The Economic Road to Sustainability – 2

Knowledge is power and it should be in the hands of the consumer. How to buy ethically in modern times? – a guest-post by Rhianna Blackthorn.

After looking at the relationship between the economy and the environment, today there is a new factor coming into the mix: consumerism.

In the face of climate change and environmental degradation, it is now evident that every aspect of our existence must be analysed for the long term well being of our species. We must protect the environment which sustains us by adopting more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. A change in farming practices may reduce our environmental footprint. For example, sheep and goat production is less damaging to the environment than beef in terms of water use, green house gas emission, soil degradation and nutrient loading. This knowledge empowers the consumer, aiding them in making a smarter choice for environment through their spending habits.

While production choices are out of direct control, a paradigm shift is needed in our consumer consciousness to force indirect change in the system. Ultimately, the buck stops with the consumer. Remember reading earlier that demand drives production? As individuals, we must be vigilant about the source of our goods and services. Educating ourselves on the environmental cost of our goods and services is a difficult task, particularly when those costs (known as externalities) are often hidden.

There are many tools available to aid the modern consumer and help them achieve a more sustainable and conscious choice in the market place. For example, many applications are available on smart phones to educate the consumer. The Shop Ethical! App is a guide that provides information to consumers on the environmental and social record of companies behind many of the brands we see commonly in supermarkets. This guide can help you steer clear of companies that are known to pollute, break environmental legislation or who impose high society externalities with their goods and services. Another app, the Australian Sustainability Seafood Guide identifies species that are over fished or harvested in an unsustainable or ecologically damaging fashion. Similar apps are available for other countries.

Most of us would have heard the term “think globally, act locally”? It has never had a truer meaning than in our current economic and environmental situation. When you purchase products, locally sourced and made options should be favoured where available. These options might be a little higher in price; however, the carbon footprint of such items will be far lower than the imported version. Visit your local farmers market to source fresh produce rather than large supermarket chains which may even be selling imported produce. Again, the price may be marginally higher; however, it is a small price to pay for environmental piece of mind.

Knowledge is power, and you wield a mighty weapon each time you go to the supermarket. Consumerism has bought us many comforts which we now know are not sustainable. It is time for us, as consumers, to become a little uncomfortable, and return to some grass root thinking. The greed cycle must be broken, and it falls to us as individuals, and as societies to do so.

This completes the two part series on the impacts of the economy on the environment by guest blogger Rhianna Blackthorn.

Rhianna Blackthorn lives in Australia with her husband and 18 year old daughter. She is a wildlife ecologist, and is currently in the final year of her Environmental Science degree. She attends university, maintains three blogs, and engages in various community activities regarding sustainability and environmental protection. Her blogs are Rhianna’s Guide to Ethical Eating, Rhi-Source and Reflections. Of herself, Rhianna writes: “I am happily married 40 years old something mother of two. I have dark hair, olive skin and brown eyes. The rest is subject to change without notice.”

Picture courtesy of sudabei, thanks!

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2 thoughts on “The Economic Road to Sustainability – 2

  1. Very interesting post and extremely thought provoking. We get what we pay for and without a doubt, sustainably produced goods tend to be more expensive than their non sustainable counterparts. As someone living on a student wage along with my husband, we know how difficult it is to remain ethical and guilt free however, as you point out, it usually involves doing a bit of research and a bit of footwork to get it right. I would like to point out health food shops as being great places to buy in bulk in your own containers. I can go to my local and get honey, tahini, shampoo, oil, peanut butter all in my own containers at a saving for the privilage. I used to go to an amazing Greek shop when I lived in Western Australia in Perth that sold EVERYTHING you could imagine out of containers. You could buy it all in their bags or you could bring your own significantly reducing the cost and the need to purchase product amounts that you didn’t need. They made and sold their own cotton bags for people who had forgotten their own and actively pushed them rather than the plastic bags. They were very cheap and stylish to boot. Australia seems to have been somewhat hijacked by the hygine police and we need to get over the fear of contracting typhoid from an open bucket of lentils before we can really get people out of plastic and back into brown paper or cotton. Cheers for the great post, love how you write 🙂

  2. In such a consumerist age one of the most immediate and striking impacts we can have on the world is simply to change our spending habits. By using our minds, mouths and wallets to support our ethics we can help put an end to the things that cause us ethical outrage.

    High among these outrages are often the companies that produce the various things we buy. We can shout at the company all we want, but if we still support them with our wallets why should they change? It is time for us to understand that we are complicit when we financially support companies that abuse and sicken the world. They will not stop until we do. We are enabling their abuse.

    Before we buy any kind of fish, we should consider the fishing industry’s impact on the health of the oceans. Before we buy any kind of meat, we should consider “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” Before we buy anything, we should consider the impacts of making it, providing it to us, using it, and on the earth around it 100 years from now. We might also ask “do I have what is needed to make it rather than buy it?” And an especially tough one: “why is buying that more important than planting a tree?”

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