Ethical consumerism – Is it possible to produce goods and services in a fair and ethical way, without damaging the environment?
There remains fierce debate surrounding the question of whether consumerism can ever be accommodated within a sustainable framework. In other words, is it possible to produce goods and services in a fair and ethical way, without damaging the environment? The question is not quite so straightforward. For example some fair trade products such as coffee can be ethically produced, but can also have an adverse impact on the environment. It would appear, therefore, that there is no universally accepted definition of what actually constitutes green consumerism.
This lack of consensus does not mean, however, that we cannot live greener and more sustainable lifestyles – far from it. There is a growing realisation today that our actions are having a detrimental effect on the planet, pushing more people to consider how they can make a difference. The increase in demand for fair trade products and surge in clean energy are two areas that are testament to this. Other people see sustainable living as an effective way of reducing costs and saving money. For example, insulating the house or car sharing.
Having decided to adopt a greener lifestyle, reduce our carbon footprint and save money into the bargain, the question then arises of how we go about finding green products and services amongst the myriad of confusing claims, greenwashing and different alternatives! There are suppliers of everything from fair trade clothing to green insurance policies, but these have tended to be fairly disparate and involved lots of internet searches and shopping around niche websites.
A genuine desire to help protect the planet, encourage sustainable living and make it easier for eco-conscious shoppers to find greener products and services led to my decision in 2005 to launch the Green Providers Directory.
The idea was that the directory would provide a one-stop shop for all things green, eco-friendly and sustainable – all under one roof. Suppliers are listed in easy-to-use sections, with a description of what they provide and contact details. The directory is free and easy to use, providing links to a range of renewable energy suppliers, fair trade clothing, health and beauty products, energy saving devices, ethical gifts and organic wines, as well as news and updates on environmental issues and related topics.
The directory has since been listed in The Guardian and Channel 4’s environmental sections and on green.tv, a United Nations Environmental Programme. It also has a number of links with schools and universities, including Cambridge University, Bradford University and the University of Huddersfield, providing articles and information on green issues and sustainable living.
The directory is also involved in areas such as helping to protect the world’s rainforests and endangered species, writing articles for green blogs and publications, and providing support for a number of environmental causes and campaigns.
In the 11 years since the launch of the Green Providers Directory we have seen progress in many areas such as growth in clean energy production, fair trade products being stocked in major supermarkets, electric cars, charges for plastic bags, climate change agreements and banning of bee-harming pesticides. But we’ve also witnessed fracking, continued population growth, species extinction, rainforests being destroyed for palm oil plantations and other severe ecological threats.
I would like to think that the directory has made a useful contribution to protecting the environment, and that it can play an ongoing role in helping to build a sustainable future for our children and the planet’s rich and diverse wildlife.
Guest post by Dr Gary Robertshaw