Experiment

Have you ever wondered what would happen.png

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you could actually implement all the findings from science on health and well-being into your daily life? I have. Good science tells us (and this is a blog post so you don’t get academic references but I’m a research nerd so rest assured I have them) that health and well-being can be enhanced by:

  • Not sitting for long periods of time
  • An exercise program that includes strength training and cardio training
  • Daily meditation
  • Daily yoga
  • A vegan whole food diet
  • Limiting or eliminating alcohol
  • Ensuring we have a good balance of gut flora
  • Not taking chemical intoxicants
  • Getting a minimum of 7 hours sleep a night

I do some of the above. Sometimes I do them regularly and have done so for years. I’m a runner and a meditator and those two things rarely if ever waiver. I’m also a long time vegan and understand the benefits well enough for both my own health, the environment and the suffering of other sentient beings, so I’m in no danger of caving on that front. The others though, they come and go in my life, and at 45 years old I’m still wondering what it would be like to science my life up.

So, alongside my partner in challenges – my husband, we are doing it for you. Well, we’re actually doing it for us, but you can benefit from our findings if you like. My husband and I have stepped up to lots of challenges before…it’s kind of our thing together. We’ve travelled to a developing country with a tween, trained for and completed a marathon, had a baby, made it through a whole bunch of autism diagnoses and supported each other through a PhD and a karate black belt. So this is just the next challenge in a long line for us.

Specifically, here’s what we’re doing. For 12 weeks, we are exercising daily (including a combo of running, kettlebells and body weight stuff), doing daily yoga and meditation, eating vegan whole foods only (far out, no chocolate), not drinking alcohol, not taking any chemicals (unless one of us gets injured and then the ibuprofen is ON), ensuring we are not stationary for long periods of time and getting enough sleep (child permitting).

Because we like to play hard core, we are also limiting the amount of information that comes in to our lives by having a day off the Internet and not mainlining on social media all week. The science is really not solid on the effects of that one, but we’ve been doing it for a while on a Sunday and it seems to help us slow our brains a little.

We also have the whole ethical living project underway and will continue to make sure we are not messing around with other people’s health and well-being through the things we buy. In a way, this experiment has come out of that one and seems the logical next step for us.

Coffee is in. Twice a day. Science supports that one, although yes, I know it’s a stimulant. I have done without it before but not this time. Gluten is out for me. Damn it, I really love gluten. Trust me though, it’s out.

We’ve built in some psychological first aid should we need it. We have plans for getting through cravings, cavings and ‘why are we even doing this’ moments. We know well how to support each other and most of all WE NEVER GIVE IN once we have set our course.

I have no idea what the results of this experiment will be. I’m interested in both the emotional process and the physical feelings that come up. What will my moods do, free of sugar hits? What mental thoughts will arise to justify giving up? How will I respond to these? I’m also interested in the findings at the end. Is the sacrifice of not having the odd sugar hit worth it in the long run? Does daily exercise really impact significantly on our mental health? Will I become enlightened? (that’s a joke. Really).

I’m prepared for all findings – that it makes a significant enough impact that we will continue to live like this…..that it makes some impact but the odd bottle of wine and vegan lamington (google it US friends) is perfectly fine…..that it makes no difference at all and I should just snort all the cocaine and play Xbox all day.

So here we go. We will be reporting back and in the meantime, channeling Master Yoda:

‘Do or do not…..there is not try’.

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.

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.

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

Review: Two apps to help you shop more ethically

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Image is a mobile phone with the opening page of the Good on You app
I’ve been trialling two apps that are both designed to help you figure out if the item you want to buy is ethical or not. The first is the Shop Ethical! app for Australia and
New Zealand available for free download for IOS and Android.

It’s updated every 3 months or so and includes a rating system for:

  • Appliances
  • Baby items
  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Food and Drink
  • Household
  • Office Supplies
  • Personal Care
  • Pet
  • Retail
  • Toys

The latest update also has a barcode scanner which is a fast and brilliant way to check a product when you are at the point of purchase. This app has an A-F rating system that rates a range of impacts including environmental, social, animal and business ethics. The website states that ‘Company ratings are based on information gathered from over 150 sources including the work of organisations such as Greenpeace, Choose Cruelty Free, WWF, Free2Work and Friends of the Earth’. For each product you search, it outlines praise, criticism, boycott calls and any other pertinent information.

It’s also got a ‘Get informed’ tab and a ‘Take action’ tab that allow you to go a step further in your journey to shopping ethically. I really like this app as it lists over 5000 products as well as information about companies.

The second app is the Good on You app, again available for IOS or Android and free. It allows you to search for a brand, a store or a category of item and provides you with a rating system. Launched in 2014 by Ethical Consumers Australia it currently has ratings for over 1000 fashion and accessory brands.

The rating system lists:

 

  • Great
  • Good
  • It’s a Start
  • Not Good Enough
  • We Avoid

Personally, I’d suggest avoiding anything below the ‘It’s a Start’ rating because if it’s ‘Not Good Enough’, then why buy it? When rating a product or brand, this app looks at the treatment of people, the environment and animals. The website states that when considering a rating, ‘the most reliable information about how a brand performs on an issue comes from certification schemes like Fair Trade, Ethical Clothing Australia and the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)…we also take into account information from a large number of certifications on specific issues, NGO rating projects, multi-stakeholder agreements and industry initiatives’.

This app is definitely more of a fashion app and while it looks beautiful and is really intuitive to use, it’s not yet as comprehensive as the Shop Ethical! app.

It’s never been easier to check on a product or brand now that you can have all the info right there in your phone!

Begin again

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Intentions work well for me. I ponder situations. Thoughts arise. I make an intention in my head. I say it out loud to my husband. I grow the structure of the intention and build a scaffold to make it have the best chance of success.

For the longest time my intentions are not new ones. I revisit ones that didn’t make it. Good ideas, strong plans that didn’t make it the distance. I begin again. Each time I begin again, I tweak the structures and change the scaffolds based on what I’ve learnt from the last intention that burnt out before I fulfilled it.

In 2017, I have the intention to only purchase fair trade products. The structure around this is that I will reset the intention every month. For some reason, making it to the end of a month and beginning again the next month seems to work better for me than the far away hardcore vision of 365 days of intention. I’ll post each month’s experience as it unfolds here – a month by month account of challenges I faced, choices I made, feelings I had. I want to stay present for the experience. To be there, awake, watching the excuses that arise in my brain to justify why this one time, it’s ok.

I want to know myself more as a consumer. I want to watch the desire, the fulfilment of it, how quickly it all fades once I have what I think I needed. Only to begin again in another circle of desire.

I’ve taken stock of what I own and I think I can make it to the end of 2017 without needing new clothes or shoes. I already buy only fair trade coffee to drink at home, so at least that’s sorted. Birthday gifts for others will need to be planned well in advance.

The reasons behind my intention are simple – I own enough. I don’t need to spend as much as I do, I don’t want to spend a life in a cycle of thoughtless spending. I don’t want to own goods produced by people being taken advantage of. I never have.

I’ve updated all the resources on this blog, so they’re all current at December 2016. I’ll be continuing to update them throughout the year. If you have a brand of clothing, food, coffee or toy that you’d like me to look into, let me know and I’ll do my best to determine if it is ethically produced or not.

So here I am, beginning again.