Writing / Ken Storie:  Thoughts on Sustainability

Consumer Power: Ten  Easy Things
1. When possible, buy things that were made near home.

Transportation is an energy hog. Sure it’s cheaper for a brewery to bottle its beer in Edmonton and ship it to Winnipeg - cheaper for them!  But what about the environmental and safety costs associated with hauling the stuff across the prairies? We pay - for the damage to our highways, for increased insurance costs to cover accidents, in loss of life, for health care, in traffic policing, in bureaucracy surrounding the regulation of a trucking industry that wouldn’t field safe vehicles unless forced to do so. We pay in the inconvenience felt on congested highways, the noise of the big trucks. 

And speaking of close to home, why would we buy bread that comes from another city when we have a bakery right around the corner?

We can all think of countless similar examples.
2. Buy things that were made by people. 

A number of forces ranging from Globalization to our Taxation System conspire to make it easier for companies to invest in machinery than people.  Governments could change that, but they won’t.  We as consumers can make a real difference.

3. Choose to buy goods that come in sensible packaging. 

Many goods are over packaged. Ask the bakery to just put the muffins in a paper bag instead of styrofoam topped with cling-wrap. I know a meat shop that will still wrap the steaks in waxy brown paper.  For regular shopping consider your own packaging (cloth bag) instead of the plastic sacs they hand out. 

Drinks packaged in cans and plastic, add metal and plastic to your diet. They don’t taste as good. They promote a throwaway culture and even though the manufacturers claim that both cans and plastic are recyclable, many end up as litter that we have to pay to have cleaned up.  Until recently, you couldn’t buy a canned soft drink in P.E.I. They still had the old fashioned bottles, but the government caved in to pressure from both manufacturers and consumers and allowed cans. It is up to consumers. 

And while we’re on the subject, just in case you didn’t know, bottled water is seldom necessary in our country.

4. Ask where your food comes from.

I remember when a can of cashews proudly announced itself as a  “Product of Brazil”.  I assumed that such information was mandatory, but that is not so. It was just that they were proud of the source of the product. The fact that packages don’t indicate the source, or worse still, offer misleading information, (“Product of Canada” might mean it was packaged here!) tells us that many suppliers are not proud of the source of their products.

What does that tell us?

Our governments have been woefully negligent; in fact they have been complicit in what amounts to wide-scale deception. Ask your retailer where food product are grown and processed.  If they don’t know, consider shopping elsewhere. They will get the message.

5. Don’t accept unsolicited Junk Mail, Don’t deal with companies who send it.

We have such incredible power as consumers. Companies can afford to send out a steady stream of flyers and inserts because they aren’t paying the cost of the disposal and cleanup, and we should press our governments to act on that. But if we just say ‘no’ to junk mail saturation advertising, the companies could channel that money into lower prices or better service.

6. Eat a Manitoba carrot.
Or even two.  If a vegetable was grown in your home province you stand a better chance of knowing what chemicals were used in its growth and processing. You reduce transportation requirements and you provide a job for a neighbour.  Refuse to buy food products which have depended upon unnecessary chemicals. Save the planet, save your life, have a better tasting carrot. The same goes for milk. Imagine my surprise when I looked at my milk carton and it didn’t even say where the milk was packaged. But the head office was in another province. I’m still looking into that one.

7. Walk to work.
Okay for some of us that’s a bit difficult, but we should at least examine the options. We know we should cut back on carbon fuel consumption and we know that exercise is good for us. Isn’t it handy that we can kill two birds with the one stone?  The benefits are amazing.  Healthier people, less health care expense, less pollution, safer streets, less maintenance on both roads and vehicles, less expense personally.  The list goes on.  In fact, consider replacing any motorized mode of transportation and compare with the human-powered equivalent. For example; motorboat vs. canoe, snowmobile vs. cross-county skis, jet-skis vs. sail boarding, ATV vs. bicycle. 

Examine the cost of these transportation toys. 

Financial cost - no comparison. 
Health cost - obvious. 
Pollution cost - also obvious. 
Abilty to annoy others wanting to peacefully enjoy nature?  Don’t get me started!

8. Give your home an environmental makeover
There are hundred of websites, government pamphlets, newspaper and magazine articles that will show you how to both save money and help the environment.  Don’t forget that when you update windows etc. to save energy costs you’re also increasing the value of your home.

9. The Shopping 5 W’s: What, When, Where, How, and above all, Why?

Shopping has become a recreational activity. Have you been to the West Edmonton Mall? It’s no accident that the concept of shopping is now closely linked with entertainment.  Fight that by considering the 5 W’s.

We’ve dealt with some choices regarding what to buy.

Does the “When” matter?

Do you shop on Sundays, holidays, or late at night?  Would you like to be working those hours? Keeping shopping outlets open around the clock adds to the cost of retailing and is environmentally wasteful.

How about the “Where”?  A local shop or cafe or a national chain? Will you really save money by taking your car three kilometers to “sav” a buck or two, compared to walking to the neighbourhood retailer? 

That takes us to “How”. When you must use the car plan your trips.  Many of us could combine a daily walk with a bit of shopping – take a backpack.

And last but not least, “Why”. Consumer experts have long told us never to shop while hungry. It seems that we as a society are being manipulated to a state of constant hunger. Do you really need those gadgets.

10. Exercise your Free Trade options
Free trade can be a good thing. It’s based on the idea that Costa Ricans may be really good at producing a particular product and we Canadians might be really good at a different product. So let’s trade based on our strengths.  What it shouldn’t mean is that we buy products we can produce right near home just because they are produced cheaper elsewhere. If things can be shipped half way across the world and still be cheaper there are reasons. Labour standards perhaps?  Child labour?  Farm safety standards?  It makes sense to buy South American coffee, but we grow perfectly good cabbages right here at home.  And when we do shop for coffee we should try to be aware of which countries do have reasonable good human rights and labour practices. It can make a big difference to a struggling democracy if we Canadian consumers support their efforts.

Ken Storie 2017