Every day, we make choices that either influence a future change in policy or maintain the status quo—and most of us do this unconsciously.
In my opinion, the most effective way each of us can bring about positive reform in politics and economics is to shop more consciously. Because, to anyone who’s paying attention, it would appear that most Western governments are in the pockets of big business. Even if they wanted to bring in progressive new policies, fear of the economic impact of big corporations moving their operations elsewhere gets in the way.
As voters, we have a say over who gets to govern our countries and economic policies. But, once the elections are over, much of our political power is suspended until the next occasion to vote arises. In the interim, hundreds of decisions are made that affect our personal and universal health, wealth, and environment.
And voters are left feeling angry, frustrated, and often betrayed.
Despite our seeming lack of power, however, it is possible for us to dictate a change—when we vote with our wallets.
This does take a little bit of effort. We need to equip ourselves with information about ethical and sustainable products. We need to shop around to find them. We may need to cut some products right out of our lives, and pay a more premium price for others.
It definitely requires more effort to shop ethically and sustainably on a tight budget, but it is possible. The internet is littered with resources to help us do that, but here are a few suggestions for what to consider:
>> When it comes to clothing and furniture, look at second-hand options before hitting the high street stores. And for new items, support businesses with a local, eco, and ethical mission.
>> Grow some of your own food—even if it’s just herbs, lettuce, and spring onions on your kitchen window sill, it’s a start. And with some easy successes, it can become addictive and you’ll start exploring what else you can grow in a limited space. You’ll be surprised at the available options to grow on a window sill or balcony, let alone what you can do with a little outdoor space.
>> If it comes in plastic, don’t buy it. Choose an alternative that comes in paper or cardboard. If that’s not an option (and it’s legal in your state to do so—best to check) remove the excess plastic packaging at the store and leave it there. When enough people do this, the stores will begin to put pressure on suppliers to reduce or eliminate plastic packaging. (Also, the extra effort it takes to make this little protest will motivate you to seek out more non-plastic packaged products.)
>> On that topic, get your own re-usable coffee cup and water bottle and stop using disposables (and say no to plastic straws).
>> If you’re a meat-eater, consider taking part in the Meat-Free Monday movement (and also cutting down on dairy consumption). As animal agriculture accounts for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year—that represents 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions—the single most impactful action each of us can take to positively affect climate change is to cut out animal products altogether. But if that feels too extreme, baby steps do make a meaningful difference. One person going meat free three times a week saves the equivalent of 26.7 days of personal water use and the carbon equivalent of boiling 1165.2 kettles.
>> Check the ingredients on all your usual products and research more ethical and sustainable alternatives where needed. Purely from an environmental perspective (and often with the added bonus of a humane and compassionate perspective too), products we want to avoid purchasing would be fossil-fuel derivatives, anything containing palm oil (check all your processed foods, soaps, shampoos, and detergents), and anything that comes with excessive packaging.
I’m not going to lie to you. Being a conscious consumer takes more time than the more mindless variety. But as an Elephant reader, you’re hopefully already convinced of the benefits of taking a more mindful approach to life. When we extend that to how we shop—for every single thing—we are exercising a power we often don’t realize we have.
Any movement can begin with one person. A critical mass is reached as more and more individual people get on board. And when enough people shop conscientiously, to the extent that it starts to affect profit margins, producers will look at reform.
I’m a big believer in baby steps, rather than all or nothing. If going all-out (such as becoming vegan overnight) is a stretch too far, then start small. Choose one regular item that you shop and find a more ethical alternative. And when that becomes a habit you’re comfortable with, choose another item.
Build up over time if you have to, but it’s time to stop sticking our heads in the sand. It’s important for all of our survival that we each assess our own shopping habits and begin to make different choices wherever and whenever we can.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Image: Guus Baggermans
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton