Social Justice Session: Ethical Consumption Pt. 2

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Elisabeth continued the series by sharing about Ethical Consumption.  

You can read part one on this topic of ethical consumption by clicking here.


Last time, we dipped into the discussion about how to go about incorporating intention into buying practices. Consider this: you’re at the store, hands on an item, and you have a decision to make. For me, that decision is, do I buy the cheap coffee, or do I buy the coffee that’s a bit more expensive but is advertised to be made in a fair trade manner? 

It can seem like a silly question, even petty. But whatever it looks like for each of us, purchasing something we want or need (which is an entirely different subject to discuss) does not always have a clear answer, and it’s important that we ask some questions that will help us unpack those complications.

  1. What makes it difficult to consume ethically? (price, convenience, etc.)
  2. What are some possible responses to these challenges?

When we expand our perspective to realize we’re not the only ones impacted by our shopping decisions, we’ll face some tough questions that challenge our generosity, our budget, and our comfort. As I shared in the first post, I don’t have the means to make a full transformation overnight. So, I take baby steps and hope that I can continue to make incremental changes with the awareness of how my actions impact those around me.


Action Steps

The Journal of Consumer Research did a study back in 2014 to answer this question:

“Why are consumers willing to spend more money on ethical products?”

And they made three motivations: “Contempt happens when ethical consumers feel anger and disgust toward the corporations and governments they consider responsible for environmental pollution and labor exploitation. Concern stems from a concern for the victims of rampant consumerism, including workers, animals, ecosystems, and future generations. Celebration occurs when ethical consumers experience joy from making responsible choices and hope from thinking about the collective impact of their individual choices.”

This study confirms that it’s necessary to take both positive and negative actions. For me, I knew that I didn’t have the means to completely transform the way that I consume materials, so I narrowed my decisions down to a couple of integral items in my life: clothing and coffee. I made the negative choice of deciding not to support companies that I couldn’t for sure say were operating ethically, so I’ve been doing as much secondhand shopping as I can. On the other hand, I made the positive choice buy fair trade coffee. So a negative choice might look like a boycott – to completely reject a company by withdrawing your support or saying that you won’t shop there until they reform. A positive choice would be one that actively seeks out organizations that are doing good and supporting them in their difficult work.

  1. Brainstorm: What items do you consider to be necessities? Pick one of those items and consider how you might alter the way that you acquire that item.  
  2. Take the Pledge: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/pledge-be-ethical-consumer

The Catch

While it’s important that we each take ownership of our individual choices, action at the individual level is an incomplete answer. Being an individual ethical consumer is not the answer to the problem of unethical production. As Students for Sustainable Stanford point out, “Ethical consumers also need to realize that a change in the way businesses operate doesn’t only come from consumers’ spending habits. Through political advocacy and education, ethical consumers may have the ability to have stores be held accountable for the things they do to the environment.” It’s important to hold the individual and systemic in conjunction. The enormity of the problem doesn’t exonerate the individual, but the acts of the individual are not enough to completely alter the system.


Going on From Here

Clearly, this is a brief introduction to a vast web of interconnected issues regarding how things are made and how we participate in supply chain. At its surface, the discussion is about which t-shirt to buy. But at its core, these thoughts and dilemmas are about our relationships to each other and to nature. What we’re willing to buy directly implies what kind of treatment we’re willing to allow for our fellow human beings, and though the process can seem like it’s out of our hands, we possess both the individual and collective capacity and responsibility to enact change that will wipe out the injustices in the way items are made and dispensed.

You can take this introduction and go in many directions: into a reflection on privilege, on evaluating necessities, on cross-cultural connections, on advocacy, etc. Whichever thread you latch onto, I hope that you’ll be inspired and challenged to continue leaning in and incorporating thoughtful practice into your life.

I’ll leave you with these words from Dr. Nicki Lisa Cole: “when we consume, we place ourselves into social relationships with all the people who participate in producing, packaging, exporting and importing, marketing, and selling the goods we buy, and with all of those who participate in providing the services we purchase. Our consumer choices connect us in both good and bad ways to hundreds of millions of people around the world.”


Resources

  1. Fashion and Clothing
    1. App: Good on You: http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
    2. Apps: https://mashable.com/2015/04/24/ethical-fashion-tools/#UiXYSGwLFuqa
    3. List of ethical brands by type of clothing:
      1. http://www.consciouslifeandstyle.com/ethical-brand-list/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=501547232_16090590_253669
      2. http://simplylivandco.com/the-list
      3. Alternative organizations: https://theartofsimple.net/shopping/
    4. Shopping 2nd hand? Look for these materials:
      1. http://moralfibres.co.uk/shop-consciously-fashion/

Works Cited

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/09/140916111903.htm

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/our-ethical-ratings/oppressive-regimes-and-their-allies 

https://studentsforasustainablestanford.weebly.com/blog/the-problem-with-ethical-consumerism

https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-ethical-consumer-3026072

https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-supply-chain  

https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/the-myth-of-the-ethical-shopper/

https://guide.ethical.org.au/guide/browse/guide/?cat=700&subcat=702&type=720

https://thegoodshoppingguide.com/fashion-retailers  

http://www.ejcr.org/ 

 

Above image by fdecomite, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Social Justice Session: Environmental Injustice

During our Friday sessions, some of our time has been set aside to discuss issues of social justice. Each of us will have the opportunity to lead the conversation on a matter that’s important to us, and Madi continued the series by sharing about Environmental Justice.  


Environmental Injustice

In February, Madi presented on the topic of environmental injustice. Many people think of environmental justice as passing policies for cleaner oceans or signing the Paris Agreement. In actuality, environmental justice deals exclusively with the intersection of race, class, and public health.

Environmental injustice takes many faces:

Toxic waste sites

Lack of natural resources sovereignty

Lead poisoning

Garbage dump and incinerator siting

Occupational hazards

Air and water pollution



All of these different types of pollution and access to environmental resources are disproportionate when the majority race or socio-economic level of a community is considered. Households of color and those that are labelled as low income are more likely to live beside sources of pollution and health risks, like toxic waste sites, while also more likely to lack access to clean water, air, and land rights.

The history of environmental injustice is rooted in land access. When Europeans colonized America, they stole land from the Indigenous peoples. This land was then co-opted by wealthy white men, some of whom forced slaves to work it. Even when slavery was abolished, black Americans did not have the wealth to own land and were forced to work it again through sharecropping. When black soldiers returned from WWII a few generations later, they too were not allowed to participate in the benefits of the GI Bill (free education, access to a good home, etc.) like their fellow white soldiers were.

While the Civil Rights Movement and the Environmental Movement diverged in the 1960s, the fight for environmental justice was quickly growing in the latter half of the twentieth century. Cesar Chavez and the rest of the United Farmworkers fought for fair wages and the banning of certain deadly pesticides while Memphis garbage workers, led by Dr. King, went on strike to demand safer working conditions and wages paid for hours worked. Lois Gibbs brought attention to the severe health risks of living beside toxic waste dumps in Love Canal, NY while an African-American community in Warren County, NC protested a landfill proposal marked for their backyard. Even up until today, we still see high rates of asthma in black children living in urban neighborhoods, the fight to stop the building of pipelines running through water sources of marginalized communities, and the bombing of Pagan and Tinian. The fight for environmental justice is not a chapter of American history that is about to close—in fact, it is only just beginning.

The Church has a huge role in this fight. Genesis 2:15 tells us, “And Jehovah God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.” We often forget that in the Creation story, we were created second. God created the rest of the earth and saw it as good. Our first task as humans was to be stewards and caretakers of the garden—and God never told us that our job was finished. We also need to “Rescue the poor and needy: deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4). This is not equivalent to the paternalistic holier-than-thou tone that the Western church has often had. Rather, this requires working side by side with our neighbors who are suffering, giving them the mic so that they can be heard, and choosing to do what’s best for the health of all of our collective future generations.

If you’re interested in learning more about environmental justice, check out the writings and work of Berta Cacares, Dr. Robert Bullard, Wangari Maathai, and Winona LaDuke.

If you have any comments or questions, be sure to start the discussion below. We will be continuing our social justice session next week with a discussion led by Elisabeth about ethical consumption of clothing and other items.


Above image by Lorie Shaull, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.

Behind the Placement: Chloe

It can be difficult to know exactly what a service year looks like. In addition to the communal interactions we have as a house, each member of the Sycamore House engages in the community through a full-time service placement. For the next several weeks, you will get a peek into the world of each Sycamore House member, highlighting the unique contributions they make to their organizations. IBehind the Placement, you’ll be able to read about the projects Sycamore House Members work on, the reflections they’ve been having, and how it all ties into their year of service! 


My service placement this year is with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club. As a national grassroots environmental advocacy group, the Sierra Club is largely volunteer-run. The majority of my work supports the state’s Ready for 100 campaign. Short for “Ready for 100 % Renewable Energy,” Ready for 100 is a national movement advocating for clean and equitable energy. Volunteers throughout the U.S. join the movement to urge their local legislators and decision-makers to make commitments to renewable energy and offer action plans to back these resolutions.

As the Chapter’s Ready for 100 Organizing Fellow, I provide support for new and existing Ready for 100 teams throughout the state, particularly the Eastern half. I co-coordinate the statewide team, planning and facilitating calls along with my co-worker Kelsey, an organizer for Western Pennsylvania. These monthly calls are a space for volunteer leaders from across the state to join, share updates, workshop issues, and plan state efforts. I also on-board new volunteers and help start new teams in places throughout Pennsylvania. Part of this means scheduling calls with volunteers, workshopping any issues they may have or connecting them with resources, information, or online trainings. And part of this means brainstorming or helping volunteer leaders plan events in their own towns and cities to build momentum or relationships with community partners. A goal for my position is to work alongside other staff and volunteers to create a Ready for 100 “toolkit” to provide easily-accessible, Pennsylvania-specific resources to teams so that the state team can move towards greater self-sufficiency before my position ends.

Over the past six months, I have greatly appreciated the way the Sierra Club as an organization and Ready for 100 as a campaign are both so dedicated to equity as part of a holistic approach to environmental issues. Ready for 100 commits to follow the “Jemenz Principles” for democratic organizing, which emphasize the importance of equity at all levels of a campaign or organization. They hold that there is no shortcut to just action and that justice is only done when all voices are heard.

In light of these principles, I have been challenged to model equity in the meetings that I host.  I am constantly learning new ways to facilitate discussions that allow all voices to be heard. And I have also been challenged to speak up myself, coming forward with new ideas or solutions.

The threat of global climate change and the ecological degradation of places I love have often made me feel anxious, terrified, and full of despair. I have realized that individual actions, no matter how honorable, are not enough to halt the patterns of destruction that our human greed has created. This year, however, I have learned a new way to address the destruction of our world. And that is, to organize: for the local communities, places, and people that we love.

Thank you.

-Chloe

Link to Jemenz Principles


Above image by Ken Lund, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.