This sustainable life: Be an ethical consumer

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By Anne-Marie Vettorel

It’s January, and I know I’m not the only one nursing a shopping hangover. Personally, I lose myself more at the mall than I do at any bar.

The shiny window displays and sale stickers slowly get that buzz going, and by the final swipe of my debit card, I’m sloshed — I have no idea who I am, how I got there, or why I just did what I did.

So I’m doing a detox, and cleansing from cards rather than carbs this New Year. And while shopping less is great, I know I’ll have to buy stuff eventually, and that’s okay.

Because guess what? The choices we make that have the most impact on the planet are one-time decisions, or habits that can be easily formed.

Yes, forgoing every single plastic bag and paper cup is adorably neurotic. But in the long run it really doesn’t compare to whether or not your bank of choice is making ethical investments with your money.

The Better World Shopping Guide, by Ellis Jones, lists several changes you can make to be a more ethical consumer. Here’s my take on the top five.

1. Banks: All five of Canada’s major banks have investments in the Alberta tar sands. If this doesn’t sit well with you, switch to a local credit union like Desjardins (there’s one at University and Dundas). It’s the second lowest-carbon bank in Canada after Vancity.

2. Gasoline: Stay away from Esso (i.e. Exxon-Mobil). Petro-Canada, Shell, and Sunoco are the least harmful alternatives, but really, buy a bike or a Metropass (the earth says thank you and don’t storm the doors).

3. Supermarkets: If you can afford it, Whole Foods, baby! Or the St. Lawrence Market on Saturdays (that’s a money saver too).

If you’re taking the conventional route, nix Wal-Mart, read country-of-origin labels, and be mindful of packaging waste.

4. Retail Stores: The smaller the better. Read country of origin labels — even if they don’t prevent your purchase, they’ll make you think twice about where the item came from.

Patagonia, IKEA, and American Apparel all have good social responsibility records.

5. Cars: I know you’re not shopping for a new one just yet, but remember to check the MPG (30 miles per gallon or less is ideal). As a general rule, overseas imports are more eco-friendly than American-made cars.

And for real keeners, the next five things to change are your sources of seafood, chocolate, coffee, your credit card, and your cleaning products.


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