by Ryan Landes-Gilman / Pachamama Alliance
What Are We Buying?
Most of us start off with very limited knowledge of the origins of what we’re buying and how it was produced. But, as we become more aware of the world around us, we start to view ourselves and our role as a consumer differently. As this awareness expands, our thoughts quickly become awash with questions.
- Where was this item made or grown?
- Were the workers properly compensated for their labor?
- Are there genetically modified ingredients in the food we’re buying?
These are all legitimate questions for the conscientious global citizen to ponder. Even purchasing a seemingly innocuous product, such as chocolate, can have a gravely negative impact on the global community.
Information like this certainly can be a jarring wake-up call, and this is just one example of how non-conscientious spending can negatively impact the world. But the good news is that it’s never too late to wake up. Here are 7 strategies we can use to become more conscientious and ethical shoppers.
1. Buy Fairtrade Products
Be on the lookout for fair-trade labels. Fair Trade laws often help reduce poverty in developing nations, allowing workers to receive better compensation and working conditions. That said, there had been some controversy regarding the true effectiveness of Fair Trade Laws in enforcing such standards.
A Fair Trade certification does not guarantee total compliance to environmental and humanitarian ideals. It is, ultimately, up to us to search out the best way to hold our purchasing habits up to our own personal ethical standards.
It also must be noted that some items, such as jewelry, do not fall under Fair Trade Laws. The gross human rights violations involved in the African diamond trade are a rather infamous example of the injustices that can be perpetrated when there are no regulations.
2. Shop Locally
Supporting local businesses and farmer’s markets is a great way to ensure that we are shopping ethically. In most major cities there are countless bakers and grocers that use goods procured from local organic sources. Supporting one local business can often lead to indirectly supporting a multitude of others.
One could also endeavor to find crafts-people to take care of their furniture and clothing needs. Hand-made furniture might be pricier than IKEA furniture, but it will likely hold together better in the long run and locally crafted clothing might not be the latest designer brand, but could well look sharper and stand out more!
3. Plastic Packaging and Canola Oil
Only 9% of the 32 million tons of plastic waste annually produced by the United States is recycled. Since the 1960s the amount of plastic waste produced has sharply increased, rising from less than 1% of the total waste to over 13%.
Canola Oil with an unlisted source might indicate that GMO products are used. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer to inquire about the source of the ingredients and to clarify any questions you have about production or unpronounceable ingredients.
4. What to Embrace
Whenever possible, buy items in reusable containers, or without packaging! Try to give these containers a permanent home in your kitchen pantry. Bring excess paper-bags with you on shopping trips and keep using them until they break.
Recycling uses precious energy and should not be considered a substitute for reuse. Instead of using the non-recyclable plastic bags in the produce aisles of stores, bring a freshly-washed cloth bag.
Shop seasonally – buying particular types of produce when in season. Produce sold out of season is grown in far off locations, thus leading to hefty transportation costs and increased use of pesticides and preservatives. Eating food seasonally can also help us get into better sync with the Earth’s natural cycles.
5. Boycotting a Product
There is likely a particular product you really enjoy, but due to some aspect of its creation process, you cannot, in good faith, support the product. Instead of simply ceasing to buy it, make your voice heard.
If one person makes their opinion publicly known, it sends a definitive message to the producers of the product that there are likely many others who hold similar grievances, but have yet to voice their thoughts.
All it takes is a single spark to light a special fire! Boycotts can send a strong message to a company, hitting them where it hurts – the wallet. Here are some ways you can get the ball rolling on a boycott.
6. Embrace Second Hand Goods
The best and most reliable way to ensure your shopping choices are ethical is to entirely avoid buying new products! This is great to keep in mind when buying electronics, as there is little in the way of ethical purchasing options when it comes to purchasing electronics.
7. Learn How to Self Produce
Make things yourself! Practice carpentry. Start a garden and grow your own fruits and vegetables. The options are endless! The sense of inner satisfaction that can be derived from taking such initiative can be a deeply rewarding feeling, something that reaches into the spirit and instills us with a deep inner pride.
The Freedom of Less
Sometimes making changes to one’s lifestyle can seem daunting, but the state of mind that conscientious and ethical shopping can bring about often has the opposite effect.
Conscientious changes to our lives can rid us of guilt and put us in better touch with the world as a whole, instilling in us a new kind of of pride and responsibility – an inner vigilance of sorts.
Individual action alone, however, cannot change the world. Collective action is needed to change the systems and structures of our world that allow things like slave labor and the exploitation of the Earth’s resources to continue.
The Game Changer Intensive is an online course that will teach you how to join with other people in your community to take action together for a just and sustainable world!
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