‘Spend each pound as if it were a vote’. I saw a tweet (from @AnslowGwen) saying this the other day, and I loved it.
I thought it really brought to life the power that our spending decisions can have on shaping the world, especially in an era where many companies have more power over us than governments themselves.
But even though I enjoyed the immediacy of the idea, on reflection I realised that trying to make every decision an ethical one is exactly what made me switch off from the ethical shopping movement in the first place. Because frankly, it just seemed like an impossible task… so I’d give up before I started.
It’s extremely difficult to make consistently ethical shopping decisions whilst living in a system that is highly favourable to unethical business practices, such as low-paying factory work to keep prices low. Day-to-day, you might need to pick up some food from your local supermarket, and won’t always have access to the information you need to make ethical decisions. Hell, even buying shower gel can be a minefield when it comes to damaging the planet.
It’s a lot.
There was a time in the past where this line of thinking stopped me from making any real effort to make sustainable shopping decisions. I’m naturally an ‘all or nothing’ kinda guy, and I thought it was just too difficult to shop ethically all the time, so I might as well not bother at all. I’d see some butt-ugly vegan boots and go back to the Nike store instead because my desire to have something that looked cool was greater than my desire to make a change to the system.
These days, my approach has kind of changed. And, I suppose, it reflects a bit more maturity in my thinking.
First up, although it can be appealing to go ‘all in’ on your principles, sometimes it’s enough to just take realistic and achievable steps.
Instead of making an ‘ethical rule’ – for example, to always buy sustainable fashion – perhaps it’s an ‘ethical target’ to try and buy sustainable fashion whenever it’s practical for you to do so.
The ‘past me’ would have said that’s a cop-out. My current me says hey – it’s a start. And by approaching it this way, I’ve found that the proportion of clothes I’m buying from ethical sellers is increasing over time. It’s becoming more natural for me. It’s becoming easier. I’m finding places I like over time. I’m finding apps I like (‘Good On You’ is my fave) that help me check a brand’s ethical credentials at the press of a button. I’m taking my favourite Levi’s to get patched up and saving the impact of a new pair of jeans being made. I’m buying my fruit and veg from the local greengrocer instead of a corporation. Basically, I don’t have to be so drastic and fit into the stereotypical ‘dreadlocked tie-dyed hippy’ mould to be more conscious about what I’m buying – I just take easier steps instead. And whilst some people might think that that’s not enough, it’s enough for me right now because it’s a way of life that I can realistically keep up in the long-term without constantly beating myself up at every turn.
Second comes ‘Enough Thinking’. When it comes to ethical consumerism, oftentimes the most ethical decision is to just buy less. That applies to planning your food shopping better, buying less clothes, taking less flights – all sorts of things. So if you’re struggling to find sustainable brands you want to buy, perhaps an easier way to make change happen is to simply check whether you need to buy so much stuff in the first place. Instead of automatically looking to buy new stuff just because I can, I’m starting with the thought, “Do I have enough already?”. Even better, my bank balance is thanking me for it, too.
Overall, it does still mean that I don’t ‘spend every pound like it’s a vote’, as honourable as that would be. But I’m certainly casting more positive votes than I used to – and that’s a start.