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How to be an ethical consumer

1 Do I really need it?

*_No, I can do without it._* OR

*_Yes, I do need it._*

2 Can I avoid buying a new one?


*_No, I definitely need to buy a new one._*

3 Can I find one that doesn’t damage people or the planet?

Possibly not! But you can try to minimize your impact in a wide range of ways. Good questions to ask include:

Some good short-cuts can be to buy:

4 Now I’ve got it, how can I look after it to make sure it lasts as long as possible?

Where can I get info from?

*Ask people about the products they are selling*
This is hard to do with highly processed products made by transnationals bought in supermarkets, but easier to do at farmers’ markets and in local shops. If you have ethical concerns about the product you are buying, ask the shop worker if they will stock a more ethical version for next time – they may well oblige!

*Use the internet*
A quick surf will uncover a host of sites dedicated to helping people consume more ethically.

*Books and magazines*
There are few sources of published information on exactly what to buy and which companies to avoid. This is partly for legal reasons – publishers don’t like taking the risk of getting sued for libel – and partly because the market changes so fast.
Duncan Clark, *_The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping_*, Rough Guides, 2004.
*_Ethical Consumer_* magazine (bi-monthly),
Leo Hickman, *_A Life Stripped Bare: my year trying to live ethically_*, Eden Books, 2006.
Pushpinder Khaneka, *_Do The Right Things: a practical guide to ethical living_*, New Internationalist Publications, 2006.
Crissy Trask, *_It’s Easy Being Green_*, Gibbs Smith, 2006.
Simon and Jane Cotter, *_Eco Kiwi: Green solutions for everyday life_*, Random House New Zealand, 2003.


Resist the supermarkets’ drive for world domination!

As the supermarkets have grown in power and reach, so resistance and alternatives have blossomed.

True mavericks

Small-scale organic farms, opposing the industrialized form of mass organic agriculture being imposed by the supermarkets, can be found all over the world. One example is Maverick Farms in North Carolina, which describes itself as ‘an open laboratory’ where agricultural, culinary and social experimentation happens in order to find sustainable ways to live and work. Maverick runs one of the US’s thousand or so Community Supported Agriculture schemes. These offer households who pay a fixed fee at the start of the year a box of seasonal fresh produce each week. ‘We are committed to the idea that fresh, locally grown food is a right, not a privilege.’ As part of that commitment they also offer ‘working shares’ to lower-income households who put in more work and less cash. .

Platypus power

In 2003 Australian chain Woolworths was granted permission to build a supermarket on the banks of Obi Creek in Maleny, Queensland. The development was opposed by the community on many grounds, from damage to the local economy and the town’s small businesses, to the destruction of local wildlife habitats, including a network of burrows inhabited by the shy and endangered platypus. A vibrant community campaign of lobbying and direct action sadly did not stop the development. But the Obi Obi Action group continues to run a boycott, with an estimated 80 per cent of people in the area joining in. According to Garry Claridge from the campaign group, ‘the building is an eye-sore, and out-of-character with a rural village. It has essentially turned the creek into a drain. But not many people are shopping there, and the local store has not lost much business.’ .

More info about supermarkets:

Joanna Blythman, _*Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets*_, 2004.
Corporate Watch, _*What’s Wrong with Supermarkets?*_, .
Charles Fishman, _*The Wal-Mart Effect: how an out-of-town superstore became a superpower*_, 2006.
Felicity Lawrence, _*Not on the Label: what really goes into the food on your plate*_, 2004.
_*Wal-Mart: the high cost of low price*_, directed by Robert Greenwald, 2005.

Buy Nothing Day 2006 – Saturday 25 November

Concern about the ecological, psychological and political consequences of our consumer culture has inspired activists in 65 different countries to celebrate ‘Buy Nothing Day’ every November. In past years, activities have ranged from leafleting and talking to shoppers caught up in the frantic, pre-Christmas consumerist binge, to street theatre and direct action. Examples include:

Buy Nothing Day has no ‘organizers’. It was initiated by Vancouver artist Ted Dave, subsequently promoted by Adbusters in Canada and is an informal grassroots movement – it’s up to you to make things happen. Connect and get some ideas here:

New Internationalist issue 395 magazine cover This article is from the November 2006 issue of New Internationalist.
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