Hooray! We’ve all survived Black Friday. Hopefully your credit card limit is intact. Only a few more weeks of red stickers and offers and then we’re through the mad season of festive marketing. Right now, it feels like everything is engineered to get us to spend money on stuff. It’s good for the economy (for a bit), and it’s good for our souls (for a much shorter time). But here’s the thing…
This week the latest climate change projections for the UK were published, and they make for terrifying reading (search #UKCP18 on Twitter). And the amount of stuff we make and ship around the world so that we can have it marketed at us is definitely part of the problem.
Verdict: we need to tread more softly.
I love my reusable coffee cup, and was an early adopter. I love it almost more than my morning brew. I try not to use a disposable cup if I’ve forgotten my keep cup or can’t borrow a mug, and I absolutely won’t use provided disposable cups and glasses at event venues when I have my own reusable ones with me.
It’s a great daily trick, and the ‘latte levy’ debate in Parliament has gone a long way to perk up our awareness of our disposable habits. Like all things that are right, it takes energy and sometimes means asking an awkward question. And it is totally worth it.
Spending money is vital to keep the country going, growing into an increasingly prosperous place where we can all hope to be gainfully employed. And giving tokens of our appreciation is a lovely thing to do. So how can we keep exchanging money, building our own businesses and earning our own crust while – literally – saving the planet?
It goes without saying that at this time of year, the biggest thing we can do is buy fewer things, and choose things that are so beautiful you won’t feel the need to replace them so quickly. In fact, you’ll actively want to take care of them. (For food, read tasty! Quality over quantity.)
The X factor is creativity. As we move to buying only the things we need, quality of design is the shizz. And as consumers, our own ability to judge the aesthetic of objects is how we can make choices that will see us right.
I recently fell in love with some machine washable cotton eye make-up remover pads. They were made in the UK and in patterned fabrics that filled me with happiness. The sad sting in this tale is that I’d panic-bought some boring muslin facecloths a few months back while travelling for this exact purpose, and they’re going to be going strong for a few years yet. The easy thing? Buy the lovely new thing! And it’s sustainable so extra brownie points for me. But I’d still be buying something I didn’t need. Sad face.
Spending money isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Especially when you’re supporting business that does the right thing (like make sustainable eye make-up remover pads in the UK).
But the thing that can never be right is knowing that hard science is out there that says we can’t keep making, shipping, flying and consuming objects we don’t need and doing it anyway.
What do we need in order to be the change we need to see?
The shopping list for sustainable spending
- Self-control. See something you love, take a pic, send yourself a message with the link, add it to a wishlist. If you still want it in a week, maybe it’s a good thing. This is easier if you spend time in shops that make you feel like you’re in an art gallery (and no, they don’t all have to be expensive shops!)
- Say no to long-haul shipping. Is it £3 more to get something delivered from within your country than from overseas? Do the right thing. Have one less latte and spend it on the saved carbon. Choose the “deliver all my items together” option. Be patient.
- Choose it to love it. Don’t order things you think you’ll probably return by post. There is an astounding TED talk by Aparna Metha on the billions of pounds of new clothing that is sent to landfill because returns systems can’t get the product back to market quick enough. Think about it.
- Just buy less. You know what’s free? Everything you don’t buy! Short term disappointment leads to lingering feelings of awesomeness.
Above all, we need patience, presence, and the hug-yourself feeling you get when you remember that what really matters is connection. You can’t buy a good feeling between two people. It hasn’t eaten up carbon being made in a factory. It hasn’t generated emissions being shipped hundreds of miles. It doesn’t sit in a rubbish dump if nobody chooses it. It changes with you, the seasons and what you need in that moment. And it is totally free.
Claire Eadington geeks out on workflow management, performance and wellbeing. Claire’s TEDx talk about barriers to performance for exceptional women kicked off the 2017 TEDxWhitehallWomen event in London.
Claire writes a weekly blog, Self Curious, on NPW’s website.
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