We all need to make more sustainable choices

Ethical consumption is difficult but not impossible.

Sitting on his couch after a stressful day at work, he lifts his favorite chocolate bar to his mouth, already salivating at the thought of eating it. As he takes a bite, he wonders how the chocolate was made, so he googles it. He discovers the company uses child labor. Suddenly, he feels ashamed. He contemplates boycotting the company’s products, but he stops. “Why does it matter?” he wonders. “Other people will buy this bar and the company will keep making money anyways.” Irritated, he chooses an indifferent approach, his temples now hurting profusely. Overwhelmed and cynical, he devours the rest of the chocolate, feeling a pang of guilt deep down.

His brain hurts, and frankly, mine does too. Why should we be subjected to such complex thinking over a $1 candy bar? Because of ethical consumption. Defined by The Guardian as the “buying [of] products which were ethically produced and/or which are not harmful to the environment and society,” ethical consumption has become a prominent, and even controversial idea in the past several years. These ethical choices can be as simple as choosing organic produce at a grocery store. However, most choices are more complex nowadays, as conscious consumers take into account energy consumption, fair trade, and environmental impacts.

In today’s world, anyone besides a no-waste, ultra-vegan producer of zero emissions is going to be subjected to some rude comments. Just check Twitter. While that may feel discouraging, no one is perfect. The cliché applies especially to ethical consumption because the options are no longer as simple as good and evil. For instance, one might choose to boycott the chocolate company that uses child labor. But while lower than Western standards, that company may be the best option for work in that country, and so thousands of jobs would be lost. Some people can’t afford cruelty-free products, or boycotting cotton because it demands too many resources and too much agricultural land.

At this point in my Chidi Anagonye-like lecture (he’s a character in “The Good Place”) you may be wondering, “So what should I do?” The answer is: I don’t know. I really don’t. Every choice you make is an ethical dilemma, but that shouldn’t overwhelm you. I would argue that as long as you contemplate your choice’s impacts on the environment and others, you are practicing ethical consumption. So, if your priorities don’t align with the ultra-vegan community, don’t immediately become cynical or overwhelmed. We all must decide what we’re OK with and accept our decision. I’ll admit, I understand the environmental impacts planes have; however, travelling is a big part of my identity and so I choose to continue flying. However, I decided to cut out eating meat at my house. Yes, I sometimes eat meat at restaurants, but that’s my decision.

We all have a stake in the future of our society and of our planet. Becoming an ethical consumer is the minimum we can do to ensure we are doing our best to protect our planet and to lead a thoughtful life.