Embracing Fair Trade and Sustainability One Imperfect Step At A Time
The Eat Pray Love cliche is to have a spiritual experience when you travel to Bali. It's hard not to - evidence of God permeates life, from the handmade offerings on sidewalks and dashboards to the way drivers cram 4 people on an electric scooter, drive them 8 across, and manage not to crash.
One of the big lessons I learned on our Bali trip, one that has changed my day-to-day decisions more than anything, was the realization of how my choices in Canada affect the lives of people around the world. Prior to this trip, I had felt so much ennui about trying to change my habits. But Bali made me want to change.
It took two moments for me to change my ennui about committing to purchasing fair trade and/or sustainable goods. The first was our snorkeling trip. Imagine sitting on a pristine beach, sinking in the sand, and spying a small Hindu shrine out of the corner of your eye. Next to the shrine is a heaping pile of plastic bottles. Villagers clear bottles off the beach every morning, but Bali lacks efficient recycling infrastructure. The bottles pile up, their own little temple to the world's wastefulness. I didn't want that pile to reflect my choices.
The second moment was after we had come home. I picked up a shirt of Breccan's, and the tag said “Made In Indonesia”. I remembered how much I admired the way of life of the Balinese. How kind the people were, how they took care of their community. I realized part of my job as a consumer was to do my best to make sure the people making my products were treated fairly and ethically.
Over the last 6 months I have been slowly changing over habits to create a less wasteful, more fair trade home. I have definitely not been perfect. With 2 young children, it isn't easy to avoid disposable products. And I am working to tackle my own “splurge” habit of buying things I don't need.
Here are a few tips I have found helpful in reducing our waste and not supporting modern slavery practices.
(1) Just Don't Buy It
The easiest, cheapest secret to reducing your impact on the environment is to simply not buy things you don't absolutely need. All we NEED in life is food, a safe and (reasonably) clean home, transportation, exercise, sleep, and love. Oh, and a bathroom. Everything else is a want.
(2) Consult The Buyerarchy of Needs
Sarah Lazarovic’s concept of the Buyerarchy of Needs is a great tool for checking yourself before you automatically buy something.
Isn't it amazing how often we go STRAIGHT to the top of that pyramid? Borrow almost never occurs to me, and I forgot swap was even a thing!
(3) Change One Thing A Month
If you try and change your entire ecological footprint and go zero waste in a week, you're going to hate it. You won't commit to the change. You'll be back to old habits in a jiffy. Aim to implement 1 change per month, or make choices as they come. For example, right now our big focus is remembering to bring reusable bags to the grocery store. This summer, I've been educating myself on places to buy clothing for myself and my children that isn't fast fashion. I have also found some products for my kitchen so we use less plastic. More on some of these changes in a future post.
(4) Aim for Imperfection
Have I forgotten bags at the grocery store? Yup. Have I bought some clothes from companies I know don't have a good track record of worker safety. Guilty. Production lines are long, from the thread used, to the buttons and zippers, to the cotton grown. Sustainable denim and leather is controversial as a mater. The learning curve is steep, and it seems impossible that our single action makes any measurable change. That doesn't mean you don't try. If everyone committed to a few small changes, big changes would happen.
(5) Don't Be A Jerk About It
Don't burden other people with your purchasing decisions. Don't call out other people's decisions. Don't be ungrateful if you're gifted something. Don't get into fights on Facebook. Do educate when the situation is brought up. Do keep learning from other people.
I hope these 5 tips inspire you to make a few changes. It isn't easy, but I try and think about those two moments when I am struggling with a decision.
What are some of your tricks for better sustainability? Are there things that trip you up or problems you haven't solved (the current one I am struggling with is yogurt that doesn't come in plastic)? What are some of your favourite ethical brands?