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5 ways to get your ethical living on
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
5 ways to get your ethical living on
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
5 ways to get your ethical living on
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
25 March 2015

5 ways to get your ethical living on

Handy tips from someone who lives and breathes fair trade.

Written by Emma Crane

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Being a conscientious consumer and living ethically doesn’t need to be a daunting task. Emma Crane from the Ethical Living Challenge shares five things she’s learned on her own path to becoming a more ethical consumer.

1. Know the stories behind your goods

Who made the clothes you’re sitting in? The food you ate today? Your morning coffee? It’s time to get connected: set some time aside to really get to know the stories behind your purchases. Chat to people you buy products from—and arm yourself with information.

A great resource to consult is the Shop Ethical! guide which provides an overview of some key issues surrounding the products on our shelves and suggests some ethical alternatives. You can buy the hard copy guide and iPhone app from their website–well worth the investment. You can also sign up to Otter, a fortnightly sustainable and ethical living newsletter. If you love online shopping, add Good on You’s Ethical Shopping Assistant extension to your Chrome browser—when you’re thinking of buying something, simply click on the Ethical Shopping Assistant tool and it will tell you a brand’s ethical rating (it has 1,300 brands on its database).

2. Look for ethical buying shortcuts, like Fair Trade

The more research you do, the more you’ll be horrified by the reality of many of the products we buy and use: child labour, low wages, appalling working hours, land grabs, chemical contamination. But there are alternatives. Fair Trade is a powerful means of addressing poverty and injustice in the developing world because of the stringent criteria that must be met by businesses.

You can make the transition to a Fair Trade lifestyle incrementally (look for the Fair Trade label in Australia and New Zealand). If there’s a product you can swap for a Fair Trade alternative, do that. If you can’t, think about local alternatives like buying from farmers’ markets where it’s easier to understand the source of goods. I like to get food staples and gifts from Oxfam Shop and there are some great online stores like Blue Caravan. You could challenge yourself to go 100% Fair Trade (where applicable) for a time period—I did a month last year in Perth and it showed me how few places actually use Fair Trade products. As a customer, my refusal to support a café if they didn’t have Fair Trade beans sent a message to them—and I then knew which cafés to go back to and discuss making the switch.

3. Go beyond boycotting

Boycotting products and businesses is a great symbolic means of activism but it works best when complemented by further action. Unless you’re part of a large boycott against a particular brand, it’s unlikely that the business you’re targeting will know that you’re boycotting them unless you actually tell them. Why are you boycotting them? What are the values and practices that you are against? How do you want them to change? Remind them that you’re a valuable consumer and you have a wide circle of influence. If the company won’t listen to the ethics of the situation, they’ll certainly be listening to the business side of things.

Be prepared for a poor response or no response at all–when I sent letters to 17 fashion companies recently, I got about four replies. While one of these was positive, the others simply gave a vague description of their corporate social responsibility actions and directed me to their charity page. If you’re not satisfied with the response you get, press further. Can they send through a code of conduct? Can they prove that their manufacturing employees work in safe conditions and that they don’t use child labour? What about environmental practices? As a consumer, you are important to businesses. That’s a powerful position to be in, so use it as best you can.

4. Become an influencer

Doing lots of things to change the world is fantastic. But you know what’s even better? Lots of people doing lots of things. It’s a pretty simple equation, but it can truly be the difference between a symbolic gesture and an entire movement. Ethical living is a movement that’s gaining a lot of momentum around the world, but Australia still lags behind places like the UK. So what can you do? Start talking to your friends, family and work colleagues about the stories behind their purchases. If you’re passionate about a particular issue or area of ethical living, you could search for local activist groups and join them. Don’t underestimate the power of things like posters, too: the right one in the right place might make people question their coffee and swap for a Fair Trade alternative. If you can change just one person’s outlook and lifestyle, that’s a win.

5. Start a Fair Trade community

The Fair Trade Association runs an initiative called Fair Trade Communities where schools, universities, workplaces, faith groups, towns and clubs must meet certain requirements to show their commitment to Fair Trade. Once they meet the criteria–such as using Fair Trade products as the default option in kitchens–they can apply to be a Fair Trade Community. Over the past three years, I’ve initiated the Fair Trade Community transition for my local suburb, high school, university and residential college. There’s a bit of groundwork involved but it’s absolutely achievable. Think about the networks and communities that you could influence, then have a read of the guidelines before making the pitch to the appropriate people. I certainly experienced some hurdles in my efforts, but they taught me the importance of persistence and patience.

Emma Crane

Emma Crane is a student at the University of Melbourne. Her biggest ethical role model is Peter Singer. She loves to write and drink tea and is the founder and director of the Ethical Living Challenge which you can sign up for here (it’s free!).

Feature image by Jasmin Ashton

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