by Jo Salter
Founder Where Does It Come From?
When I talk to people about shopping and living ethically (and I do this a lot), a common response is that being ethical is just too complicated, too difficult and too expensive for them to take it on. This saddens me because being ethical is easy – it just requires asking ourselves a few questions and then life is actually easier than ever before!
What’s so complicated?
Part of the reason that we find ethics complicated is that there are so many different strands. Basically being ethical means ‘doing the right thing’, which means different things to different people. It covers such diverse topics as human rights and fair trade, sustainability and environmentalism, animal rights, local community and many more. The common element is that we are all, in our own way, making choices that have positive effects on a wider level.
The best way to cut the complication out of being ethical is simply to ask yourself what being ethical means to you. There is no right answer – it’s personal. It will also probably change as time goes on, and that’s fine too.
Shopping Ethically Is So Much Easier!
Years ago I went on a business course where we had our ‘colours done’ – some of you may remember the trend for holding colour swatches up to your face and then being told which colour palette suited you best. For me this made shopping for clothes really easy as I could ignore well over half of the clothes in the shop from that point forward. I knew they wouldn’t suit me so there was no point in even looking.
Part of our challenge is too much choice. We have so many options and so much information available when we want to buy something that it makes our brain explode so that we don’t buy anything, or we just grab something quickly and run away! My husband wants a new car (bits are now falling off his current one…) so we started discussing electric versus hybrid, diesel vs unleaded and the conversation is still going on. We haven’t even got to colour, size and brand yet! ….. Don’t get me wrong, choice is fantastic, but it really helps if you can narrow down the decision at the start by applying your own ethical filter.
Once you have your key ethical goals ready you can select brands or shops that support them – Ethical Consumer magazine gives product reviews across all sorts of areas and even allows you to rank products based on your own ethical criteria. There are also ethical market places such as Mamoq for fashion and ethical.market for gifts that use symbols to show how different brands are focussed, for example fair trade, organic, vegan etc.
Being Ethical SAVES you money!
People think that being ethical is more expensive – not at all. In fact being ethical means that you actually buy less, but choose wisely. Many of the challenges we are currently facing in our world are to do with over consumption, mass production and waste. Buying and using less is a key way to save money and help the people, planet and animals too. Simple ways to make the change are to ask yourself if you really need a particular item you are heading off to buy, or whether it needs to be new. Bringing a bottle of water with you automatically saves you money if you are thirsty – plus it saves the empty bottle you would have bought from going in the bin. If you bring your own tea or coffee cup these days most places give you a discount!
When it comes to buying clothes then buying good quality garments in a style you love can be seen as an investment – you will wear them and wear them and they will last. Investing in a basic capsule wardrobe and then accessorising with scarves and jewellery will mean that you actually buy much less. At Where Does It Come From? we focus on creating high quality basics, such as shirts and scarves, that you will love wearing and are so versatile that you can wear as much as you like.
As the ethical market grows then many new ideas pop up that help us live and shop ethically. Sam Attard set up Ethical Revolution to offer a discount site for ethical shoppers. He says that affordability is often seen as a problem for those wanting to switch to a more ethical lifestyle. ‘That’s certainly what I found most difficult when switching to purchasing ethical alternatives to mainstream products. It was the most common hurdle for people I spoke with who were wanting to ‘do the right thing’ with their consumer habits too. I could search for offers and find some if I looked hard enough, but it would be a slog. So I decided to make a hub where anyone could find ethical discounts – a ‘Money Saving Expert’ for ethical consumers. Via Ethical Revolution the difficulty of the affordability of going ethical is being addressed, so now ethical is easy!”
There really is a culture change underway around changing our habits. The shift away from shopping as a leisure activity and over consumption generally is starting to happen, with organisations being set up to help us declutter (check out Less-Stuff) and have a fantastic life with a minimum financial hit (visit The Frugal Family).
Don’t eat the whole elephant in one go….
Perhaps it seems overwhelming – changing the way you shop and adding new criteria to your shopping decisions? Just like eating an elephant (apologies to the non-meat eaters for the analogy) just take one step at a time. Look at what has already happened with plastic bags! As soon as we were incentivised to bring our own plastic bags then it became quite normal and has resulted in a drop of 9 billion bags in use in the UK since the 5p levy was introduced.
Small steps could be getting your milk delivered in glass bottles rather than buying plastic at the supermarket, buying fruit and vegetables at a green grocer that uses paper bags rather than plastic wrapped, carrying your own cup, straw or plastic bag.
Can we afford NOT to be ethical?
This is the big question. The challenges we perceive in living more ethically – cost, complication and difficulty – can lead to people ignoring the issues. If we do turn a blind eye to injustice and environment damaging/short term profit creating practices, then we lose our empathy and isolate ourselves from the wider and more long-term issues.
Each of us has the power to change the world through our actions, however small. What we say, do and how we spend our money all has a ripple effect on the people around us and ultimately on politicians, brands and corporations. It’s no good complaining if you are not going to be part of the change… and it’s so EASY to get started!