Every decision you make affects other people around the world and in the future. Every product, down to the food you ate at lunch or the shirt you bought last weekend, has a price that is not listed on its tag. No matter how conscious your decisions are, your actions still have a long-lasting ripple effect.
Ethical living, also known as “green living,” is a lifestyle in which one’s carbon footprint is reduced by means of changing diet, purchasing habits, amount of resource use and transportation. It is believed that the mass reduction of personal waste can help to reduce mass pollution. These eco-safe solutions, though they are resourceful, can harm more than they help.
Veganism, a practice and diet in which no animal products are used, is a rapidly growing lifestyle. Though animals are not killed or being harmed, society is being affected negatively by this practice. Many new-age health crazes have sparked an increase in green eating. Avocado toast seems more ethical than a steak, right? You might be surprised. Health influencers have introduced new green foods (and juices) to the masses, one example being quinoa. One might wonder how a simple grain can help or harm. Quinoa is a popular food item among vegans because it is a major and healthy protein sources and because it is not an animal product, it is automatically assumed to be cruelty-free. This assumption is very wrong, as many Andeans are beginning to see negative class and agricultural effects from the mass demand of Quinoa.
Objects like biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes and paper cutlery are also growing in popularity. Biodegradable plastic and materials are a step in the right direction, but their name is being utilized by big corporations for the wrong reason. They use terms like “eco-friendly” and “plant-based” in the names, but the plastics they market usually just remove petroleum from the ingredient list. Big corporations are beginning to use the public’s eco-friendly craze to their advantage, marketing regular plastics with the same eco-friendly image. But many are ditching plastic straws and containers as a whole for metal and paper. A major issue with this switch is the fact that many disabled people require plastic straws for everyday life. Health-conscious practices like this reveal the ethical dilemma that stems from ethical living. Many are faced with the decision between helping the world or the individual.
This dilemma is also seen in many different situations involving other people and animals. A simple fabric choice can also be taxing on the eco system and workers. Cotton shirts seem innocent enough, but when cotton is a crop that requires intensive care and watering, it is eventually tolling on the environment. Fabric choice affects more than the earth, though. Because people are boycotting Asian silk (due to silkworms being harmed in the process), workers in China and India could suffer as well. And even though major companies like ASOS have boycotted silk, many refuse to feel sympathy for a worm. These are the same people who boycott fur sales for creatures just as sentient. The situations grows to be more of a moral crisis as we dive deeper into the ethics, deciding which life is worth boycotting a product for.
It seems that many draw a line where the extent of their ethical living ends. Some draw it at a fox or rabbit’s life, but not at a worm or factory worker’s. Some draw it at only shopping local and buying green, some draw it at vegetarianism. Others draw it at eating organic and throwing a piece of paper in a recycling bin and calling it a day. It’s not that the latter ideology is futile, it really just isn’t helping anyone. Making alterations in your life that better the lives of others and the planet takes dedication and research beyond personal preference and convenience.
Research must be below the surface of pro-corporate headlines and campaigns. Adidas recently announced the release of 100% recycled shoes, a seemingly green and innovative product. What many fail to realize is that they are still using sweatshops to produce these shoes. While many are patting the company on the back for reducing plastic waste, there are children working in poor conditions who go unrecognized and overworked. What seems like greenery has harmful corporate roots.
It’s discouraging, living in a society where helping the earth means harming those living on it. Change, on a larger scale, seems impossible when you act alone. That’s because it is. Our green society has grown comfortable with blaming the individual for mass amounts of plastic in oceans, but refuses to recognize mass corporations like Coca-Cola and Nestlé (both with hundreds of plastic plants around the globe) as the major culprit. One person recycling and buying shoes made out of old plastic will not solely clean the oceans. We think it can, but it simply will not make a dent, even if many join in. Major companies’ metal straws and plant-based plastic propaganda has goaded us into taking the blame for mass pollution. Our ignorance will bring more harm to our planet than our personal waste. We can never be totally conscious of where our money goes or what we affect, but we can hold the right people responsible.
Change is difficult. This should not discourage you to live ethically, though. Shop local, recycle, don’t use styrofoam, ride a bicycle—don’t give up on reducing personal waste. We must understand that we cannot live a completely ethical life, though. Someone always gets the short end of the stick, whether it is the factory worker in China, the Andean quinoa farmer or the silkworm. We must research before we buy into green corporate marketing and we must think about others when we boycott products essential for everyday life. Being aware of our inevitable impact and the harm caused by deceitful companies is living ethically in this day and age.
Photo: Mary Dodys