Today I’m thinking about how our home is made happy by living ethically. Living ethically is bit of a buzz word these days along with words like sustainability, organic, fairtrade and environmentalism.
So what does it mean?
Well, for me, it’s about being conscientious in all areas of my life and trying to live with integrity and compassion. There are plenty of areas where the decisions I make and money I spend is not as ethical as it could be but I try to make as many sustainable choices around our home and with what I buy. Many mainstream choices are not sustainable in terms of the environmental impact they have, or not ethical because of the way the products are made. It’s a bit awkward to talk about as I don’t want to seem sanctimonious, but here are a few areas in my life that it impacts:
Firstly, as a parent there is some amount of stuff that the companies all tell you is necessary. You don’t need much. You definitely don’t need reams of plastic toys at any stage. We tend to only buy wooden toys with a few of the plastic ones being bought second hand on gumtree. There tends to be a lot of plastic that comes in to our house as gifts, but I’ve now realised you can’t change other people’s buying habits, and that’s ok!
We also use cloth nappies and reusable nappy wipes, and the ones I bought 4.5 years ago when pregnant with Daniel are still going strong. I’ve used them from birth with both boys and have only used disposables on holiday a couple of times, I even bring cloth when we’re camping! Disposable nappies are full of chemicals, they end up in landfill sites (5,000 nappies on average per baby if they potty train at 2.5 years old) and they cost a lot more money. Cloth is better for the environment, for your baby and reusable so far more sustainable!
We bank with a building society after both deciding to move away from the standard banks years ago. We give through CARE International’s microfinance lending initiative Lendwithcare and continue to reinvest when repayments are made. It involves loaning money directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries for them to buy raw materials, expand their business or employ extra staff and it is a really fantastic way to give money. We don’t have any stocks or shares, but there are ethical ways to invest your money too.
I don’t buy my clothes from Primark or the supermarkets which are renowned for their poor ethical stance. If your tshirt cost £2 to buy, it wasn’t made ethically. The Bangladesh factory collapse a few years ago brought it all to our minds, but despite many promises following that awful incident, many of the companies involved are still selling exceptionally cheap clothes. Unfortunately it’s difficult for small ethical companies to stay in business. My favourite pairs of pants are all from Who Made Your Pants?, a worker cooperative in England that employed refugee women and used offcuts from fabric from the lingerie trade. I was gutted when they shut down about a year ago.
It does cost more to buy ethical clothing but the quality is better and actually we don’t need to buy ten new items of fashion each season. If you need cheap, charity shops are a great way to shop. You’d be surprised there are sometimes items for sale brand new with tags on! I’d love to have the courage to go down to a capsule wardrobe of only ethically sourced, organic materials but for now I just try to ensure that I support companies with a good corporate social responsibility record and limit what I buy.
We’re a one car family who use buses and trains as much as the car. We tried being a no car household before we had kids but it wasn’t doable in a city like Belfast as the public transport isn’t great once you’re out of the city, and even our bus route is only half hourly at peak times and hourly outside of peak. My husband gets the bus to work every day and I try to walk or cycle as much as I can in the morning, though do the school pick up normally in the car as Daniel needs to get home quickly for his nap! At the weekend we go out most Saturdays for an adventure somewhere and a lot of weeks that’s a train journey to another town, get brunch and come home!
Other things you can do: support small businesses locally: buy handmade products: recycle: look at moving to reusable female sanitary products; having one meat free dinner each week; menu plan to reduce food waste; and growing your own food in a vegetable patch. I’ve yet to work out how to do anything in the garden really, aside from having one tomato plant that produces lovely tomatoes (with no work from me), but would love to start with even a small herb garden.
When we’re rich by the world’s standards, we have the opportunity to make a difference with the way we buy and the way we live. I get that apathy plays a big part here – what difference can one person’s decisions make? Well, you can actually make a real difference with your own spending alone, but also the ripple effect could lead to you impacting many. With cloth nappies, for example, we’ve ‘converted’ lots of friends, some of whom only used them for six months, others use them sporadically, others full time like us. At a quick reckoning though, I reckon through me persuading others to use cloth and my using them that’s well over 40,000 less disposable nappies in landfill.
I have still so much work to do with our ethical living but I’m glad I’m bringing up my boys to question what they buy and to think as consumers about where the products we buy come from and who was involved in making the products.