An ethical life?
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Date: 25 July, 2003

'I have read so many publications to “understand the market” I am probably responsible for the deforestation of a small country.'

Long gone are the days when I was truly ethical. Living in Sheffield, I ate only organic and fairly traded products sold locally, recycled almost everything and grew vegetables in old tyres in the back yard.

Even clothes were pretty ethical as they were either from “green” catalogues, from C&A or
Littlewoods all of whom had ethical policies.

Sadly C&A are no more, Littlewoods have withdrawn from the Ethical Trade Agreement and catalogue shopping became tedious after sending garments back that didn’t fit.

My two-bedroom house became a studio flat in London and room for recycling was non-existent, as was time to boil up dry beans thanks to my commute.

Lately, as a freelance writer I have read so many publications to “understand the market” I am probably responsible for the deforestation of a small country.

This year I have tried to move closer to regaining my halo of old but it
seems impossible to be 100% ethical even if I have the time, money and the will power. Take organic vegetables for example, if I want to prevent pesticides damaging the environment I have to either buy over packaged produce from the supermarket (why do tomatoes require a plastic box with polythene?) or order a box of potatoes, carrots et al, which more often than not goes mouldy due to being out too much to use it all.

Surely it is better that I go to the grocers on the corner and buy the few vegetables I need for the day – but do they have an ethical trading policy?

There are various guides to ethical shopping, the Ethical Consumer being one of the foremost in the field, and they are really useful if you want to ensure your money goes to the best companies. However few companies are perfect, sometimes leaving a choice between a company that supports the arms industry but avoids child slavery or a company that treats it’s staff abysmally but has a good record on the environment.

surefish itself has dilemmas; does it only deal with companies who are totally ethical, or does pragmatism rule when it comes to raising money from large companies that enables survival?

So is ethical living nothing but a dream? Hopefully not, but it may help to take a “one step at a time” approach. Like crash dieting, if we cut all bad things out in one go, we stop in exhaustion and binge, whereas if we develop a healthy lifestyle and take things slowly, we are more likely to succeed.

Now that I live in a house where the council collects my recycling, I do recycle everything but plastic and vegetable matter – this month’s project is to get a compost bin. I am slowly educating my partner not to fill the kettle to the top each time and to buy fair trade coffee, although he says my refusal to clean the car or to vacuum on grounds of saving water and electricity is taking things too far.

I have managed (just) to wean myself off the pesticides I bought in a fit of pique when my plants were destroyed overnight by black fly. Washing up liquid really does work and next year I may experiment with leaving the pests as my eco- friends are determined that the ladybirds will control them. However I have to confess to wishing ill to the cat that keeps leaving deposits on my poppy bed!

Instead of living permanently on convenience food, I decided to cook once a week and have managed to up that recently to four times a week. This year’s holiday is already booked, and I am ashamed to say it never occurred to me to check any credentials other than reliability and cost but now with the help of Tourism Concern, I am more aware of the issues and will insist on not exploiting anybody next year.

Not perfect, I know but it’s a start, and that’s the point: we can all do
something and then build upon that, especially if we accept the help of the numerous organisations ready to assist us.

Admittedly, it may take a while for me to give up my wasteful deep baths – if they’re candlelit does the electricity saved compensate?

Charlotte Haines

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