Laura Jones

Ignorance is bliss. UNTIL…

In Uncategorized on September 26, 2009 at 2:16 pm

SUST VAN IMAGE

Here’s what Metro Hippie Joshua Foss had to say about educating yourself about sustainability.

“It kind of feels like you’re in the Matrix. You’ve got a red pill, and you’ve got a blue pill, and once you make a choice to find out about the reality of things, there’s no going back.”

Bingo.

That pretty much encompasses how I’ve been feeling since I dove into this tour with my stack of books on sustainability. I’ve been equating it with the feeling I would get in school when I arrive to class and realize that I didn’t do my homework. You know the feeling, that sinking-impending-doom realization that you blew it, now all you can do is sit back and deal with the consequences. As a citizen of this globe, I think it’s safe to say at this point that I forgot to do my homework for Sustainability 101 and I’m starting to feel like I’ve gotten myself into a bit of a pickle. When I started this journey, I guess I swallowed the red pill and now I’m swimming in the consequences.

My problem is not that I’m wasteful or lazy; my mother taught me to recycle like a good girl. I even wash and reuse my Ziploc bags, a habit that always got me funny looks from my roommates in college. The problem is that- and it hurts to admit this- I’m a… CONSUMER.

Just looking at that word makes me feel guilty. It sounds like a word that should be reserved for referencing garbage disposals or St. Bernards. But, if I allow myself to paint a mental picture, I can see me looking like a caricature consumer, kind of like Cookie Monster but in a woman’s body that tears around malls buying things in a frenzy, leaving a trail of receipts, tank tops, cookie crumbs and other trendy things in its wake. This is not a very pretty picture.

My recent downsize in accommodations (you know, from a house to a van) necessitated a bit of um, spring cleaning. I’m basically living out of a couple stuff sacks worth of clothes, I cook with backpacking cookware, I bought exactly two plates, bowls, cups and sets of cutlery on the road. And, here’s the kicker- I’m doing just fine. I have MOUNTAINS of clothes and boots and jackets and other “necessities” in various places across the west coast of this country and the reality is that I don’t even remember what I own anymore. And I don’t miss anything. I think that maybe I wasted a bunch of money buying a lot of stuff I don’t need.

Oops.

What I’ve been learning on the road is this novel little concept of hidden costs. I’m a bargain hunter by blood, I love to dig around for the best deals and I’m not ashamed to admit that sometimes I think that $5 is just too much to spend on a top. That said, I’m very good at what I do and I can accumulate masses of very inexpensive, very wearable stuff that I love at an alarming rate. Never before have I considered the costs of these things outside of the cost to my bank account. Truth be told, the things I buy are made out of materials that came from somewhere and constructed by people that live somewhere, and that is about as much as I can tell you about that. Since I’ve taken to uncovering the social and environmental costs of all this stuff, I can’t ignore or escape the reality of the impact of my lifestyle.

When I shop for food, I look at ingredients and I read nutrition labels. When I shop for anything else… I don’t. I don’t even think about it. I guess it comes down to an idea I learned from Gifford Pinchot, a kind of hierarchy of concern. People, it seems, are the most concerned with the things that they put in their mouths- it’s very intimate, the consequences of putting bad things in your body are clear, the “danger” is personal. The next tier below that regards things people put on their bodies, this is where clothing comes is, and cosmetics and soaps and things like that. And, the tier below that is just about everything else that we use, live in, drive in, but that we don’t really consider parts of ourselves. I’m embarrassed to think that I didn’t even make it to the second tier of concern while going along my merry way through life.

This tour constantly presents a series of thought experiments, I spend a lot of time driving along thinking, “What would the world be like if…” everything made was “benign by design” so there were no toxic chemicals used, released into the environment, or that needed to be disposed of later; or if people only ever grew and ate organic, natural foods; or if everyone on the planet was meaningfully employed and paid a living wage. I know these are all big “ifs” but I’m coming to the realization that I’m a part of this cycle of ways that things are made and purchased and disposed of- yes, as a CONSUMER, and that my daily actions and purchases contribute to the way the world works. After all, if I can be thoughtless and selfish, why can’t businesses and corporations? We’re all just trying to make a living and enjoy life, right?

The truth is, I have an opinion, I have values, and I have a vote. My vote is my dollar. And, every time I make a purchase I cast a ballot in favor of one way the world should work or another. It’s time that I take a little responsibility for the way I live, shop, spend and vote because it becomes clear when one girl has to sort through veritable mountains of shoes, boots, jackets, sweaters, jeans and bikinis to figure out what she’s going to actually need for a few months on the road that this kind of consumerist lifestyle is really just not sustainable.

So, what’s a bargain shopper like me to do? Ethically produced, environmentally friendly goods and clothing are decidedly not cheap. In fact, they are expensive. I will go ahead and say they are way beyond my means. But here’s the thing, I can spend $100 and buy twenty different items that will clog my cabinets and closet and make moving and packing a real pain- or, I can spend that same $100 on one or two responsible purchases and know that I successfully supported brands that care about people and care about the planet. I like to shop, that’s probably not something I can change. I can, however, change the way that I shop and choose to align my values with my vote. And, you can too.

If you’re not sure you can kick the habit on will alone, just choose the red pill- do a little research. It can open your eyes to a whole other world.

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  1. What a great post! You hit on so many things I’ve been discovering on my “journey to sustainability” as well, especially about clothing. Today I went to an eco-fashion boutique for the first time and made the conscious decision to purchase 1 (relatively expensive, for me) skirt that is classic, well-made and most importantly made with the environment in mind. I feel like it will really last me as a staple.
    Thanks for your great thoughts Laura, keep up the good work!

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