SUST Blog – What is ethical?

What do I class as ethical and why? Put simply, being “ethical” is all about not sawing off the branch you are standing on.  For me sustainable is ethical because it is important to protect and safe guard our future.  If something is unsustainable then it cannot continue endlessly.  Many of our planets resources are finite.  Once they are gone they are gone.  They can’t be utilised again. Likewise, reducing plastic consumption is ethical because the damage from plastic waste (in our oceans for example) is obvious.  It is frightening to realise that the plastic bottle top in the gutter will outlast you, by a long way.  The single use plastic we throw away each day will outlast all of us.  It will still be here in our grandchildren and great-grandchildren’s lives.  That plastic bottle top might not be visible in ten years but it will still be there, floating out at sea, in a landfill, or as microscopic bits in the soil.

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We are educating our kids from preschool to secondary school to care for the environment and the people we share the planet with.  Are we walking the same walk?

To our knowledge this planet is the only place in the universe that has both the ability to sustain life, and life itself.  That makes both us and our planet unique.  I believe that “ethical” is a choice that looks to the future, of our human civilisation, our planet, and the life that inhabits it.   These things are what we will pass on to our children.  Our children are educated at school about climate change and environmental awareness. They are encouraged to be planetary and global citizens who care about the world and all those in it.  The disjunct between what we teach our kids and practice ourselves is huge.  The dis-junction is even greater when you compare what our kids are learning and what the government is doing.  If we wait for someone else to take the initiative, then we will be waiting a long time.  If we want to see a positive change then we need to take individual action.

Socially responsible options are ethical (such as fair trade).  That should be obvious, but for many people it isn’t top of their minds when they shop.  Choosing products where human beings and the environment have been protected from exploitation makes sense for everyone.  Why would you choose exploitation over freedom?  The same goes for animal friendly products.  Exploited animals can’t exactly mount their own protest.  They rely on us to make ethical choices wherever we possibly can in order to protect them.

How to make an ethical choice?  Well it turns out that isn’t as simple as I thought.  Having said that, the good news is there is lots of advice out there and a lot of it is common sense! On this blog journey I hope to unravel some of the complexities I’ve run into and make it easier to make truly ethical choices.  I plan to share what I learn with you.  In the meantime here are some things to bear in mind.

  1. Do your own research. If you want to know if something is ethical, research it.  If you can’t find anything out then ask them. Look into the main trusted eco-labels or certifications in New Zealand (and globally) eg Fairtrade.
  2. Always look for concrete claims that actually mean something, for example “made from 100% recycled plastic” actually tells you something about what the company is doing and how it is sourcing materials. Even if the claim seems meaningful, look for a certification to back up their claims. A claim that says “100% recyclable” won’t tell you much about what the company is doing, whether it is ethically disposed of comes down to the consumer not the company.
  3. Beware of irrelevant or vague claims that mean nothing. For example “eco-friendly”, “natural”, “good for the planet” “chemical free”.  An example of irrelevant labeling is a pack of toilet paper that is labelled biodegradable!  Words like “degradable” can also be suspect.   After all most things are degradable even plastic, it just takes geological time periods to do it, and the by-products of degradation may be toxic.  Be cautious of terms like “organic” unless it is certified as organic by an independent organisation e.g. GOTS.
  4. Beware of “greenwash” or “ethical-wash”.  Greenwash is the practice of making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service or technology in order to present an environmentally friendly and responsible image to the public.  The same approach can be used to promote a false image of a product or company in terms of human rights and ethical working conditions. For example some companies claim their products are ethically sourced but provide no certification or proof of this.  Alternatively, they provide a whole line up of certifications no one has ever heard of.  Another trick is to market a product based upon its plant based ingredients while the fine print lists a long line of artificial ingredients with no sourcing data.
  5. As a consumer you need to feel confident about your rights. You can and should make complaints about companies you think are being deceptive. Did you know that anyone can make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority in NZ and those companies then have to substantiate their claims?  The Commerce Commission, which administers the Fair Trading Act, can prosecute companies it believes have a false or misleading claim. The commission has investigated companies about their green marketing and has taken cases to the courts.

At the end of the day I thought this blog post about ethical choices would be empowering.  I guess it has been, but mostly it has felt overwhelming.  You can find a product that is plastic free and compostable.   But that same product is more than likely made in a factory in Asia with no ethical certification to indicate a concrete commitment to social responsibility.

You can find a range of products that are certified for various things, but not all certifications are equal.  It feels extremely daunting trying to wade through the various certification schemes to find the best ones.  After all, I am just an ordinary average person trying to get a handle on all this for the first time myself.   Most disturbing for me is how hard it is to get real information about human rights practices from some companies.  They will attempt to brush aside my concerns with vague assurances that the working conditions meet their own personal moral standards.  How on earth to judge when presented with this state of affairs?  I am beginning to see that perhaps individuals asking questions directly, and being prepared to shift their purchasing to more ethical companies is the only way to make a lasting impact.

For me, I am committed to reducing plastic and choosing socially and environmentally responsible products wherever I can.  And I am committed to making my spending choices known by personally contacting companies.  I am committed to trying to make sure that the person sewing my clothes, printing my books and making my food has the same rights and opportunities that I do.  If our positions were reversed, I would hope for someone to do the same for me.

 

SUST Product Review #1: Ethique

Here I am doing my first SUST product review.  Exciting times!  I don’t know how many of you are aware that there are some companies out there making solid shampoo bars, bodywash alternatives and even deodorant.  Ethique just happens to be the first I have been able to sample myself.

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The packaging is 100% biodegradable.  I didn’t think of taking a photo before I started using these products, but this gives you some idea what I am talking about.

Have a look at Ethique’s website and see what you think.  Ethique state that they are plastic free and their packaging is fully compostable.  They are cruelty free (not tested on animals), sustainable, and locally made in Christchurch NZ.  They are B corp. certified and a Climate Friendly Business.

I love that the packaging included no plastic at all.  It was so refreshing not to have to put a whole lot of plastic out for recycling or to landfill.  Not even the postal packaging was plastic.  It also came complete with a neat little card stating that I had saved the equivalent of two plastic bottles!

The body sampler pack was particularly neat and nifty.  One of these (or one of their other sampler packs) would make an excellent birthday or Christmas present.

Here is a rundown of the products I have sampled.

The Lime and Ginger bodywash bar is wonderful to use.  It smells fresh and leaves me feeling clean.  It is lasting really well and it’s not just me using it, the kids like it too.  In contrast, the Lime and ginger body polish is lovely to use, however it is clearly not going to last anything like as long as they claim.  After only two uses the sample block is shrinking away.  The other bodywash samples are lasting much longer.

The Glow Lavender and Vanilla deodorant is INCREDIBLE.  I have never used a product this effective. After a morning application I had no BO problems at all.  I know because I kept incredulously sniffing my armpits every hour or so expecting to have to reapply.   At bed time I could still clearly smell the deodorant much the same as when first applied.  I couldn’t detect any BO at all.  I‘ve been using it for weeks now with no problems.  I certainly won’t bother with the products in regular supermarkets ever again!

The In Your Face cleanser is another winner!  It is lasting well, it smells divine (think raspberry sherbet) and leaves my face feeling incredible.

My husband is trialing the suave shampoo and shaving block.  So far he says it is very good, equivalent to mainstream shaving products he has used, but is bit expensive.  It works nicely as a shampoo, and works well for shaving.  It seems to double as bodywash perfectly adequately (which is a bonus when traveling).  Recently overseas for work, he only needed to take one solid bar instead of three plastic bottles!

I was sceptical of the solid shampoo idea, but it really is effective.  I like a good lather that leaves my hair squeaky clean.  I also have a sensitive scalp that is prone to irritation.  I am pretty attached to my favourite shampoo, so the Damage Control shampoo bar had a lot to live up too.  I was very excited to try it.  I rubbed it on my head as per the instructions, massaged it in a bit and hey presto!  Bubbles and lather everywhere.  The smell reminded me of oddfellow mints.  The only thing I noticed is that the bar gets slippery very quickly so I have dropped it a couple of times leading to some very flat corners.  I’m now careful to put it up high on the shower caddy away from splashes and shift it to the window sill where it can dry out between washes.

Coconut and lime butter block is the only thing I haven’t sampled personally.  I can’t stand the smell of coconut on me.  A strange personal foible I know, but I don’t like coconut to eat or to wear!  I was dubious that everything would smell like coconut, but in fact the butter block is the only one I didn’t like.  Everything else smells fantastic.  I got my 14 year old daughter to try it out instead and she loves it!

I have atopic syndrome which leads to skin rashes for much of the year.  At its worst I am totally miserable.  I have a lot of trouble finding beauty products that don’t make it worse or set it off.  So far the Ethique products I have trialed have been OK. After years of bland smelling hypo-allergenic products it is unbelievably nice to use such lovely smelling things.  Every shower is bliss!

Using solid bars rather than liquid products seems to require a bit of a shift in how you do things.  For example, the bars don’t like staying wet.  The deodorant got a bit damp and moist when left in out in the steamy bathroom so I keep it in the bedroom instead.  The shampoo needs to dry out between uses, so I put it on the bathroom window sill.  All in all, the only things that need a big change are our buying habits and a few minor alterations to where you keep your products.

Why is this brand so exciting?  For me it is because these products tick so many boxes for us on our ethical and sustainable journey.

Some of Ethique’s products are expensive, but with the exception of the body polish bar (as mentioned) they all seem to be lasting well.  I am not yet certain if they will live up to the promise to outlast a liquid equivalent.  I don’t have reliable usage data to compare to.  However, so far the deodorant, and bodywash are performing very well and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they do outlast my usual products.  At $9.50 for the lime and ginger bodywash, I think this is great value because it is considerably cheaper than the $14 I have been paying for my usual brand.

The shampoo, seems to be going well for me too.  The shampoo bar cost $22 which is the same as a bottle of the only stuff I have been able to find that doesn’t irritate my scalp.  I would happily use either.  I think I still prefer my old brand for scent though!

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This photo gives you an idea how the products are going after five weeks of use.

Ethique have several charities to which they direct a portion of their profits (WSPA, International Animal Rescue, The Orangutan Project and HUHA).  They also sponsor an orangutan and a slow loris).  Disappointingly, they do not appear to be helping any of New Zealand’s iconic native species that teeter on the brink.  I would love to see them sponsoring a few predator traps or adopting a yellow eyed penguin.  For a New Zealand company I feel this is a glaring omission.

A testament to the success of Ethique’s products is that they are often out of stock on their website.  It is well worth a look if you are interested in plastic free locally made beauty products.

SUST Blog #1 – Beginnings

Hi!  My name is Katie, and this is my first ever blog post.  It is both exciting and daunting.  I am a Kiwi, born and bred here in the land of the long white cloud.  I am a Mum to three amazing human beings.  The SUST blog is a way for me to try and make a positive change in this world of ours.

How did I get interested in this ethical eco plastic free stuff?  Why does it gnaw away at me?  Why do I feel unable to walk past that piece of plastic blowing along the street?  Why do I feel distressed in the supermarket when I look at the bright colourful aisles where practically every item is wrapped in plastic?  When I am shopping for clothing how can I avoid clothing that is not ethically made?  These questions eat away at me.

This journey started for me when my children began to take notice of the world around them.  Naturally it started at ground level. Most parents will be familiar with this stage.  It is the stage when every pebble, stick, flower, leaf, feather, and acorn must be picked up and taken home.  Everywhere we walked we accumulated these natural treasures.  But also they noticed every plastic bottle lid, empty takeaway box, coke can, and broken pen as well. I would explain that some things were treasures and some things were rubbish. As they got a little older, they wanted to put the rubbish where it belonged (in the rubbish bin) and asked why other people didn’t put their own rubbish in the bin.  Every parent understands how conversations with kids in the “why?” phase can tangle your brain in logic knots (even those without children have heard about it).  I struggled to explain so they understood.  They insisted we had to do something about it ourselves.  And they were right.  We do have to do something about it ourselves.  Single use, throw away plastic is something we all have a responsibility to do something about.

My children were the reason my eyes were opened.  They changed the way I viewed the world.  They changed it permanently.

I decided to try becoming a more ethical house for the season of lent.  I resolved (prompted by my children’s desire for urgent action) to make more ethical shopping choices and try doing without plastic packaging for a month.  I had a few reusable shopping bags that I already used at Pack N Save. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea just how hard it would be.

On the first day of being an ethical and more plastic free house, I rocked up to our local New World with my reusable shopping bag.  Just a quick trip to get a few things for the kid’s lunches and the evening meal.  I stood in that shop and my eyes were opened even further.  There were virtually no Fair Trade options for the things on my shopping list.  I had forgotten about the produce bags for fruit and vegetables. Then I began looking at the plastic.  Just about everything I wanted to buy was either plastic or wrapped in it!

With a rising sense of desperation, I purchased fruit and vegetables loose, without any bags.  I chose a couple of Fair Trade items. I got bread in a paper bag from the in-store bakery.  I chose glass bottles of pasta sauce.  I got pretzel’s, almonds and raisin’s from the bulk bin and put them in paper bags from the bakery section.  Then I was stuck, and reluctantly I put a few ordinary items in my basket.  At the checkout I nearly forgot my reusable shopping bag but remembered at the last minute.  Afterwards I went home and struggled with my conscience.

I had never in my wildest dreams imagined how challenging it would be to become less dependent on packaging.  I was shocked to see for the first time how few alternatives there are to plastic products.  I was deeply troubled to see how few items are branded Fair Trade.  I began to think about the future my children would be inheriting.

My 7 year old daughter is in love with birds.  She is particularly smitten with New Zealand’s unique and wonderful birds.  Her favourite is the Kaka.  She begged for a stoat trap for her 6th birthday to protect a breeding colony of Kaka in the Coromandel and was thrilled to be sent a photo of the first flat stoat that it caught.  She is bothered by the sea birds that die each day with tummies full of plastic instead of fish. She wants to save them all.  I want to help her.

I have been keen to support Fair Trade products for a long time. But when my 14 year old daughter volunteered to help find an ethical brand to go in our church newsletter each week, I began to realise that there are choices out there.  It’s just so hard to find them in the Mall or at the supermarket.

My 4 year old son asked me to put a rubbish bag in my handbag.   He wants to be able to pick up the rubbish left to blow in the streets at eye level for little people like him, walking home from kindy.  So far I’ve kept forgetting….. but tonight I put a plastic supermarket bag from our dwindling supply in my handbag.

SUST is designed to help us all to change the way we do things by making choices easy.  My goal is to try and help people to move toward the goal of leaving a feather light footprint on this planet and our society.  This blog is a way for me to try and make a difference, not for me but for my children, and my children’s children.  I want them to know I cared.  This blog is a journey, and I don’t know where it will take me.  This is the beginning…….  Watch this space.

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