Humane Education: Ethical Consumerism

Every day we make consumer choices. We decide what to wear, what to eat and which products to use. These actions can collectively benefit the Earth and its inhabitants when we pause for a moment to reflect on their potential impacts.

A number of years ago, I read the book “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things” as part of my graduate studies at the Institute for Humane Education. It was a huge eye opener for me. The book details the life cycle of common products, such as coffee and a T-shirt. As I read about the various facets of creating these products, it was the first time I truly began to recognize the greater impact my purchases have on people, other species and the planet.

As consumers, we’re often presented with different possibilities regarding which products we might purchase. Take coffee, for example. Upon examination, we may discover that conventional coffee is grown in areas of the rainforest that have been “clear cut”, meaning that the trees have all been removed, negatively impacting ecosystems and inhabitants. Alternatively, we might have the choice of purchasing shade-grown coffee, which is grown under the canopy layer of trees. Not only does this preserve native trees, this method also conserves the habitat for many animals. When I first began doing this research 10 or so years ago, I had a challenging time finding shade-grown coffee and actually had to order it online. I find it exciting to note that you can now find it in many local grocery stores!

 

We can consider the impact of our consumer choices by exploring two questions:

  • What are the effects of this item or activity, both positive and negative, on animals and the environment?
  • Are there any alternatives that may be less harmful or even provide some benefit?

Another example is that we might discover the cosmetics, toothpaste or cookies that we buy are made with palm oil. Conventional palm oil is grown in areas where the land has been cleared for oil palm plantations, which has had devastating impacts on animals such as orangutans and pygmy elephants. Alternatively, there are companies who work to produce sustainably harvested palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil works to certify those who responsibly produce palm oil.

There are a number of organizations working to gather this helpful information for consumers. There are even a number of apps available these days that help support ethical consumerism. For eample, if you want to purchase a cruelty-free product, you could check out The Leaping Bunny Program. If you’re interested in minimizing your impact on animals and the planet, you might check out The Better World Shopper, “a site dedicated to empower people to make the best choice as consumers and to help build the world we want to live in”. In addition, for those who want to research further, the Institute for Humane Education has put together an entire Pinterest board dedicated to ethical consumerism.

Our choices really do add up! When we take a moment to examine the products we’re purchasing, it empowers us to make the best choice possible for people, animals and the planet. This enables us to make knowledgeable decisions on how to walk softly and treat the Earth’s creatures gently.

– Lisa Forzley is the curator of humane education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.

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