In the Greenpeace Living Guide, it is revealed that “nothing is new”. What does that mean? It means that when we purchase items, whatever it may be, it comes from somewhere and “products are trailing strands of the most urgent narratives on the planet today: neo-liberal economic globalization, colonialism, ancient forest destruction, toxic pollution, climate change.” (116) In other words, everything is connected, everything comes from somewhere and everything is made from something else (and whatever that something else is, it is not new, indeed it is ancient and a part of the eco-system). Things are made from precious resources (often non-renewable or easily replaced) and connected to larger issues, like the corporate-globalization of our communities and health of the environment. The Greenpeace Living Guide states that we simply cannot “find the answers to the questions of economic injustice and environmental destruction in shopping. We will find it in political change.” (116)
We all know that people need things like clothing, food and household items to live comfortably. We cannot stop shopping altogether, but we can shop differently. We can shop greenly and we can shop aware. Shopping aware means understanding the impact the item in question might have when purchasing. Shopping aware also means making different choices, like buying in bulk in order to save on packaging (and money too!) or buying locally in order to support our communities and limit fossil fuel pollution. It also means working for positive political change that can protect our resources for many generations to come, even if it is through simple actions like asking our super markets to carry a particular green product or buying non-toxic cleaning supplies. Many people think that buying/living green means spending more money. Where food is concerned, that can be true – however buying green is often the cheaper option. It is more affordable because being green means buying used, re-purposing things you already have and going without things you don’t need.
Shopping with the planet in mind mean asking yourself the question: Do I really need this? If the answer is no, then the financial savings and savings to the environment are immense. Getting a “deal” at a dollar store or a department store on something that you don’t need (or really even want) is not actually saving you money. It makes you think you are, but truly you are “saving” your way into an empty bank account. The next thing is buying used items, like clothing which are not only the greener option but the more affordable one too. In addition to keeping items out of landfills and keeping more unnecessary things from being made, buying used is also better for your health because used items have less or no chemical residue, chemicals have usually dissipated or have been washed off. Used clothing is especially good for kids and babies because they go through clothing quite fast, so used clothing is a huge money saver. This is where I should mention how important sharing is. Giving away your kids cloths and toys to a younger family member or friend with kids is not only kind, but truly valuable to other moms.
Buying items from the people who make them is also greener. Buying local jams, for example is greener then driving to the department store and buying jam made by someone else, some where else. Further to that, make it yourself! Re-purposing or making things by hand offers a level of creativity that cannot be bought. It is also a great way to engage kids to do activities that are good for their mental stimulation while building long-term skills. It is also an excellent way to start the conversations with kids about the state of the environment, in a way that is positive and empowering rather then disheartening.
Another issue (explored in the video below) is that affluent countries are consuming more than their share and more than they share. Many scientists are saying that there is a finite amount of resources to go around and many countries use more then they need and leave other people and communities with less than they need. In that regard, buying less “new” items is not only an environmental action, but a social one.
When we constantly consume we are not addressing our deeper individual feelings and desires. We are not looking at the “why”. The “why” is often the feeling of needing something because of an internal void or not-so-hot self image wherein we believe that we should have an item which in some way will make us more likable or better than we are (often done unconsciously). We have been conditioned to believe that shopping will make us better to others or to ourselves, but that is just the calculated, highly studied and utilized power of advertising. So, don’t be fooled. Loosing money and hurting the planet for the “newest” car, gadget or item will not bring personal fulfillment, just a temporary high. Doing the work to love yourself unconditionally (with or without material wealth) will bring deep satisfaction and joy.
Video: The Story of Stuff, created by Annie Leonard reviews the stuff we buy, use then throw away. View website [here].