Maintaining a Sustainable Life In The City
When we think of sustainability, we tend to think of a nice rural setting with a garden full of vegetables, a chicken shed for eggs and maybe even a goat, or cow, for milk. Growing your own food is very rewarding and can save quite a bit of money, if you’re dedicated enough. But what about those of us who can only manage part of that level of commitment? or not at all? City life doesn’t allow much room for gardens and city by-laws don’t allow livestock.
The very first thing to do is identify what it is that you use most. In our household, this would be staple foods, coffee and tea. Buying food from your local market, rather than the supermarket, can almost guarantee a sustainable product. Small markets tend to buy locally, largely because they can’t access the large distributors. This is not always the case though, so checking labelling, or even asking questions can give you the answers you need. If you have access to a Farmer’s Market (usually a weekly street market), even better as the product is sold by the people that grow it.
What about tea, coffee and other products?
Some products cannot be grown locally. Coffee, for example, needs particular environmental conditions to grow. Then, the process of selecting and roasting the beans is far beyond our capabilities.
From this point, we start to rely on organisations, such as Fair Trade, or Rainforest Alliance, to label products to help our decisions. Unfortunately, it’s not all that cut and dried. The philosophies of these organisations are sometimes lost due to their sheer size. Much like the Heart Smart Tick in Australia, these labels can be “bought”. A farmer wishing to be recognised as part of Fair Trade is inspected once every year with no followup to ensure compliance. On top of that, a fee is charged to the farmer every year. This fee often comes at the expense of the workers.
Don’t get me wrong. These organisations achieve much in the way of global awareness, without whom, we would blithely purchase the cheapest coffee at the supermarket. At the end of the day, we all need to do our own research into our favourite brands.
Research is key
Whilst researching this article, I looked up one of my favourite coffee makers. The first point of reference is that ubiquitous tool, Google. I like to look up the company website first to drink their Kool-Aid. Let’s face it, it’s my favourite brand: I want to believe what they have to say. Once you realise that the articles on the company web-site are very one-sided, it’s time to look further afield.
For example, looking up Rainforest Alliance will take you straight to the organisation’s website. Looking down the list presented, all the articles appear to be very positive. Click on the Wikipaedia link, however, and scroll to the bottom, you might find a section on criticism. I would certainly encourage you to do this.
The same arguments can be made for non-food products. Timber, for example, is a hot-bed of contention right now. Has the timber used in your coffee table, bookshelf or house come from a sustainable forest, or old growth?
Again, try to buy as local as you can. It is far easier to call the guy down the road for information, or the national timber council, than it is to contact the Malaysian supplier.
Unfortunately, there are no labelling laws (at least in this country) for timber. You can’t just walk into a timber shop and know, just by looking, where the timber has come from. Questions need to be asked! If you can’t get the answers you need, either ask for the purchaser, or say that you will go somewhere else. It is important that you tell the staff why, otherwise there will be no change in attitude.