Friday, December 28, 2012

Easy, ethical resolutions for 2013

I'm calling these resolutions "easy" because I think they are definitely achievable without sacrificing quality of life. I am already doing several of them and want to continue them in 2013. I have blogged about some previously; I will blog about the others during 2013.

1. Donate greater than 5% of my income to humanitarian charities, as guided by The Life You Can Save.

2. Follow Michael Pollan's Food Rules. (N.B. One of the rules is to "break the rules once in a while.")

3. Purchase and eat only free-range meat, increase meat-free days to 4 per week and buy from farmers' markets as much as possible. (As per Michael Pollan's food rules, "treat meat as a flavouring or special occasion food.")

4. Continue to use the Shop Ethical! app to guide supermarket purchases (and remember to take those reusable grocery bags).

5. Have old clothes and shoes mended and re-soled, instead of throwing them away. If unable to be mended or donated, use old clothes as rags. If buying clothes (or other textiles), buy only second-hand, fair trade or ethically-made products and buy less overall. Host a Clothes Swap Party.

6. Participate in at least a couple of my own "Buy Nothing New" months.

7. Don't buy bottled water.

8. Increase the amount of regular exercise that I do. (You may wonder how this is an ethical resolution. It's probably the best thing most people can do for their physical and mental health, which increases their chance of being a productive member of society for as long as possible, and reduces present and future burden on the health system.) Sleep enough every night.

9. Get a bicycle and start cycling for transport, fun and health; continue to use public transport and walk as well.

10. Give away at least seven items per week.

11. Further reduce electricity and water consumption.

12. Successfully grow at least one plant on my balcony, preferably edible!

13. Continue blogging here at least once per fortnight and engaging with like-minded people.

What are your resolutions for 2013? Can you suggest others I can add to my list?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Socks and jocks

Underwear is a popular Christmas stocking filler in Australia so I thought I'd take this opportunity to post about ethical underwear choices (socks, jocks, bras and tights). Underwear is one item I don't want to buy "vintage" and am not willing to forgo completely.

This cheeky (sorry, pun) "More Than Pretty Knickers" video briefly (oops, another pun) points out some of the environmental and human costs of the production of underwear.

There is further explanation here of the facts quoted in the video. I'm not alone in the struggle to find ethically made underwear - I discovered great posts on the topic by Adventures Undressed and Life of a Vegetarian Girl (each with a list of links).

With my non-existent sewing skills, I'm unlikely to make any underwear that's wearable and does its job without bulging (and not in a good way). I discovered a website for a bespoke bra-maker in Brisbane (Linda's Lingerie) - I wonder if I could find the same in Perth? I have heard that making bras, particularly those with under-wires, is a specialised and difficult skill. If you are more sartorially savvy than me, here are instructions for making underpants from old t-shirts.

I am trying to extend the lifespan of my delicates by handwashing and mending where possible - and I reuse my holey (cleaned!) undies as rags for cleaning the bathroom. But what to do when my current batch of smalls has had its day? Finding ethically made underwear is far more difficult than finding ethically made clothes. Bras (especially with under-wires) are more difficult than undies and socks.

There are a number of producers making socks and jocks (and singlets and sleepwear) from fabrics with a lighter (but not invisible) ecological footprint than traditional cotton and nylon, such as organic cotton and bamboo. Some are fair trade. You can find them easily by searching for "ethical underwear Australia". Wool socks keep feet warm wet or dry, require less frequent washing and will biodegrade if you bury them in the garden once you're done with them. My friend works for NZ merino brand Icebreaker and vouches for their ethical standards (and his wife loves Icebreaker undies!), although I've not tried them myself.

Pants to Poverty (their name is a pun - my kind of brand) is a British pants company that, according to their website, source their organic cotton directly from farmers in India and produce in a carbon neutral factory that pays living wages to its Indian garment workers. There are a few online stockists in Australia including Etiko and The New InternationalistWho Made Your Pants? is an English worker cooperative (mainly of refugee women) making underpants from fabric that would otherwise end up in waste. I was really captured by their business model (after discovering them through Twitter).

I've struggled to find Australian-made underwear since Bonds sent their production offshore. Brisbane-based Nico Underwear produces (ethically, in Australia) pretty women's underwear that's available in a few stores in Brisbane and online. I won some of their underwear once and while it's gorgeous, it far too big for me because I chose the sizes based on my (obviously poorly self-measured) measurements. Still they're worth another try, especially if you're in Brisbane and can try them in person. With a bit of online searching, I just found Tuffys & Tuffetts, another Australian-made underwear producer (including bras with under-wires!). However, they don't seem to have any bricks and mortar stockists so I'm left with the same concern about ill-fitting bras and VPLs.

For seriously sexy, Melbourne-made lingerie, Hopeless looks like the way to go. They have a gorgeous blog and are the most only appealing of the Aussie underwear producers I found via an etsy search.

As I sit here sweating on the couch on a 39 Celcius Christmas day, it's hard to think about wearing tights. However, I thought I'd end by mentioning Tightology. Their lovely hosiery is Australian-made, from "organic cotton, bamboo and wool blend using 100% recycled paper packaging and environmental inks for printing." They have many stockists, including several in Perth!

I would love to hear others' suggestions for ethical underwear choices. Does anyone know of a store in Perth selling Australian-made underwear? Does anyone know of a bespoke bra-maker in Perth? If you do, please be generous and share the details - it's Christmas after all.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Buying Christmas gifts? My gift guide.

I have decided to throw in my 2 cents (more like $200, at current Perth prices) with a Christmas gift guide. There's a wealth of links here about how to simplify your Christmas, including Zen Habits' Case Against Buying Christmas Presents. A sobering statistic from The Life You Can Save newsletter:

"According to the National Retail Foundation, last year, $563 billion dollars were spent just in the U.S. during the holidays in 2011. To put that in perspective, according to a UN report, the cost of reducing by half the proportion of the world’s population in extreme poverty will be $189 billion dollars in 2015."

However, if you are going to buy gifts (as I am), my first suggestion would be to make a charitable donation on behalf of the recipient - for example, Oxfam Unwrapped's Pile of Poo (or any of their other excellent gifts for the less faecally-inclined). As well as helping Oxfam's humanitarian projects, you can claim the donation as a tax deduction! Win-win.

If your recipient just wouldn't be satisfied with a donation, think about gifting an experience. Depending on your budget, options include a holiday, birdwatching, a voucher for a local independent restaurant, some babysitting or a cooking class. A voucher for shoe repair or a tailor would allow them to rejuvenate old shoes and clothes, to stop them going to landfill.

If you must give a more tangible gift, keep in mind the resources (environmental and human) that went into producing the gift. Fair trade items tick the box here (try the Oxfam shop or if in Perth, Fair Go Trading in Northbridge). If you're buying for a sweet tooth, there's a lot of delicious fair trade chocolate about (Fair Go have a Butter and Sea Salt chocolate that I really want to try - hint to any family or friends reading).

You can also head to local markets for locally produced items. Some of my upcoming favourite Perth holiday markets include Unwrapped Designer Market (Sundays December 9th and 16th in Forrest Place), Subi Farmers Market Annual Christmas Gift Market (Saturday December 8th, 8am to noon) and Illuminites Christmas Festival (Friday December 14th, 5pm to 10pm, Perth Cultural Centre).

Support your independent bookstores by giving books as gifts. Be subversive with beautiful coffee-table books with an underlying message of sustainability. I recommend Kevin McCloud's 43 Principles of Home, Amanda Talbot's Rethink: The Way You Live, Michael Pollan's Food Rules (beautifully illustrated by Maira Kalman) or India Flint's Second Skin.

Some other thoughtful gift guides I recommend are Nicholas D. Kristof's Gifts That Change Lives for the New York Times (charitable donations), GiveWell's Top Charities for the 2012 Giving Season (also donations), Oxfam's Top Ten Gifts (all fair trade) and Sarah Wilson's Christmas Gift Guide.

If none of the above will satisfy, I recommend something from Aesop. Unlike mainstream beauty companies, this fiercely independent Australian brand puts most of its money back into research and development, rather than advertising and promotions. They don't have sales, which is a good indicator that their products don't have ridiculous mark-ups. The products are all made in Australia and they do what they promise on the label, in addition to looking great in the bathroom and smelling divine. They're expensive but they last for months (and then some). As a universally pleasing gift, I would recommend the Resurrection Aromatique Handwash. Every time your gift recipient uses it, or spies it next to their sink, they will sigh with pleasure and think of you with fondness for bringing it into their life.

What are your recommendations for ethical gift-giving?