The impact of ‘externalities’ from modern life are tremendous. When I was in 3rd year at university I watched a documentary called ‘Surplus’ the evening before my corporate strategy final exam. I was so moved by the movie that I elected to write about corporate social responsibility and dropped all the way from the top of the class to scrape a distinction. I guess my lecturers would prefer to read about improved operational efficiencies than corporate social responsibility.
Maybe I should have done a social studies degree. But not to worry.
Recently, Mel and I decided that, to the greatest extent possible, we would buy only things that were ‘fair-trade’ or secondhand. This would effectively reduce our negative impact on the world in all kinds of ways. Fair trade ensures that the people who produced the good, from the farmer to the finisher, are fairly paid and are able to support a family on a living wage with opportunities for growth.
Often, fair trade items are also better for the environment as they tend to be organic and not produced using harsh chemicals, etc. although this can be even more difficult to ascertain than its fair trade status.
In the alternative, buying secondhand goods has no impact on the environment because the thing has already been made and sold; by purchasing secondhand from somebody who, presumably no longer wants that thing you are not creating more demand in the marketplace for a new item. And since the thing can’t be un-made, by extending its life you are reducing the environmental impact of it entering landfill or having to be recycled.
So that’s our plan. But so far it has been HARD! Not only is it nearly impossible to find what you are looking for in a fair trade iteration (other than say, coffee and tea) but when you do ultimately find something it tends to be WAY more expensive, relatively, than it should be. $140 for fair trade yoga pants for Mel? Surely it doesn’t cost $100 per pair of pants to ensure a fair wage – that just shifts the exploitation from the supply chain to the consumer (which, admittedly is a much better place for it).
Messing With Your Head
It’s also challenging in the mindset. I had what I thought was a great idea for a business last night (we often brainstorm these). It would have been passive, low-investment with a large potential upside and met a huge demand in the marketplace. When I mentioned it to Mel she paused for about 5 seconds and said “It doesn’t sound very fair trade”.
Well, that hit me right in the face – my idea was about as far from fair trade as you could get! It was going to be a marketplace for Chinese-manufactured goods. I can’t very well go around reselling Chinese-made trinkets and pretend to be fair trade. Obviously, if I wouldn’t buy from my own business then there’s a big, big problem with that business!