Wednesday, March 4, 2009

ethical consumerism

Within the last year, I have consciously undergone a major consumer overhall. I guess it started when David bartered for just about all of the gifts he gave me for my birthday last year. Bartered. He hates the ideology of money, so he is constantly looking for barters and trades. Recently, he traded for a new set of tires for his work van, for a laptop, for my birthday gift this year, for massages and home repairs and a new banjo. It is amazing to me that he is so talented. At about this time, though, I read, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Paul Hawken. The following is a brief video Paul Hawken speaking about his book and the WiserEarth movement: I initially thought about boycotting money, but I could not figure that into the Big Picture, with filling up the car, and a few other relatively necessary odds and ends. So I decided to leap head-first into ethical consumerism. I made a point to buy products and services that are sold and provided by companies who are publically making an effort to promote the greater good (as opposed to fattening their wallets). My personal guidelines for following ethical consumerism? I look for organic, cruelty free, locally produced, fairtraded, reused and recycled products. So, how do I do this? Well, first of all, I am vegetarian. I chose this path originally about five or six years ago, not only for nutritional reasons, but also for a variety of ethical reasons. Eating meat has a major effect on the earth, but more importantly to me, it has a major effect on the quantity of food that is available for human consumption. I do not remember where I originally read these statistics, but they changed my complete outlook on life, so here they are anyway: it takes approximately 4.5 pounds of grain to make one pound of chicken meat, 7.3 pounds of grain to produce one pound of pork. The world's cattle alone consume the amount of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people, which is more than the entire human population. Around 1.4 billion people could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to cattle in the United States alone. Wouldn't it be far more benificial to use these grains for human consumption, to fight the hunger and famine that is plaguing billions of people around the world, rather than to feed farmed animals for rich, fat Americans? You do not have to give up meat entirely to make a difference--just eat smaller quantities. Not only am I vegetarian, I also seek out locally-grown, in-season fresh fruits and vegetables. Locally grown, organic foods have less impact on the environment (chemicals are not sprayed on them, no hormones; they are not shipped far, so we save gasoline and energy; and freshly picked is more likely to mean "vine-ripened," and will be more nutritious). Check out Local Harvest for organics, farmers' markets, and co-ops near you. Products that I buy MUST be cruelty free. The dairy and eggs I buy must be from free-range, naturally fed animals. No animal testing. I do not purchase commerical cleaners or personal hygine products, which also cuts down on animal cruelty as well as pollution. Fairtrade items are a little harder to come buy, though more and more companies are surfacing who offer such products. What is fairtrade? Wikipedia defines fairtrade certification as "a product certification system designed to allow people to identify products that meet agreed environmental, labour and developmental standards." Fairtrade products include items that are made without child labor or forced labor, without unsanitary or dangerous working conditions, and for which workers are paid decent wages. Reusing items is important. I try to buy second-hand when possible. I shop thrift shops and garage sales. When I no longer need an item, I either pass it on, resell it, or trade it for something I need, want, or can use. Also, then the item does not end up in a land-fill, rotting away--and someone else can use and enjoy it. We have a collection of cloth bags I keep in my car for produce and groceries. We use cloth diapers, pads, and napkins rather than their disposable (and costly) counterparts. In the kitchen, we reuse glass jars for food storage and glass bottles for taking beverages along with--and we use dish cloths and rags in place of disposable paper towel. I also use family cloth over toilet paper--and toss it in the cloth diaper pail until laundry day. I also recycle whatever I can. I also pay close attention to items that have a lot of packaging that cannot be recycled, and choose to buy items with little or no packaging instead. As an ethical consumer, I have also taken it in turn to boycott companies that I believe are unethical. What especially comes to mind is the companies who disregard the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, corporations that provide unsafe or unethical working conditions, and companies who impose their will on indigenous cultures. Some of the industries to watch out for/companies on my boycott list include: the gasoline, timber, mining, paper, dams and waterways, and coca eradication industries, Disney, Nestle, Coca-Cola, World Bank, Chevron, and the USDEA are all various culprits. There are so many levels of ethical consumerism, and I am learning more and more every day. I hope to increase my support of the little people out there, who ever they are, decrease my dependence on corporate America, and improve and preserve Mother Nature. Every little thing I do will make a difference in the long run.

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