Today is Earth Day 2018 – a day that forms part of a global campaign dedicated to diversifying, educating and activating the environmental movement worldwide.
More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.
The theme of this year is plastic pollution and the campaign is dedicated to providing the information and inspiration needed to fundamentally change human attitude and behaviour about plastics.
As we’ve discussed in detail in the #EthicalHour community and the wider public debate on the topic – plastic pollution is a complicated issue with many different factors to consider.
Ethical living and taking on any global issue isn’t always easy.
As bloggers, influencers and campaigners we often make it look simple and focus on the positives to encourage more people to join the movement. What you don’t often see behind the scenes is how difficult it can be.
I’m all for celebrating small steps towards a more ethical life. Personally, I believe that this is the best way to engage more people and have a real impact.
So why would I be talking about the difficulties?
A few of weeks ago we had a really interesting #EthicalHour chat on Twitter all about how to make the movement more inclusive. Inevitably we got onto the topic of how this lifestyle can come with the expectation to be ‘perfect’ and the guilt we often feel that we could be doing more.
Blogger Izzy suggested that we might be able to help more people by opening up about what we struggle with, as well as showing the easy swaps, ethical products we love and ways we live more ethically, which I found really inspiring.
By showing what we struggle with and opening up about the difficulties, we can make this lifestyle more accessible.
In our last Masterclass session we also got onto the topic of how to market ethical and sustainable credentials without making people feel shame or guilt – and without greenwashing. It seems that honesty is key.
It’s important to recognise that it’s virtually impossible to live completely ethically and sustainably, so we can only do our best and everyone will have their own priorities, limitations and struggles.
When I was thinking about what to write for Earth Day 2018, I considered doing a post on easy swaps you can make to tackle plastic pollution or be more eco-friendly, or ways we can all campaign for less plastic.
Instead I decided it was time to discuss the struggles. Earth Day is an important campaign and it’s great to raise awareness, but plastic pollution can feel so overwhelming that it feels like we can’t have any impact.
Reflecting back on how far I’ve come since I started living more ethically I’m surprised how much has changed – yet it doesn’t feel like I’ve overhauled my entire lifestyle. There’s still plenty of things I struggle with and changes I haven’t made yet, but some were much easier than I thought.
I’ve been reflecting on the good, the bad and the ugly side of ethical living…
Some areas have been easier to switch than others. There’s more information at our fingertips than ever before and although that can get confusing, it has made some ethical switches easy.
I put off making the switch to cruelty-free beauty for far too long. Animal testing and welfare was probably one of the first issues I became aware of (who remembers The Body Shop’s animal soaps for endangered animals in the 1990s? They were my favourite!) but naively I kind of assumed it wasn’t really a problem any more after it became illegal in the EU in 2013.
It wasn’t until I met Sofi from The Pip Box through #EthicalHour that I realised this wasn’t the case. Unfortunately the EU testing ban doesn’t necessarily mean that the products we buy are cruelty free.
Many companies still test overseas and in China it can be a legal requirement that brands test on animals if the products are imported there.
If you want to know if a product or brand is cruelty free, ask if their products or ingredients are tested on animals. Make sure they don’t recruit anyone to test on their behalf and find out if the sell in mainland China. You might also want to consider whether their parent company tests on animals, as some cruelty free brands are owned by companies that test in other areas of their business – but this is a hot debate in the cruelty free community.
Luckily there’s many great cruelty free brands available – even on the high street. I am a subscriber of The Pip Box, which means I get new cruelty free beauty products through my letterbox every month to try! Plus I’m still a big fan of The Body Shop (especially now they’re no longer owned by L’Oréal who do test on animals), Lush and Superdrug’s own brand which is cruelty free too.
If in doubt, look for the Leaping Bunny cruelty free certification!
Loose leaf tea
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling shocked when I learnt that humble little tea bags contain plastic.
Polypropylene is a sealing plastic and it’s often used to fasten teabags and make sure they hold their shape and don’t dissolve. Unfortunately that means you can’t put them in the compost (which I didn’t know!) because microplastics will work their way into the soil.
The UK gets through 60.2 billion cups of tea each year and we don’t really know how long plastic is around for after it’s discarded – it could take thousands of years.
Several major tea brands have come under fire for containing plastic recently, and some of the supermarkets are now moving to plastic-free tea bags for their own range. Big tea brands – like my favourite Yorkshire Tea, have said they’re looking into it, but it could be a while before they develop a plastic-free solution.
The other alternative is to switch to loose leaf. I’ve bought myself a teapot with a built-in infuser so I can make the switch easily, and I also found this brilliant infuser from ethical tea start-up We Are Tea, which makes it just as convenient to make a cup of loose leaf as it is to pop a tea bag in a mug!
Plus loose leaf tea is even more delicious and comes in loads of exciting flavours too. This is one switch that was easy to make and has definitely improved my life – once you switch to loose leaf you’ll never go back!
You might be surprised to learn that there are ethical and sustainable considerations to make when it comes to running a website – I definitely was!
Did you know that powering data centres and cloud computing is reported to be the one of the largest global contributors to carbon emissions – second only to the aviation industry?
Billions of people are connected to the internet worldwide and that figure is only getting bigger. From the manufacturing and shipping of computer equipment to the electricity required to power the data centres (which also need careful temperature control to function properly), the internet is not as green as you might think. It takes a massive amount of energy to keep the internet running, most of which is generated by dirty fossil fuels.
It’s not something I really thought about but as the Ethical Hour website has grown (and now we have our directory site too), the carbon footprint is getting bigger. That was until I switched to Make Hay Green Hosting – now our sites are powered by 100% renewable energy – no fossil fuels here! They power their servers with wind generated electricity from UK wind farms all year round and they handled the whole technical side of moving the sites over too – which made it super easy and stress free.
Plus sized, ethical and sustainable fashion
Ethical fashion is one of the first areas that I became interested in when I started making the switch to more ethical and sustainable living.
Living sustainably is about buying less and choosing better, and I’ve definitely broken my fast fashion habit – I hate thinking back to how I used to hit the shops at least once a week, my wardrobe was so wasteful!
Now I only shop for clothes when I really need to, and I love a good charity shop rummage to keep it affordable too! I also try to follow Livia Firth’s 30 wears principle (If you think something won’t make it through the wash and wear of 30 times, or you’ll get bored of it before then, don’t but it – look for something of higher quality).
However since ditching my fast fashion habit I’ve gone up a few sizes and finding something ethical, sustainable, that fits well, looks good and is within my budget feels virtually impossible! The positive side of this is I definitely buy less, but when I do need something it can be tricky. I think it’s time to arrange a clothes swap with some friends.
Plastic is everywhere!
We all know how much of an issue plastic pollution is, but it’s so hard to avoid! Especially when food shopping – plastic free options at the moment either aren’t available in the supermarkets or they cost more, and when you don’t have time to go to local markets or farm shops it can be really hard to avoid.
Switch to your reusable bags, bottles and cups and just try to do your best with this one. Avoid plastic where you can and keep campaigning – things are changing!
There’s so many dilemmas, compromises and struggles you come across when trying to live ethically. I think you just have to pick your priorities and start from there – if you overthink it to much and try to be perfect you’ll never get anywhere!
Fortunately a lot of ethical living is about campaigning against the ugly side of production such as unfair and unsafe labour practices, pollution, exploitation etc.
However, it’s easy to feel guilty that you’re not doing enough, or to fall victim to the ‘ethical police’ who criticise. I was downhearted to see a negative response on Twitter to Iceland’s recent announcement that they’ll be removing palm oil from their own brand ranges. Obviously this is a really complex issue but it’s great to see a big brand trying to change and although we do need to open these issues up to debate and work together to find the right path, we also need to be positive and encouraging.
AlthoughI have unfortunately received some negativity online, this is minimal and is nothing compared to the overwhelming positivity and support from the #EthicalHour community. But often I’m my own worst enemy!
When you’re feeling guilty or criticising yourself, you’re holding yourself back from the positive impact you could be making. Everybody has to start somewhere, and the sooner you start the better. Don’t let negativity get in your way.
Fortunately there are so many small swaps we can all make and small actions we can take that have a big impact!
In celebration of Earth Day today I’ve supported Stand For Trees with another donation and prevented 2 tonnes of CO2 from entering our atmosphere. This investment supports 130 families in the Brazilian Rosewood Project to keep illegal deforesters away and protect threatened species and local livelihoods.
Read more about how we help Stand For Trees protect the world’s precious forests here.