Monday, September 30, 2013

The Three Super Labels: Natural, Organic and Ethical

Oh, if only…
If only Natural, Organic and Ethical came hand in hand. Life would be easier, shopping would become a little simpler, and everyone involved in the entire process of what we are purchasing—from food to foundation— would be treated in a way we could all smile about.

Unknowingly doing so, I tend to associate each label with one particular genre of item. When it comes to produce at the grocery store I look for Organic, with lotions and potions* (*read- makeup) anything Natural is ideal, and Ethical is how I source my clothing keeping in mind the A-F grading system of Free2Work.

Why do I have these dividers in my mind? I don’t really have a specific answer. After contemplating the possible responses all I find as a reasonable answer is this is how we have been fed information—through streams of now trendy descriptors on the items we view as necessities for our lives which we easily spend cash on. When I think of the information I am given via my twitter feed, conversations I have, and places I shop and visit, it is clear which buzzwords are making their way around how we categorize our standards for what we purchase. If you want to eat healthy, buy organic. If you want your skin to look 10 years younger and for your makeup to look flawless, go for something natural. If you want to ensure children in factories with poor working conditions aren’t making the clothes you wear, shop at places that sell ethical clothing.

While there are definitely terms that combine a few of these items from separate food, clothing, beauty product categories into a mashed category of items we believe and want to trust—think Fair Trade—it becomes clear that the division of these categories comes from basic knowledge at face value, rather than in-depth research and education out of genuine interest of learning more.

Image courtesy of Google Search.
I had never given much thought to the possibility of the three being combined into one super label. It’s the idea of a superhero that has a triad of epic powers— like as if Thor, Captain America and Iron Man from The Avengers were one awesome individual. Or the classic Batman and Superman in one…with the addition of some other superhero with an awesome power (Hero’s are not something I would say I am particularly knowledgeable in).

Could you imagine?

I would love walk into a store like H&M and know that their “conscious collection” line of clothing is actually tri-label conscious—not just organic cotton but organic cotton treated naturally with ethical standards for those who created the item—from those picking the cotton to those sewing the final tags on. H&M does have a B+ rating on Free2Work, and their website does talk about how they would like their business operations to be run in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. For those reasons, I believe they are taking a step in the right direction

Companies like Alba Botanica first off, has lovely hair conditioner, but also strives to provide products that contain natural, organic and cruelty-free ingredient alternatives which are 100% vegetarian. What if they also ensured the individuals harvesting their plant based alternatives were receiving fair wages and other basics of ethical treatment? They make no mention of this on their website, so perhaps they do, but a point like that is something a company should be all over displaying on their website in our current culture which is just starting to be aware of these practices as a rule to business growth and development.

Lush's We Believe Statement
taken from their website.

One company I am currently crushing on is Lush for their attention to all three categories—Natural, Organic and Ethical. In their lovely “We Believe” statement they clearly state what they stand for as a company. You can also look more in-depth into their claims of using Fresh, Natural, Organic and Ethically Sourced ingredients on their website. One of my favourite parts of Lush is their Ethical Buying Team which travel to where their ingredients are sourced to ensure their ethical standards are met and kept. How wonderful!

I find myself whisked away in a dream where all companies adapt the Lush mentality and all consumers make thoughtful and educated decision on the items they use their buying power to purchase. This isn’t a dream world with lollipop trees, cotton candy clouds, and talking animals handing you the latest cruelty free makeup. This world doesn’t have a happy hobbit farmer giving you smiling organic veggies freshly picked from his garden and a cotton field with a connecting sewing machine that magically, and with no harmful emissions, pumps out an ethically made sweater that fits you just perfectly—convenient since it’s fall.

The world I picture looks the same as our own but with all businesses operating under the premise of these three labels—natural, organic and ethical. It’s a world where the lack of an individual’s knowledge or education about the aforementioned standards would be irrelevant to the impact of the purchase. A purchase would be a purchase made for good. Always. Any and all impact would consistently be positive—whether you would know it or not. It’s impossible to read that last line and not have a sly smile slide onto your face. It’s inspiring, whimsical and motivating. Let us encourage business owners we know personally (and those we don’t) to step up and embrace the three standards in question openly, being innovators and trendsetters in their field. Let us encourage those we know well (and those we don’t) to do their research and support companies that are already pioneering what it means to have ethical standards in their companies.

Really, it’s all up to us. What we choose to support now sets the trends and standards for the future. Let’s be the superheroes embracing the triad of super powers and use them to positively impact the world!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Angry Humanitarian

Oh the Angry Humanitarian.
No one really intends to become one. You try to stay friendly, educational, and open but eventually get to the point where you get angry at the decisions and ignorance of the people around you.  Why can’t they understand? Why don’t they change the way they act? Why don’t they care about the rest of the world?

The Building Dreams group on the last day of their trip!
While spending time with youth empowerment humanitarian organization Live Different in the Dominican Republic we warn volunteers about becoming the Angry Humanitarian. It’s possibly the most common reaction to your surroundings when you head home after a completely life changing experience. Our volunteers just spent 10 days in an impoverished different country, not only building a house for a deserving family, but also really gaining perspective on how a majority of the world lives. They put stories to statistics and faces to nameless individuals whose lives are exposed in articles on living conditions and struggles existing thousands of miles across the globe.

How can your life not be changed after this kind of experience?

On the last day of their trip our volunteers take part in one final debriefing session. We have volunteers who have been on trips before mention feelings they experienced when arriving home—most being anger, guilt and frustration. This summer, our final debrief leader was a fun kiwi named Kent and he always gave such a great description of the Angry Humanitarian to the volunteers. Loosely quoted, it went something like this;

“The Angry Humanitarian is someone who is having dinner with their family and gets mad because people are throwing out leftover food into the garbage and are saying ‘that food could feed 10 starving children in Africa’, but really, it couldn’t because that food is on your table in Canada and not in Africa.”

We warn our volunteers that while this reaction is easy to have, it’s not the most productive way to encourage your friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances to live a life where focusing on positively impacting those around you is a priority. As individuals who now have the mantra “Life is about people, not stuff”, they need to take time to respond instead of react to the circumstances around them.

I encourage everyone who has had a life changing experience to evaluate how they react or respond to those around them. Are you keeping a lighthearted tone and creating an educational conversation where you are inspiring those around you to join you in a new lifestyle of positive change? Or on the contrary, are you abruptly spitting out comments to make those you are talking to feel bad about their lives? They don’t know what you know; they don’t have the same experience ingrained in their hearts that completely changed their lives. You cannot get mad at someone who doesn’t know—but you can take every opportunity to educate.

Be the individual who educates well, shares passionately, and lives inspirationally. Let your actions show you want to see poverty, slavery, gendercide, denied education and other forms of injustice end. Be a great model so when people hear about your experience and reasons why your life is changed, they don’t want ignore the reality of how the world is functioning, but want to join you in your new adventure.

Image from Pinterest.