Updated: May 30, 2022
“We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” – Native American Proverb
It’s all well and good to have a modest home and practice sustainability within, but step outside and you’re faced with consumerism gone mad. Most of the things within this comprehensive guide I practice myself, others I am still establishing or not yet applicable to my life. Simply though, being an eco-warrior means being prepared and well researched.
Green and Produce Bags – Taking your own bags is one of the simplest things you could do when shopping, it makes a statement and you avoid contributing to the plastic bag epidemic. I think it’s refreshing to remember that before plastic, people did their shopping with cane baskets… I keep ample green bags in my car boot. Something new for me is also taking my own produce bags. Though I have never bagged produce, taking cotton or mesh produce bags permits me to buy pretzels from containers or loose items like onions in larger quantities without packaging.
“Buy Local”, sometimes – Peter Singer, an ethics philosopher, suggests it is too simplistic to recommend everyone “Buy Local”. Buying locally keeps your money circulating in your community, including supporting smaller local farmers. The compelling environmental argument for buying local is that the lesser distance the food has to travel to become available to consumers, the less carbon dioxide emissions produced and plastic packaging required. However, Peter suggests “Buying local food, when it is in season, is generally a good thing to do, but sometimes there a stronger ethical reasons for buying imported food”. Examples of when it can be considered more ethical to purchase internationally imported products includes coffee, tea and chocolate. These are all products that provide incomes to people in developing countries. Hence, you could opt for products with Fair Trade certification to ensure sustainable farming and higher earning benefits for the people labouring to sell their local commodities. Loving Earth chocolate is a perfect example of this, with many varieties made with single origin Certified Organic Raw Cacao (55%) from Peru and hand-made in Melbourne. Imported fairly traded, organic commodity plus a local job. It’s then our job to spend a few more cents and support this highly ethical practice.
Shop Ethical or Shop Less – People who’ve recently gone vegan often ask me about clothes. Even before going vegan I was concerned about the ethics of what I wore in a different way. We often buy things that look nice on the rack, without much consideration for the environmental, social or animal welfare concerns. A few years ago I became aware of an app called Shop Ethical! It’s $5 to buy from the App Store and provides ratings from A-F on brands of everything from appliances to personal care items. Shop Ethical! suggests ethical shopping can take on subtle forms:
Positive buying: such as favouring ethical products (fair trade, organic, cruelty free etc). Shop Ethical! considers this act the most important as it directly supports progressive companies. This would take the form of buying cosmetics with vegan certification or getting the raw vegan slice, even if you just went in to purchase the coffee!
Negative purchasing: Avoiding products you disapprove of such as meat, dairy, highly polluting cars.
Company based purchasing: targeting a business as a whole. For example, I have boycotted Nestle and other unethical companies. This sort of action at critical mass, encourages the company to become more ethical to be more competitive.
The five principles Shop Ethical! prescribes to are:
Every purchase makes an impact: If you still don’t yet believe this I haven’t achieved my objective!
Ask “Do I need it?”: Around 80% of items are discarded after single use. Shopping lists are easy way to reduce impulsive, discretionary shopping.
Learn about issues, one at a time: Starting with the products you buy most frequently. For most of us, this will mean researching food and clothing companies.
Consider “What do I value?”: Prioritise your values but know you will often have to make trade-offs.
Make lasting change: Celebrate good choices, create good habits and share your discoveries.
To make an informed choice about your next purchase, I really recommend using Shop Ethical! to navigate it. Of course, where possible, purchasing from op-shops and repairing clothes to get the longest life out of them is ethical practice.
Don’t Shop At All: Dumpstering and Freeganism – One of the most conflicting parts about transitioning to a zero (low) waste lifestyle is that my produce is often scavenged from my workplace, which gets an excess of produce donated from Second Bite. Though it is awesome to freely access food rescued from landfill, there is often lots of plastic. I recycle the soft plastic via Red Cycle at Coles. I have also started collecting the rubber bands that are tied around leafy greens, I’ve almost filled a mason jar in a few short months!
You don’t necessarily need to get in a dumpster to be greener, wherever possible salvage food that would otherwise be wasted. One initiative around this is The Odd Bunch at Woolworths, produce to ugly to be considered for the shelf. Use your positive buying capacity to show your support for thoughtful initiatives like these.
Keep Cup – The Keep Cup is to take-away coffee what green bags are to shopping – simple, trendy and an effective solution to reduce your plastic waste. I bought one in my first year of uni and have only just upgraded to a glass one. This year I have been buying them as gifts!
Boycott Bottled Water and Soft Drinks – In the plastic fight, buying bottled water is almost the equivalent of eating red meat: bad for your health and wasteful in every way. Buy a metal or glass bottle and refill it over the course of its long life. I was never allowed to drink soft drink so I don’t understand the hype but if you do drink them be sure to recycle the packaging. But if you care about your health – boycott Coke and the others all together.
BYO Utensils – Most Zero Waste bloggers have a section on their website in which you can “shop” and purchase metal, wooden or bamboo straw, spoon, knife, fork etc. These are on my list of Zero Waste items to purchase, and will be essential for camping, festivals, events with street food and some cafes and restaurants. Moreover, BYO container to be filled with your desired take away, rather than plastic containers is also a gamer.
Public Transport – By far the most ethical mode of transport, I enjoyed this lifestyle for the course of my four year undergrad degree. Even if you own a car, utilise public transport wherever feasible.
Cars – If you’re going to have a car, make a thoughtful purchase. I’ve bought a car within the last week! I choose a Toyota Yaris, not only because I like the look of them but because Toyota, as a company, is making more environmentally responsible cars and this model in particular has an amazing green rating.
Planes – They may be safer than cars but they certainly are not greener, fly thoughtfully! I think of all things vegans do, excessive flying is where our greatest carbon emissions are generally produced. Consider paying a few cents to offset you carbon emissions, the airline uses this money to compensate the flight emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. For example, Qantas has carbon offset projects to conserve wildness and forests in Kangaroo Island and my island home, Tasmania.
Green Workplaces – Somewhat sadly, I spend more waking hours at work than I do at home. Everything you can do to make your house greener, you also arguably have a responsibility to do in your workplace. I found a compost bin and took it to work as we have lots of kitchen scraps. I also made many tedious calls to be able to get our business recycling bin picked up fortnightly by the council! If you work in an office, be mindful of your paper waste too.
Banking – I’ve been with CommBank since I was 14 but I’m preparing to change to Bank Australia. I saw an ad for them on SBS a few months ago and it was the first time I’d considered banking ethically.
Superannuation – I had been with a member owned industry super fund before I even knew what superannuation was. I merged that into a CommBank super fund last year to have all my accounts in the one place, then, this year I realised what a mistake that was. Aside from being one of the Big Four and hence, a law upon itself, Four Corners reported earlier this year how CommInsure uses unscrupulous tactics to take consumers’ money and avoid insurance pay-outs, leaving customers paying "money for nothing" at the most difficult moments of their lives. I am now with Australian Ethical Super.
I’ve come to learn the value of money; how we make it, where we keep it and how we spend it are all personal choices and I love the challenge of getting the best bang for my buck. As well as choosing to proudly put my money where my mouth is and support businesses and campaigns that align with my values.
P.S. If you haven’t read The Barefoot Investor do yourself a financial favour, then pay it forward.
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
How to make your own produce bags: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/how-make-your-own-re-usable-fruit-and-vegetable-bags/
To get Victoria up to speed with greener states: http://www.plasticbagfreevictoria.org/
The Ethics of What We Eat – Peter Singer and Jim Mason
To read about Loving Earth farmers in Australia and in developing countries: https://lovingearth.net/our_growers
To watch video about the ethics of buying cheap clothes: https://www.facebook.com/grist.org/videos/10154010779259809/
8 Simple Rules for Creating a Sustainable Wardrobe – Good on You: http://goodonyou.org.au/8-simple-rules-for-creating-a-sustainable-wardrobe
Buy well and repair when necessary: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/diy-dont-throw-away-your-old-clothes-repair-them/
I wrote fairly extensively on the freegan principles I’ve adopted in my blog already: https://www.jivamuktiyogawithmeg.com/post/the-environmental-impact-animal-and-food-waste
To read more about freegan lifestyles visit: http://freegan.info/.
The Life Cycle of a Plastic Bottle: https://www.facebook.com/TEDEducation/videos/1182406945105843/
Qantas Future Planet Project: https://www.qantas.com/au/en/frequent-flyer/partners/fly-carbon-neutral.html
Reconsider your next short flight: http://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/why-you-should-reconsider-next-short-haul-flight/
Change the world by changing where you bank – Tom and Angus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrOrGyxwqXo
Money For Nothing (4 Corners investigation of CommBank Life Insurances): http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2016/03/07/4417757.htm