Exercise 4 – Take a personal inventory, part 1
(Inquiry): Watch The Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.com). Then take an inventory of your kitchen, bathroom, and closet. Ask yourself questions about the foods, personal care and cleaning products, furnishings, electronics, and clothing and shoes you see before you. What do you know about how they were produced and about the effects of their production on people, animals, and the environment? What do you know about the resources used in their production? About any potential health consequences (positive and negative) and/or suffering they caused to people and/or animals? Please visit the websites listed in the resources section of Most Good, Least Harm (p. 177) or in the links at www.HumaneEducation.org/weblinks to learn more, and visit www.responsibleshopper.org and www.goodguide.com to learn about some popular products. After your investigation write down or discuss with a loved one what you learned, how you feel knowing this new information, and how this information may affect your choices and behaviours.
Since I'm reading these questions and responding to them online, my laptop was the first item that came to mind. I use an Apple MacBook, which I got this year when my older MacBook Pro had a graphics processor issue. Apple's laptops, especially the smaller ones, are possibly "greener" than many other manufacturer's models, but I don't know that this means much.
Apple has supposedly stopped using many toxic chemicals in their designs, but there is still a great deal of mining and processing using chemicals that has to happen. Greenpeace has had a campaign for a few years trying to get Apple to become more environmentally friendly.
The mining of precious metals is often environmentally destructive, which means that animals suffer as well as humans. Mining also contributes to conflicts in areas like the Congo.
With my computer, it's become such a necessity to have one. My activism and organizing is done largely online. It's how everyone communicates now. If I didn't have a computer, would I be cutting myself off from the world?
I also use a computer all day at work. In fact, my job depends on my computer.
On the positive side, I've chosen a computer from a company known for their durable hardware. My old MacBook Pro will probably get donated to an organization in Vancouver that refurbishes and reuses old computers (http://freegeekvancouver.org/).
I've lately been considering replacing my existing basic cellphone with a smartphone - iPhone or Android phone. Getting a new phone means giving up my existing phone. FreeGeek in Vancouver also takes old cell phones. There is a program here that distributes cell phones to homeless people so that they can have a phone number to find work, housing, etc.
iPhones are made with PVCs and flame retardant chemicals (many of which are no longer used in their laptop computers). The iPhone models do seem to be improving at each iteration, but Apple is annoyingly silent about manufacturing & supply chain information.
Of course, so are all the other manufacturers, many of which haven't even made the efforts to reduce environmental impacts that Apple has.
Apple does take back phones for recycling, but I really don't know what process is used in that recycling.
One of my reasons for getting a new phone is having a lightweight snapshot camera to use when doing events and outreach. Being able to snap a photo and post it immediately to the internet could really help to get the word out. My snapshot camera recently died, so a new phone would actually be replacing two pieces of electronics.
The choice really ends up being between getting a phone, one of which might be marginally better than another, and not getting one at all.
Moving into the kitchen, I see a lot of packaging. We eat vegan, so far fewer animals are impacted by our food than in the average person's kitchen. But many animals are still impacted by our agricultural systems. As I've mentioned previously, there are serious worker's rights issues with the agriculture industry. Trafficking, poor wages, health hazards.
We've been trying lately to reduce the amount of packaged foods we buy. We never get plastic bags, even though that sometimes means carrying bunches of kale out of the store in our hands.
I have a few shirts made by H&M. They're cheap but look nice and are stylish, but I've been hearing lately about H&M's unethical manufacturing and marketing. They made Treehugger's top 7 unethical fashion brands list (http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/06/are-these-unethical-fashion-bran...) because of reports of fraudulent reporting on their use of organic cotton and a fire at a sweatshop that killed 21 people who had been locked in to meet a deadline.
I actually don't buy clothes very often. I've been trying lately to buy organic cotton or bamboo & hemp, but it is a bit more expensive. I think it's really important to dress well when doing animal rights outreach, so I do sometimes buy dress clothes from stores like H&M, Bedo, or Banana Republic. It's a bit of a tradeoff between possible environmental and human rights negatives and the positive of being able to make a greater impact when talking to people about animals rights.
Finding out real information about any of these impacts is incredibly difficult. Companies don't report very clearly or openly, so a lot of research needs to be done to even get any idea of what goes on. Industries put out their own information designed to confuse and contradict well-meaning NGOs who are trying to get them to produce more sustainable products.
The clearest path seems to be to work really hard to buy less, use less, and make what I have last longer. Finding ways to pass on my old items to someone else who can use or repurpose them before they end up being recycled or trashed seems to be a way to mitigate the damage a bit and still engage with the modern world.
It's all so confusing, and I understand why people throw up their hands and just go with what everyone else is doing. It's so much easier that way.