What is ethical sourcing and how do I change my consumptive habits by making smarter choices? I get asked this all the time in my sustainable lifestyle classes. In 2010, I read Patel’s The Value of Nothing, which reframed my understanding of the social and environmental costs of our consumptive behaviors and gave me a fresh and accessible way to think about economics and the choices we will all need to make in order to create a sustainable economy and society.
After graduating from Presidio in 2011, I have answered that question this way.
Ethical sourcing means ensuring that the products being sourced are created in safe facilities by workers who are treated well and paid fair wages to work legal hours. It also implies that the supplier is respecting the environment during the production and manufacture and delivery of the products.
We all know that the $2.00 cheeseburger, if ethically made, would cost us $200. That’s because greenwashing corporate companies don’t pay for all the environmental services, 6.5 pounds of GHG gas emissions per quarter-pounder, pollution, water usage/diversion, etc. that are involved in getting from the cow to you.
Most of us get that purchasing locally, organically, and sustainably makes for a healthier planet and a healthier body. Making smarter choices involves taking a deeper dive into our consumer habits, our needs versus wants, and affording the time it takes to find out not only what this purchase is made of and how, but the complete who, why and what of the producer/manufacturer.
A time sucker, you say? Maybe. You decide. Turn off the TV, give up maintaining your digital/social network for 3 hours a week and you will have the time to save your health, our planet and a future for your kids, pets and other living things. Hear me out.
So how do I make smarter choices? I’ve been practicing the 6 R’s (Rethink, Reuse, Recycle, Repair, Reduce, Refuse) casually since I became an environmental advocate in the 1960’s. In 2000 I made a personal commitment to put every consumptive choice to the 6 R test which led me to the pursuit of my new American Dream, the silverbullettinyhouse.com.
I kickstarted my simpler life with a major purge (see 2011 20 Min. Ted Talk by Adam Baker) and successive downsizing refinements by using eBay and Craigslist, having yard sales and utilizing the proceeds to fund local sustainable causes and smarter purchases of ecological items for a tiny sustainable life.
I began to create the “ASMC” and continued going through many layers of refinement; gifting, shedding, repurposing, creating, and recycling. I am particularly pleased that through my composting, vermicomposting, and organic gardening, very little ends up in a landfill except for a few of the packaging materials from the tools for the construction of the Silver Bullet that cannot be composted or repurposed as I haven’t figured out how to reclaim them yet!
The resistance to better sustainable practices for the average person is lack of time, interest or money. I see it simply as pay now or pay later.
Hence my creation of a personal sustainability moral compass (ASMC:Acquisition Sourcing Moral Compass). Try it and let me know if it helps you as much as it helps my students become better sustainable practitioners.
The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers – 7 minute youtube education video
The $200 Hamburger, 4 minute video by Patel explaining the real social and environmental costs of the cheap burger.
The Value of Nothing, How to reshape market society and redefine democracy, written by Raj Patel, a deeply thought-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness