Conscious consumerism is a lie. Small steps taken by thoughtful consumers—to recycle, to eat locally, to buy a blouse made of organic cotton instead of polyester—will not change the world.
We pat ourselves on the back for making decisions that hush our social guilt instead of placing that same effort in actions that enact real environmental change. Alden Wicker
I’ve been irked by these words since I first read them a few weeks ago. Is Alden Wicker right? The more I reflect on her article, the more I conclude that she is being deliberately controversial to provoke people into action. Conscious consumerism is a valid and powerful tool but it does need to co-exist with seeking systematic change.
I’m spending the next three weeks investigating clothing supply chains as part of the Who Made my Clothes? course. Today I’ve been reading about the April 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in which 1,134 people (mainly young women) died in a garment-making factory. I want to ensure my clothes and my family’s clothes are not made in similar conditions through shopping ethically, but at the same time I want to campaign for just working conditions.
Alden Wicker’s article challenges me not to become complacent and is a reminder that seeking to live justly is not about me. It’s about women like Shima, Lisa and Pakhi.
I agree with Wicker’s statement that ethical living is an issue of privilege: The sustainability movement has been charged with being elitist—and it most certainly is. You need a fair amount of disposable income to afford ethical and sustainable consumption options, the leisure time to research the purchasing decisions you make, the luxury to turn up your nose at 95% of what you’re offered, and, arguably, a post-graduate degree in chemistry to understand the true meaning behind ingredient labels.
I have a growing unease in how I am ‘a consumer’ and I’m mindful of how my lifestyle alterations have been dependent on my privilege: many of my recent ethical changes have involved buying new (and expensive) things: a organic cotton hoodie, Fish 4 Ever tuna, Method washing up liquid and laundry detergent, a Mooncup and a deodorant bar.
Often the most sustainable action is not to purchase anything – the ‘make do and mend’ approach. This is why we have a tiny dishwasher bought for when Team Pilgrim was only Mr and Mrs Pilgrim and we lived in a flat – we’ll replace it with a larger one when it breaks but not before.
“The reality is that if we are to live in a way that seriously responds to the global challenges around us – a vital component of which will include reducing our resource consumption significantly – then that may well lead to us needing to live life below a level that some of us might find acceptable.” Ruth Valerio Just Living p. 147
Buying new items gives me a buzz but I’ve discovered I can actually get some of this short-lived emotional high by simply adding things to a wish list. Most of these items are then deleted a few weeks later as I realise I don’t actually want them.
I want to stop impulse purchases. I no longer use my credit card so for online shopping I need to use Mr Pilgrim’s – which usually means I have to wait to ask him for the card. The pause gives me time to reflect and often I change my mind.
For me producing something is in many ways the antithesis of purchasing. I’m not very good at creating items – that’s not to say that I’m not creative but I lack the dexterity and fine motor skills to draw, knit, crochet, craft, woodwork, bake etc.
Yet, I do want to create rather than simply consume. I’ve thought of a few items that I can and do produce: Small Boy and I have been making simple pizzas together since he was quite young – an activity we both enjoy – and we recently baked butterfly cakes to take to a church barbecue. Our small contribution felt more meaningful because we had made them ourselves. I’ve also learnt to make smoothies rather than purchasing them as a way of reducing waste – although these aren’t very popular yet!
I’ve also chosen A Creative Hobby to pursue – more on how this has been going soon!