When it comes to sustainable living, I can totally understand how overwhelming it may feel at first. With so many different industries and areas to think about, one of the most common questions I get asked from people is "where do I even start?".
Over the years I have learned that the best way to begin to make small changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle is to ask three simple questions that are applicable and pertain to every single choice or purchase you will ever make.
It doesn't matter if it is the food you are buying, the skincare products you are purchasing, or the new article of clothing you have been admiring. These questions will help you change the way you think about the way you consume, and that really is the way you get started living in a more sustainable fashion.
With time these questions will become so ingrained in your mind that they will become second nature. You wont have to remind yourself to ask these questions, you internally will begin to naturally ask them, and your choices and decisions will feel less like hard compromises and more like the natural choice you make to align with your values, beliefs, and the impact you wish to leave on the world around you.
Where Was This Item Made/grown?
Whether I am choosing my produce for the week, or trying to decide whether to buy that sweater I have been eying, this question is one of the first questions I always ask, and is one of the most important questions you can ask yourself as you begin to move towards a more sustainable way of living.
While it may be more common to see people talking about where their food is coming from, it is less common to hear anyone think twice about where a mass produced ceramic mug from Vietnam was made, or a candle from Malaysia, or a pair of jeans from China. The thought of "where was this made" may never come to mind, and that is one of the first things that needs to change when you begin to adapt a more sustainable way of living.
One thing I first started to notice when I began to pay more attention to where the things I purchased were coming from was that many items would simply say "imported". This became a red flag for me, since it typically would mean that the company would have very little information on worker rights, and occupational and environmental safety standards..
Companies that care about these important issues will choose to make a point of identifying the country of origin, and telling you something about the standards they put in place to make sure that this item, was made with the workers health, your health, and the health of the environment in mind.
Simply by asking the question "where was this item made or grown" will immediately allow you to connect more with the product, and the journey it took to get into your hands. Reconnecting with our food and the items we bring into our lives is such a crucial part of beginning to live a more conscious, sustainable life, which leads me to our next question.
Who Made/grew It?
After you have identified where your food or item you are thinking about purchasing has come from, the next question to ask is "who made it or who grew it?".
We have become so disconnected with both our food system and the way consumer goods get into our stores and homes that we forget almost entirely that there are people behind the products we consume everyday.
Whether it was a young-woman in Columbia cutting the flowers that sit in the vase in your home, or a child in Bangladesh sewing up the t-shirt you paid $10 dollars for, or the farmer in the USA being exposed to pesticides as he sprays his cotton field that will be shipped over to Asia, turned into fast-fashion garments, and then shipped back to the United States.
There are people behind our food, our clothes, and everything else we consume, and it is time we started thinking about them.
Which leads me into my next question.
who Is My Dollar Supporting?
After we have determined where our item was made or grown, and thought about the person who made or grew it, it is now time to think about who or what is your dollar supporting.
You may have heard this phrase before, but each and every time you choose to make a purchase, you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in, the companies and people you want to support, and the impact you want to make.
You may feel as though your dollar doesn't matter in the giant scheme of our global trade industry, but it does, and the second we choose to believe that we don't matter as individuals is the second we choose to give up on the power of humanity to create change.
Because individuals in large numbers create movements and while companies, and policies can help encourage change, it is people that really change the world.
People like you, who choose to ask the harder questions, choose to read an article like this and think about stepping outside your comfort zone, people like you who choose to think about things that may make you uncomfortable, but you know are right.
People like you can change the world.
So the next time you go to make a purchase think about who or what is that dollar supporting?
Is it going to a small organic farmer, or a giant conventional food manufacturer?
Is it going to fast-fashion companies like Forever 21, J.Crew, or H&M who value excessive profit over the health and safety of their workers, or a sustainable fashion brand committed to workers rights, environmental/occupational standards, and quality end products?
While this question may not be an easy one, I promise you that you will be shocked by how empowered you will feel when you make the choice for yourself not to support a company who is not supporting the kind of sustainable, ethical world you want to live in.
We all have choices, and while I would never say that everyone has to be perfect when it comes to sustainable living, I know I certainly am not.
The process of rethinking the way we consume, and taking more accountability for our connection to the system we are a a part of on a daily basis is a powerful way to make a change both in your life, and a change for the world you wish to be a part of.