“Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” – The Vegan Society
Being vegan not only refers to the food we eat but to all that we consume. It’s important to think carefully when buying new things to ensure they’re not only free from animal derived ingredients but also to consider the impact on the people who made the product, and the impact on the natural environment.
It can be tricky to avoid contributing to practices that pollute or destroy areas inhabited by wildlife, or systems that oppress the workers involved in making the products (we are animals too remember). But there are some easy steps we can take to do our best to make ethical choices when shopping. Here are my 5 top tips to shopping ethically:
Take your time
Try to get away from impulse shopping as much as you can. When you are looking to buy something, do your research into the brand first. I highly recommend using Ethical Consumer – an online resource which helps you assess the impact brands make on the environment, animals and people. You can find informative guides to high street, luxury and ethical alternative clothing brands. While researching, ask yourself ‘do I need this item? Am I making an informed decision about this purchase? Does this fit all my priorities (fair trade/ organic/ vegan)? How much use will I get out of the item?’
There are lots and lots of charity shops that sell all sorts of clothing, household goods, books, DVDs etc. When you purchase from charity shops you are often contributing money to a good cause, but do double check that you aren’t supporting a charity that tests on animals – animal aid have a fantastic list that highlights which charities do or do not test on animals. If you can’t find what you need in a charity shop there are lots of other places like Gumtree, eBay, Depop and Etsy which all sell second-hand or up-cycled goods, so you can re-purpose something that has already been made.
Think very carefully about whether you need the item you are considering. Do you already have something similar that would work just as well? Could you make one yourself? Is it something you could borrow? If you can simply avoid the purchase, then this is really the best option. If you ask yourself this question each time you think about purchasing something then you will hopefully end up making the most of what you already have – and saving money.
Fairtrade and organic
As a vegan, you want to ensure that no animals have been harmed in the making of your possessions, or have gone into your items. It’s not a big step to also think about the humans involved in making the products you want to buy.
“Fair Trade is a simple way to make a difference to the lives of the people who grow the things we love. We do this by changing the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fair deal for farmers and workers in developing countries.” – Fairtrade.org
Buying Fairtrade ensures that there is transparency in how the people making the product have been treated as well as seeking to improve their working life. Ethical Consumer have a helpful list of labels and accreditations to consider. Where possible, choose organic to cut down on the damaging environmental impact some materials can have during production. Some pesticides used to grow certain materials have a negative impact on wildlife and local populations because they pollute the water supplies in the surrounding areas. Look out for the Soil Association label as it is an accreditation that holds international value.
We’ve got a serious, global waste problem and it’s not helped by the demand for fast, cheap items that actually don’t last very long. We don’t tend to place much value on our possessions and prefer to buy more and more things instead of carefully assessing what we have and using things we already own to their full potential. It’s very easy to simply throw items away items and replace with cheap (and often unethical) products. Around 300,000 tonnes of clothing end up in the household rubbish each year – which ends up in landfill (Ethical Consumer magazine, Sep/Oct 2017). Areas of landfill take up a great amount of land and make the area inhospitable for people and wildlife.
So when you have found an ethically sound product, use it well. You can always repurpose clothing into cushion covers or shopping bags, for example. Don’t let it be something that gathers dust in a cupboard – because if that’s the case perhaps you didn’t really need it to begin with.
If you’re trying to be a more ethical consumer, take it one step at a time. Adjust your habits slowly, if that feels easier, and try to make the most ethical choices possible when considering your options. You will make mistakes, but you will learn from them and use them to influence your future choices. Let us know what steps you take to become a more ethical shopper.