Living ethically is more than just thinking ‘green’ and separating your household waste. It’s about taking a stance on how you live, how you treat other living creatures, how you make decisions about what you buy, where you put your vote. It’s about taking a stand, and working towards a more ethical society.
Ethical Living, the magazine, is there to guide consumers on how to live a more ethical life, and certainly help them make the right decisions when it comes to making decisions about what to buy. The tagline says it all: “For consumers who care.”
Editor Peter Townshend says the goal of the magazine is twofold. “We want to to create awareness amongst the public about ethical issues, specifically around consumerism that leads to a change in shopping behaviour. And to put pressure on the corporate and commercial s to change their production behaviours,” he says.
It’s not a foreign concept to South African companies and consumers. Townshend says already there’s been an effort on the part of advertisers to highlight their ethical stance. “You can already see advertising on ethical issues all over,” he says.
While we (South Africans) might be lagging behind a country such as the United Kingdom, we’re certainly not out on a limb. “SA has made great leaps in as little as the past six months. You can walk into nearly any store in the country and buy products that are marketed as ethical alternatives (some even legitimately so!). Woolworths, for example, are doing some very genuine work in ensuring many of their products are cruelty free and have minimal impact. Yes, there is a lot more to do (and yes, we are definitely lagging behind the UK), but there is progress, and Ethical Living will be keeping a very close eye on developments.”
Townshend says it’s not easy to judge a product’s ethical pedigree, and of course, ‘greenwashing’ is always an issue (which they hope to uncover in the magazine!) but that “briefly we take in to account an extensive range of criteria that fall under the following headings: animal rights, human rights, the environment and political association” are the criteria by which products and services are judged.
“Increasing numbers of South Africans are looking for products and services that will support their values. However, the kind of research required to establish just how ethical one product or company is, relative to its competitors, is not easily available and this makes it difficult for ethical consumers to determine if they are making the best choices when spending their money,” he says.
Townshend also runs a company, called Ethical Living, that consults to business by compiling ethical reports that details how ethical companies are in their business dealings, as well as providing ethical ratings for individual products.
The question is, in a country such as South Africa with its enormous gap between not just the rich and the poor, but the middle class and the poor, can we afford to be ethical across the board? Someone who is struggling to survive, living at the base of Mazlow’s hierarchy of need is unlikely to look at a product and judge whether it’s been created by child labour somewhere in the world.
“This is an interesting and serious question. It seems that ethical ideals slot into Mazlow’s hierarchies only when they don’t threaten them. Ask any vegan whether they were faced with starvation, or eating an animal product and few would argue that starvation was the answer. Of course, this in no way weakens the quest for a more ethical society,” says Townshend.
The magazine – an attractive, beautifully designed publication full of fascinating stories and information – is printed on recycled paper. But Townshend is not taking the manufacturers claims at face value. “Sappi Triple Green is not really that much more expensive than other papers. We are researching the paper industry and initial investigations show that it may not even be the most ethical option. At the moment it seems our best option, though I have a feeling, our research may prove otherwise,” he says.
Research is a pillar of the magazine. Consumers have to trust that research, be sure that if Ethical Living says it’s ok, it really is. “The only research that we use from the UK is on international companies and even this research is tailored to the SA market.”
Townshend and his team have compiled a comprehensive guide on ethical shopping. “Ethical Living covers the social and environmental impacts of individual products – from food items and appliances to financial services and cars – as well as the ethical records of the companies behind the products. This information is compiled from a wide range of trusted sources, including Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, War on Want, leading newspapers, public records, directories and company reports,” Townshend said in a press release recently.
In a nutshell: “Ethical consumerism also means seeing money as more than just a means to buying status, goods or a better lifestyle: our money is a vote which we cast every time we go shopping.”
And that is something to think about. Seriously.
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