change makers and the role models for future generations to come. Our cultural viewpoints combined with our food, shopping and lifestyle choices can shape our planet – both environmentally and humanely. We can leave behind us a legacy of what it means to choose ‘higher living’ as a way of life.
Over the years I have grown more and more passionate about making sure that I understand where all my consumer purchases originate from. I ensure I understand the impact of absolutely everything I buy from my weekly food to more random purchases like clothes and beauty products.
What this has allowed me to do is choose quality over quantity. I no longer crave fast consumerism [fast-food, fast-fashion, and so on]. Whether I am buying food or a piece of clothing I now invest in quality which also means I buy less and eat less. Not only is this better for my bank balance and overall health - it also feels really good on both a spiritual and cellular level.
Visiting under-developed countries I have seen first-hand how many people live in poverty, desperate to put food on their table they are willing to work for any pay and put up with the most horrendous working conditions. I have also visited many natural habitats where flora and fauna is fast diminishing due to human disturbance. I have also witnessed the intense suffering of animals through the hands of humans.
As consumers we have the power to change this, one last shot to turn things around, before we lose everything.
I also know how hard it can be to choose ethical shopping over conventional: sometimes there’s just not a huge selection, as well, it can get expensive. But as a mindful shopper, I have decided that I would rather spend more to get less in order to contribute positively (or at least neutrally) to the planet and well-being of others.
Living in a western world we are often so far removed from how our products are made that we actually don’t realise the impact a product can have on the world. Poor working conditions, low living wages, child labour, negative environmental impact, animal cruelty—this stuff is everywhere. And once you learn about it, you can’t unlearn it. Every industry is riddled with unethical practices from the farming industry, beauty industry, food industry, textile industry, tourism industry, conservation industry to even the medical and technology sectors.
In a world that is flooding in consumerism, where green washing and savvy marketing campaigns are trying to get our attention, how does one truly know if a product is ethical and sustainable? Here is my guide on how to buy more ethical and sustainable products that are good for the planet, your health and the livelihood of others.
1. Educate Yourself
Before buying products jump on the company’s website and do some consumer research about the product. Seek out their trade practices. Bottom line is, that if a company is not completely transparent about their trade practices then they have something to hide.
2. Buy Local Or Look For Fair Trade Products
Let’s support local farmers and small communities. Lets also ensure that small businesses get a fair price for their products. In order to raise company profits many big companies are sourcing cheaper and cheaper products – someone has to get undercut in the process and usually it is the guy right at the bottom of the ladder – the farmer or factory worker. Do your part to look after the little guy by ensuring your products have the Fairtrade logo where possible. Also by supporting Fair-trade you are ensuring that you are not supporting human trafficking or sweat shops where these practices are rife within many of our mainstream products. Learn which mainstream products exploit human rights and support human slavery and child labour.
3. Buy Organic When You Can
Try to buy organic when you can. Please note that these certifications do not come cheaply – so many small businesses who produce organic products don’t always have the certification. But if they seem ethical in their approach please still support them where you can, just make sure you are savvy about it and ask a lot of questions about whether the food or ingredients are sprayed with pesticides, find out where they are grown and how the products are handled. Choosing organic products means that they are gentler on our planet, do not harm our waterways, are kinder towards animals and do not poison the soil that gives life to our plant life. It is also better for your own health and well-being.
Not only do chemicals wreak havoc with your health they also destroy our environment. Chemicals used in farming seep into the soil and leech into oceans, rivers and also destroy natural habitat.
And it doesn't stop there.
Chemicals used to produce many products have human health risks when used plus do harm to the planet when they are washed down our sinks or disposed of in landfill. Be careful not to get green washed, just because a company portrays itself as natural with its fancy words and earthy packaging – don’t take it at face value – do your research in really understanding what is in the products and where the ingredients that make up that product originated from.
Then there are eggs, dairy and meat products? While we advocate for a vegan lifestyle, we understand everyone is on their own journey, however we can't stress enough how important it is to purchase ALL animal products such as eggs, dairy and meat labelled organic. The reason for this is that at least farmers have to adhere to really strict animal welfare guidelines to become organic certified, which means the animals have a pretty good life up to slaughter. There are also many small scale farmers who are not certified organic however ethically raise and slaughter their own animals - ask your local butcher for recommendations.
4. Invest in Cruelty Free Products
Say a big fat ‘NO’ to products that are tested on innocent animals. Gone are the days that these barbaric practices are required. Thanks to the cloning of human cells; skin, eyes and other human areas can now be grown in a lab. These cultured cells are easily available to testing companies, and they are not only much more accurate at recording results they are a much more cost effective alternative compared to keeping live animals in a lab. Educate yourself on what companies are currently testing on animals and seek out companies that are doing the right thing by our fury animal friends. Visit the PETA site – they are a haven of wealth when it comes to information about animal cruelty. Big players in animal testing are cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies. The food industries are also riddled with unethical practices - especially when it comes to eggs, chickens, turkeys and pork.
Animal cruelty is something I personally advocate significantly for. Read my article over on my personal website How To Make Daily Choices That Are Kinder To Our Animals
5. Join The Recycle And Reuse Movement
Put a stop to landfill, habitat destruction and carbon emissions by buying second hand items or turning junk into something you can reuse. Shop for second hand items on eBay, your local thrift store, garage sales and markets – since these things have already been made you are doing your bit to the planet by extending the products lifespan. Get thrifty and creative by finding ways to reuse something that many would consider junk – you can do some great things with old shipping palettes, tin cans, old clothes and more.
6. Believe In The Power Of The Consumer
As consumers we have much more power than we give ourselves credit for. By choosing to not buy a certain product because of their unethical practices you have the power to change the conduct and actions of companies. If enough people stop buying unethical and unsustainable products then companies will re-evaluate their manufacturing process. Empower yourself as a consumer and have a say in how the products you buy are made, and how the company that makes them conducts its business.
7. Choose Quality Over Quantity
We live in a world that is primarily driven by consumerism, where things are mindlessly replaced when the latest fad, trend or high tech gadget is released. Products are becoming super cheap thanks to the price wars of retailers, and as a result small businesses are suffering. But, have you ever stopped to think ‘how can they offer such a cheap product?’ Yes they are cutting costs somewhere – and my guess is that it is in the product quality along with unethical manufacturing practices. As a result of excess consumerism natural resources are being used up and forests are being mass cleared – which ultimately results in wildlife habitat loss, indigenous cultural loss and the extinction of natural vegetation – and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Gone are the days when we purchased something with the intention of having it forever – nowadays we just replace it when we get tired of looking at it. I gently suggest that you consider buying less and choose quality over quantity. The planet and your ‘long term’ savings will thank you.
8. Is It Natural?
When disposed of, raw materials break down into the earth and feed nourishment back into the soil. Whereas synthetic materials leach toxins into the soil – poisoning plants and wildlife. Look for natural sustainable materials and most importantly avoid polyester + plastic. This also goes for our food and personal care products - avoid products with additives, artificial flavours, hormones, chemicals etc and choose organic where possible.
9. Does It Have Excess Packaging
To make something ‘so called appealing’ to the consumer eye, products are primped and prepped into pretty but ever so wasteful excess packaging. Everything we buy contains mass amounts of unusable and wasteful packaging. Look for products with less fancy packaging, after all its just smoke and mirrors. Or at the very least look for products that have been packaged in recycled materials. This is why I love buying from artists and suppliers directly – they don’t have the big budgets to buy into all that hype and gloss – instead they sell you the product in its most natural state.
10. Be Mindful Of All Your Purchases
These days when I make purchases I look at it from an environment perspective. I try and make the best decision I can for our planet with the money I have. I first ask myself ‘Do I really need this?’ And if I do, then I do my best to seek out a small business that specialises in small runs that have been handcrafted by locals using sustainable ingredients/supplies. Sure it is more expensive (although not always) but at least I know I am getting a quality product and I am making a conscious choice to look after the planet while supporting the local community.
For the majority of us we strive for a society where the environment is respected, where human rights are properly protected and animals are no longer cruelly exploited. The world is slowly waking up to the negative effect consumerism is having on our planet and the good news is that there’s a lot of companies doing a good job at developing more ethical practices, and we should support them. So please, buy ethical, organic, natural and Fairtrade when possible.
Further Readings I Have Written That You May Enjoy
- Do you find yourself buying fashion every other week? Read about the impact fast fashion is having on both the environment and its people. Read my article over on The OM Collective [click here].
- Did you know that many mainstream consumer items heavily support child labour and human trafficking? Read How Our Everyday Purchases Support Child Labour, Human Trafficking + Slavery
- We live in an age of increasing technological innovation and sophistication. But the use of animals as test subjects for cosmetics and household products continues, despite the primitive nature of animal research. Animal Testing on Consumer Products is Still Common Practice: Are You Unknowingly Supporting this Trade?
- The debate of what’s right and what’s wrong in a laboratory is ongoing. Advocates will justify the practice by claiming that animal testing is useful in the field of human medicine. Critics will disagree and say the benefits are poorly established and the evidence inconclusive. Are You Supporting Animal Cruelty? The Cruel Facts About Animal Testing In Medical Research