It’s a trap

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As I venture further along my ethical consumption trip, I see that there are traps everywhere. The biggest one I’ve found so far is the ‘spend lots of money and feel good while continuing to screw the environment’ trap. This one involves doing internet searches for products with the word ‘organic’ before them, buying supposedly better versions of what you already own, and throwing out all your non-organic stuff in the process.

Luckily, I didn’t fall in to this one, mostly because I don’t have the spare cash and because I tend to be skeptical of everyone and everything. But it’s seductive and pervasive and I did experience some dopamine spikes when searching all the eco pretties. So many beautiful websites with velvet words like…

Eco

Sustainable

Organic

Bamboo

So many Instagram accounts with carefully crafted images meant to convey the sweet spot between quality and goodness that invite you to click through and buy your way to a better you.

The Eco trip isn’t much different to the diet industry really – they are selling you a vision of a new you. One that is thoughtful, caring and selective. Because you care. Gold star for you in your $400 Eco leather shoes. Now you just need the $500 Eco silk jacket and you’ll be able to hold your head up high.

It’s bullshit.

The bottom line is you are buying more. And if you are buying more, no matter what you are buying, you are consuming more and your consumption is adding waste to the world.

It’s also a lie.

It takes 2700 litres of water to make one cotton t-shirt

And it takes 2700 litres of water to make one organic cotton t-shirt

That wasn’t a typo. In terms of water usage, they’re the same. Organic obviously has some other benefits, not least of which is that farmers and their families aren’t being poisoned by the toxins sprayed on non-organic cotton. But even so, clearly the better choice, is to not buy either.

Bamboo is also full of lies. One retailer recently admitted that even though they advertised all their bamboo clothes as ‘eco’, they had no idea if the bamboo they were using was bamboo rayon (think chemicals) or closed loop bamboo (think righteous).

I’m not saying don’t buy anything if you actually do need to buy something. I am saying don’t buy stuff just because it’s branded as environmentally and ethically okay. It might be a lie. It might be true. But either way, you are bringing more stuff into your life, and that impacts on people and the environment. Interconnectedness works that way.

You can’t shop yourself to a better you. A better you is the one that doesn’t need any props – organic or otherwise.

When it comes to what you buy – it’s simple –

Do good. Don’t do harm. That’s ethical consumption.

Lego February Builds

IMG_0459.jpgThis month in Lego was all about the release of two new lines – the DC Superhero Girls sets and the Batman Movie sets. The Superhero girls sets are really cool. Above is Harley Quinn surprising Emmet (Set #41231, 2017

Emmet has been getting up to all sorts of fun this month. Here is he below taking a ride in the Joker’s Notorious Low Rider (the wheels actually bounce!)  with Harely Quinn and Batgirl (set #70906, 2017).

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I also built the Lego Friends Amusement park set (set #41130, 2016) and Emmet went for a spin on the Ferris Wheel with some friends.

I built the Hillside House below (set #5771) from online instructions using my existing bricks and I’m super enjoying subbing out the parts I don’t have for others. This one has solar panels! Once again, Emmet got in on the fun with the DC women.

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Next month, I’m thinking…..new Ninjago and a visit to the new Lego store!

DIY Ethical February

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This month in my commitment to only buying ethically made stuff, was all about doing it myself. Whilst I don’t need to buy any clothing for myself for some time, my 5 year old is growing out of his clothes and will need a new set for the next season. Op shop kids clothes are non existent or don’t work with his sensory needs and I don’t have access to hand me downs. He’s autistic and for him, that means that he needs super soft clothes with flat seams, elastic waists and no buttons or zips.

After buying a few GOTS certified clothes from Sweden that are perfect for him but pretty costly, I decided to try and make some clothes instead. To begin with, I tried to buy organic cotton. Go ahead, try it. You’ll find there’s not a whole lot available and it’s expensive so if you’re a new/dodgy sewer like I am, it’s a high risk endeavour.

My solution? Post consumer fabric. AKA sheets from op shops. For $15 I got two massive pieces of fabric in solid colours. I’m pretty pleased that I managed to sew a skirt for myself and some pants for my little guy, as this could be an ongoing solution to the very tricky problem of finding kids clothes made fairly that don’t cost a mountain.

I’m still feeling a strong sense of ‘the fuck?’ when I walk through my city centre. So many shops. So much fabric and plastic. So many women in other parts of the world being shafted as a result. So many of us closing our minds to the reality of suffering that lies beneath.

Just like in January, I’m finding that my travels in conscious consumerism are expanding well beyond clothing. I’m also starting to realise that my need to be online a lot means that I’m consuming a steady stream of information. I get my news online and my friends are all online, so that’s righteous. But my brain gets very full, very fast, so my husband and I decided that having Sundays off the internet would be an interesting experiment.

It’s turned out to be some kind of wonderful. Our brains are quieter and more chill by the end of Sunday so I think we’ll keep this one up. I wonder where this ethical consumer path will take me next? Onwards to March!

 

 

Bad, sad

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I’m unsettled. None of this feels right. Walking down the main shopping mall in my city has me spooked. Shop after shop of badly, sadly made clothing – most of it made from synthetics and non-organic cottons that are messing with the environment and with people’s lives.

I want to burn it all down and celebrate the flames.

I want to yell at the people shopping to STOP RIGHT NOW.

Instead I disassociate with the world around me a little and feel alien amongst it all.

There’s got to be close to 60 clothing shops surrounding me but if I wanted to buy just one thing that I was sure was made ethically – I don’t think I could find it. Why are we buying this stuff? Why don’t we care enough about the people who made this stuff to change the way we shop?

I can’t blame people because I used to buy this stuff too. But a switch has flipped in my head and it’s like opening the curtains behind a glitzy scene to reveal the horrors that lie beyond it. It’s JUST like the switch that flipped when I went vegan. Now I walk past people eating meat and it’s such a horror to me that I don’t understand how people can do it.

Why do we draw the lines where we do?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same religion as you?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same race as you?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same sexual identity as you?

Do you only feel compassion for those of the same species as you?

Why don’t we extend our compassion beyond our comfort zones? I don’t know. I know that it isn’t easy to go against the mainstream and that doing so takes time and effort and uncertainty.

I know some people just don’t seem to care.

I know more who do care though but still draw boundaries around their compassion, extending it to some, but not others. I know I’ve done this in the past too.

Once I know though, I can’t un-know. Trying to do so makes parts of me contract and the result is that I move through the world like I’m moving through thick, sticky humidity. It’s not comfortable and there’s no way to relax until my actions match what I know. It’s not living, walking through my life like that. It’s just existing and denying and covering up what’s really going on.

Deciding to unplug from the shopping matrix might be challenging but the result is a life less small and tight. There’s freedom in stepping outside of a system that causes suffering.

Where do you draw the lines of compassion?

Can you stretch them?

Ethical products – they’re lying

What does an ‘ethical product’ mean to you?

Because I’m seeing a whole lot of claims by brands selling ‘ethical products’ that are way short of the mark. They have beautiful websites with children frolicking in the woods playing with toys made from sustainable wood wearing whimsical frocks – but behind the scenes are women in sweatshops and farmers getting cancers from pesticides in their cotton fields. It’s not an ethical product if:

  • It was made by people who aren’t being paid a fair wage
  • It was made by people whose health is negatively impacted on by the manufacturing process (toxic dyes, inadequate ventilation in factories, pesticides in cotton farming)
  • It was made using materials or processes that release toxins into the environment (toxic run off from factories into waterways)
  • It was made using materials that come from animals (there’s no such thing as ‘ethical leather’)

There are a whole lot of businesses out there that tick all the right boxes for being good to the environment – but don’t seem to care much about the conditions of the people making their product. Some of these businesses have ‘ethical product’ claims all over their website, but when you ask them for more information on where they make them and how they ensure that the people making them are treated well – they have nothing to say. Or they say some version of ‘they’re made in China but it’s all ok because they tell us it is’.

I’ve sent off a lot of enquiries over the last month asking businesses that brand themselves as selling ‘ethical products’ to tell me more about their supply chains. Some respond that they have certifications that ensure that they treat workers fairly – but when I look into those certifications, they guarantee only the environmental aspect of their materials….and say nothing about the people making the products.

Many don’t reply at all. Which says a lot.

What I’ve come to learn is that businesses that DO ensure that their supply chains are ethical are proud that they have done so and will let you know clearly about this on their websites. They’ll either tell you in the ‘About Us’ section of the site or they’ll have certifications clearly displayed. These are the images you’re looking for:

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If something you want to buy doesn’t have these assurances all over their website, go ahead and email them. Companies that ensure ethical practices will respond with gusto to your enquiry and excitedly tell you about all they do to make sure people are treated fairly in the factories they manufacture in. They might tell you the names and addresses of their factories, the companies that oversee third-party inspections on them and let you know they have mapped their supply chain. They’ll thank you for caring about how the things you buy are made.

Businesses that have no idea about the conditions in the factories that they manufacture in will stay very silent on the issue or offer you vague reassurances to placate you enough to buy their stuff. Don’t fall for it. They’re hoping that your definition of an ‘ethical product’ will be flexible enough to let them pass.

An ethical product is one that causes no suffering to people, animals and the environment.

Everything else is latching onto the ‘ethically made’ bandwagon and telling lies.

January Report – Glow stick fail

The first month of my ‘buy nothing that isn’t ethically made in 2017’ project is over and it’s been 99% successful. The 1% is the crappy plastic glow stick that I auto bought on entry to a theme park place that my kid chose to go to on his first official day of unschooling. Being autistic, I always stumble when a sales person says something I don’t expect them to say. I was prepared for buying the tickets, receiving some information….but not for ‘here you need to buy this for $2 to use inside’. Um, ok. Thanks.

Wait. What just happened?

Clearly I will need to be more prepared for these types of moments in future.

Apart from this auto purchase, I didn’t bring anything else into the house that is made off the backs of people being treated unfairly. I didn’t bring anything much into the house at all really, apart from food.

That’s a spill over of this project I think. You start thinking more broadly about consumption and the idea of being responsible for the creation of more new products isn’t tasty at all anymore.

I’ve been mainlining podcasts as usual. Episode 33 of Conscious Chatter featured Christina Dean, founder and CEO of Hong Kong based NGO Redress. She mentioned that around 11 000 garments are dumped into landfill every hour in Hong Kong. That’s one country. And one hour.

So the idea of adding to that is just not appealing at all.

I also stopped using take away coffee cups and dragged out the reusable coffee cup I already had but rarely bothered to take with me. Given that each take away coffee cup can take up to 50 years to break down in landfill, I’m glad I’m finally making the effort. And I can’t buy cotton that isn’t organic because just no to all those pesticides and the impact they have on cotton farmers. So that’s a few other products out.

I did buy a set of reusable bamboo cutlery to throw in my bag for those rare times I eat out for lunch. It was pretty easy to look up its eco credentials online as I stood in the shop with it in my hands. You have to watch bamboo as it’s not always good for the environment. It depends on how its grown and processed. This stuff passed the test though, so it now comes with me and my reusable coffee cup.

I thought toys might be a challenge as my 5 year old has a bit of an addiction to small trinket toys. His dad did have a conversation with him in front of the Hot Wheels cars display at the supermarket about the people who make them and how they aren’t paid the right amount of money and it’s not fair. I wondered how this would go down but the kid has an inbuilt sense of fairness, so he accepted it. Nerf guns will be a whole other conversation though.

On reflection, the process of switching over to only buying ethically made products reminds me of when I went vegan. It’s a bit research intensive at the start – you need to look stuff up and think in advance before buying. I found I relied on two apps to help me make the right choices and I’m so grateful that these exist.

I think it will get easier over time as I build my knowledge of what stores I can shop in and what brands are ok. In the meantime, I’m sticking with the work of learning to do better.

Onwards to February.

This month in Lego builds

I had some fun with Emmet this month, finding new places to stash him for my Instagram series ‘The Continuing Adventures of Emmet’. My awesome husband did some animation magic on one of my builds and I built an entire set (Family House #31012, 2013) from online instructions. It was extra fun to try and figure out how to replace pieces that I didn’t have in my own collection.

Image above is an animation of Lego Mini figure Emmet riding a motorcycle out of a garage door on a small house as it opens.

I re-created my first Lego Set (#230 Hairdressing Salon, 1978)…and added Emmet. I didn’t get much Lego as a kid as it was considered a ‘boy toy’ back then. I think I got this one because the theme of hairdressing salon was one of Lego’s first attempts at marketing to girls. It worked!

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Image above is a basic Lego hairdressing Salon with Lego Mini figure Emmet’s head displayed in the window

Below is me in my happy place. Every weekend, I like/need to spend some time touching and creating with my brick friends. 

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Image of me in my happy place – sitting on the floor surrounded by containers of Lego

The Vollkswagen T1 Camper van (set #10220, 2011) is one of the hardest builds I’ve done. Really fiddly. This was my second time at building and Emmet joined the party. 

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Image of Lego VW Camper Van with Emmet at the wheel

I have a thing for building toilets. Who knew? Here’s Emmet sitting on the toilet from Lego Friends (set #41038 Jungle Rescue, 2014).

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Image description: Toilet from Lego Friends Animal Rescue set with mini fig Emmet sitting on it

Some fun with the kid displaying the First Order Special Tie Fighter (set #75101, 2016)

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Image description: Lego Star Wars TIE fighter with mini fig Emmet operating it

And a cool MOC by my son!

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Image description: My son’s MOC vehicle with mini fig Emmet at the controls

Ethical Electronics – what to buy and what to avoid

Using the Baptist World Aid 2016 Ethical Electronics guide, I’ve provided an easily accessible snapshot of which brands you should seek out and which to avoid when buying electronic goods.

The Baptist Guide does the work for us, comprehensively investigating companies on the processes they follow in all phases of supply chain production – extraction, smelting and refining, components manufacturing and final manufacturing. The Guide examines four areas for each company:

  • Policies
  • Traceability and transparency
  • Monitoring and training
  • Worker Rights

Combining results from all those categories together, the Guide gives each brand a rating from A to F, with ‘A’ being the highest rating possible. In 2016, overall no brands received and ‘A’ rating. Based on the Guide, next time you need to buy electronics –

Give preference to these brands, which scored a B+ grading:

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Image of electronic waste and text reading ‘Ethical Electronics Guide Top Scorers (B+ Rating) Acer, Apple, Bosch, Intel, LG, Microsoft, Moto, Neff, Nokia, Siemens, Xbox, Zelmer. Leiasolo.com’

Don’t buy these brands, which scored lower than a C grading:

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Image of electronic waste with text reading ‘Ethical electronics guide lowest scorers (D-F rating). Don’t buy Amazon Echo, Fire & Kindle, Canon, Fujitsu, HTC, Kitchen Aid, Lenovo, Whirlpool, Dyson, Fisher & Paykel, Go Pro, Kogan, Soniq, Sunbeam, Teac, Thermomix, Polaroid. Leiasolo.com’.

An interesting note is that of the 56 brands reviewed only two brands paid a (partial) Living Wage (Dick Smith Electronics and Garmin). The rest don’t pay a living wage to all those in the supply chain. Although the report highlights that 64% of companies reviewed showed some improvement, there is still a very long way to go and even companies who scored a B+, like Apple, have been associated with the use of child labour and excessive working hours in their factories in China. E-waste is also a growing environmental toxic disaster and the practice of the West exporting its toxic e-waste to China has been called ‘Toxic Imperialism’. 

For these reasons, please consider buying second hand or doing without where possible before buying any electrical goods. 

To download or order your own copy of the Guide, visit: https://baptistworldaid.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Feb16-Electronics-Report-Aus-version-FINAL.pdf

idk

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There’s a lot that I don’t know and some that I can’t work out no matter how much I try. That’s the case for everyone I’m sure. But some of this is assumed to be stuff that I should know or be able to figure out given that I’m an adult and a ‘professional’. This can sometimes make my life and work pretty stressful and leave me feeling like a fraud.

It’s often said that autistic people have some areas that they excel in and are ahead of their peers in and other areas that they are ‘behind’ in. This experience was true of me as a child and has remained true for me as an adult. As a child, I was considered by most of my teachers to be clever, except in maths where I was accused of not trying and shamed for struggling. As an adult, I have learnt that like some other autistic people, I have dyscalculia, meaning that my brain cannot make any sense out of numbers and maths concepts and trying to feels physically uncomfortable – even painful. I must have found a way to communicate this to my teachers because I was eventually ‘excused’ from maths class at 14 years old. I have a vague memory of tears and fleeing the classroom – which I now understand as a very public meltdown.

In adulthood, it’s considered more common to hold specialised knowledge in some areas and not in others. This is a function of our jobs and a result of our life experience. For example, I don’t know how to operate a bulldozer but I do know how to conduct research. I think for this reason, we sometimes don’t understand how these differences in autistic neurology show up in adulthood.

For me, it’s like this – within my job I have some things that I don’t understand and have trouble making sense of that others expect that I can understand and make sense of. I’ll call this ‘assumed knowledge’. We may be fire fighters or garment workers or babysitters or stay at home parents or doctors and each comes with some specialised knowledge areas. All share assumed knowledge though and lacking in this will make the job sometimes impossible. For example, a fire fighter needs to understand how to operate their equipment and it will be assumed they can also follow a set of safety instructions as well. A stay at home parent can prepare food for their young children and it will be assumed that they are able to arrange a doctor appointment for their child if required. An academic (like me) will have skills in conducting research projects and teaching students and it will be assumed they are able to make sense of emails and fill in the many forms that come with the job.

Just like in math class all those years ago, not being able to demonstrate assumed knowledge feels embarrassing. Asking for help to do something that others imagine you can do – believe that you should be able to do given the skills and knowledge you demonstrate in other areas of your life – is risky. Memories of being shamed in childhood are not easily erased and it remains a fact that autistic adults experience higher rates of unemployment and are not promoted on par with non-autistics.

Like many of the things that I used to think were my own failings, I’m beginning to reassess this situation in light of what I now know about my autistic neurology. This process has me questioning the whole idea that autistics are ‘behind’ in some areas and ‘ahead’ in others. It implies we may have the ability to ‘catch up’ in those areas we find challenging and I’m just not sure this is always the case and nor should it be.

For example, no matter how hard I try to understand math, I can’t. No matter how many times I re-read a particular email from a colleague, I may never be able to make sense of it. No matter how many times I follow instructions on how to complete a particular form at work, it may remain un-doable for me. I put much more effort in trying to do the work of making sense of the stuff that doesn’t make sense to me than I do in going about the rest of my job. And yet, these things never get clearer or easier for me like many of the other tasks on the job do as you get more experience with them.

Rather than comparing our abilities to our peers and coming up ahead or behind, either in the schoolyard or the workplace, I think we should instead frame this as our unique autistic neurological signatures. For too long these comparisons with our peers have hurt autistic people. They’ve seen us ending up in special ed or enrolled in therapies as small children and held us back in the workplace as adults.

Instead, I want us to be accepted and celebrated for our beautiful autistic neurologies. Neurologies that see us travelling down a different path in a completely different way towards an entirely different place. We don’t learn in a linear, stackable, predictable pattern arriving at some destination called ‘functioning adult’. We may not share your ‘assumed knowledge’ or demonstrate your ‘adult skills’. We are disabled by trying to make ourselves function in ways that we are not best able to function in and need schools and families and workplaces to stop being so rigid and bend a little to make room for us.

We are not behind or ahead. We are autistic.