Friday, 3 April 2009

Buying ethically Vs frugality?

by Eilleen
Consumption Rebellion

Last year, I had to travel for work. I really don't like like travelling for work and resist it when I can. However, this occassion stood out for me in more ways than one and thought I'd share... (xposted from my personal blog)

This morning I sat on an airplane on my way to a work meeting and I picked up the Airline's inflight magazine and had a bit of a chuckle when I realised that the entire magazine was dedicated to the theme of "GOING GREEN". In it, there was a run down of the different types of petrol cars use and the carbon footprint, changes top business men have made in their personal lives to go "Greener" etc etc. All very superficial (concentrating on the "Being Seen to be Green" as opposed to actually "Being Green") and all very ironic given that there was no mention (at least what I can find during the 30 mins I spent reading the mag) of the carbon footprint of this airline or even air travel in general, and steps towards offsetting it.

Another article on that magazine was about a reporter who decided to "try out" being ethical in their eating habits for a weekend. In the end, she concluded that ethical eating was "too expensive and too time-consuming". Okay, so no suprises there given the whole superficiality of the magazine and the superficiality of her commitment to ethical eating.

Having said that, her conclusion is no doubt a common opinion amongst many many people. The thing though is that changing consumption habits (whether its food or things or whatever) takes time and commitment before one can start seeing that it doesn't *have* to be expensive or time-consuming.

Expensive ethical consumption happens when you try to fit a lifetime of consumption habits and try to make it fit an ethical framework. It is no doubt the reason why so many people get taken aback the first time they venture into a Fairtrade shop - immediately you can see them thinking "well, geez, if it costs this much, then I wouldn't be able to buy X and Y or buy ten Xs". I think the fallacy of this thinking is not the cost of the item but the second part of this thinking - "the I wouldn't be able to buy X and Y". Ethical consumption is not just about buying ethical items but actually looking at your whole life and realising that we are over-consuming. And that it is over consumption that has lead us down the path of exploitation. It is what has made our lifestyles unethical in the first place.

Curbing over-consumption, is actually the first step and hardest step towards ethical consumption. The rest then falls from that. By curbing our over consumption, then we are able ?to afford the things that really do matter to us... that is the things that we would buy joyfully as opposed to to buying them because its what we've done and what those around us have done for so many years. And as part of joyful consumption we would be able to buy those things that were produced/manufactured and retailed in an ethical way.

But yes, curbing over-consumption is hard. We have built our identities, our relationships with others and our society on this habit. Breaking it would involve (as I have found) questioning our identities, and finding alternative ways in relating to others. It may even mean (at first) feeling even more isolated from the rest of our over-consuming society. But then the rewards at the end of the long road are worth it. Instead of feeling helpless against the problems of exploitation, we are now empowered. Instead of feeling frantic and pressured to buy, we are now buying (or not buying) joyfully and on OUR terms.

Ethical buying does not have to be opposed to a frugal philosophy. Indeed, I have found that a frugal philosophy enables me buy ethically... and buying ethically helps me live a more simple, green and frugal life.