clever marketing and we’re buying it

There is a jumbled mess of thoughts running through my head right now because I cannot narrow down my one main idea for this post.  There are several things tying together, such as our consumerism society, bombarding marketing schemes, and back to the topic of the fast fashion industry and how we support it.

Thought #1:  Recently I posted about fast fashion after having watched True Cost, a documentary about the behind the scenes of this industry and how it affects the garment workers and the environment.  It is not news that H&M has often been called out on their standard-less factories and how they undervalue the very people that make their clothes and help them make billions of dollars each year.  Well, recently I came upon a great post by Global Hobo which made me aware of an ad that H&M had run for an autumn collection.  This post also made me aware of clever, clever marketing.

Apparently this ad was welcomed by individuals, some calling it a “masterpiece” and how wonderful H&M spoke up for women of all shapes, colours, and sizes.  I watched the ad and thought it was a bunch of crap.  Though I liked the spotlight on women being women and loving themselves, which is an important message, I hated it all at the same time because I knew the bottom line: H&M wants you to buy their clothes.  It’s not about empowering women, it’s about making money and they cleverly thought of a plan with a team of smarties to sell more clothes.

Also, let’s realize here why the ad is such huge crap.  Most garment workers are women.  They are not fairly paid.  They are forced to work in horrendous conditions.  They have to work long hours but do not get any extra compensation.  There is no maternity leave.  Often women get fired when they become pregnant.  There are no unions.  There are no standards.  There are no laws in place to uphold standards.  So.  Sure.  Empower women.  But only if they have the money to move in this materialistic economy?

Thought #2:  Our economy runs on materialism and we support it by buying into it.  Clever marketing is everywhere all the time: billboards, newspapers, TV, magazines, when you log out of your e-mail account, Facebook, any other social media, blog sites, websites, radio… it is literally everywhere all the time.

Another ad that made me react was highlighted on the True Cost documentary.  Picture this:  a black and white picture features a blonde, frizzy haired, upset woman in the center of the screen.  She looks unhappy; she frowns, her eyebrows are pulled in, she blows her hair up from her face in a look of exasperation.  The woman is alone.

In comes a bright green bottle of Garnier Fructis shampoo to the middle of the screen.  The screen splits itself; one half is the black and white image, and the other is a brightly coloured, sunlit backyard.  The woman appears to jump through the shampoo bottle to the other side.  Her hair turns a silky golden colour, bouncing on her shoulders as she begins to laugh and smile.  She is surrounded by friends, and a man lovingly approaches her.  Everyone is happy on the green grass under the bright sun, having a backyard party with lots of good feels.  Because of shampoo.

The message?  You will be unhappy and alone if you do not have nice hair?  If you buy our shampoo you will have lots of friends and you will be beautiful?  Our shampoo will make you feel happy and worthy?  What do you think?

It’s just all so twisted.  We are evaluated by the stuff we have and how much of it we have.  It always has to be more.  It always has to be bigger, and better, and more.  Why does stuff define who we are?  Why are we letting it?  Why is that the thing that we are raised with?  Gifts and stuff.  I am not saying I do not have stuff.  Sure, I have lots of stuff.  But in the last two years I have really revamped my thoughts on stuff and what it really means to me.  And what it means for the world.  Are we really as rich as corporations make us think we are?

Richness is not found in the things we own.  Richness is family, love, nature, and friendship.  Richness is happiness in the form of positive connections and relationships.  Isn’t it?  Or shouldn’t it be?

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fast fashion

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“Cute top, where’d you get it?”

Chances are, you have no idea where that cute top came from.  You have no idea who made it, where they made it, under what conditions they made it, and what sacrifices they had to make on a daily basis to have made it.  You have no idea what dyes went into that cute top, or how the fibers of that top were grown and what environmental impacts that has had on the region in which they were grown.  All you know is that it’s cute.  And probably $4.95 from a top brand store.  Bargain.

It is easy for us to be sucked into the fast fashion world.  We are considered “consumers” after all.  We consume things, and our economy functions on the basis of us consuming things.  If we didn’t consume material things, well, our system wouldn’t really work anymore now would it?  We are blasted constantly on various platforms with images and advertisements of clothing, shoes, fragrances, jewelry, vehicles, etc., marketed in such a way that leads us to believe that we will feel happy when we buy these things.  We will feel beautiful.  We will feel loved.  And we will stand out.  We will be important.  This is the message and we are eating it up.

When do we ever give what we buy a second thought?  Now I am not talking in the sense of, second thought because of price.  What I mean is second thought about the questions about the cute top.  Do we do research?  Do we care about fair trade?  Really, truly?  Do we care about “ethical”?  And are there standards in place to support a company’s claim to being “ethical”?  Ethical to what extent and whose regulations?

Finally I made time to watch “The True Cost”, a documentary about the behind the scenes of the fast fashion world.  What do we find when we really look into fast fashion?  Underpaid, overworked labourers, working in horrendously unsafe conditions, not only in the sense of the factory’s structure, but also the toxic materials they are exposed to not only during the dyeing and sewing of garments, but the abundance of pesticides and other chemicals applied to GMO cotton fields to make the garments.  We see illnesses and disorders from overexposure to these chemicals and conditions.

We see mostly women working long hours in hot and unsafe conditions.  No parental leave, no benefits, no unions.  We see a mother having to leave her young daughter with her parents because there is no one to take care of her, and taking her to the factory with her is not a safe environment for a child.  We see this mother without options because she does not want her daughter to have to be a garment worker.  We see this mother wanting to make a change, even having started her own union in her factory; when she and other workers united and made demands for better working conditions, they were locked in the factory and beaten by their superiors to silence them.

We see appalling environmental impacts, like waster water being poured into fresh water rivers, leaving residents without access to clean drinking water; foam, discolouration, and oil and other residues sit idly in embankments, or float aimlessly down the river.  We see a haze of pesticides floating over the cotton fields, and workers spraying without masks or other safety gear.  Not only do we see waste in areas of production, but also waste in areas of consumption.  We produce over 14 million tons of textile waste each year on this side of the pond.  Are you okay with that?

Of course, there is another side to this.  Unfortunately, the workers in these countries need the jobs.  So just because a T-Shirt reads “Made in Bangladesh”, does not mean you should just toss it back on the table.  However, you as the “consumer” (I am really beginning to dislike that word), need to do some research.  I can only speak for me, but I am not okay with purchasing something from a company that has no standards for the ethical treatment of their workers.  If it’s offered cheap, it’s made cheap, and somewhere cuts were made.

So just because it’s cheap, or on sale, or super cute, or it “spoke to you from the rack”, does not mean you have to buy it.  You have a lot of power as a customer, and you have a choice to make when you shop.  You can choose to support companies that have zero standards, or you can make conscious shopping choices.  Look into fair trade, look into steps smaller companies are taking, and ask important questions.  Fast Fashion is not sustainable.  And though you may feel amazing coming home with giant bags filled with clothes, what does that really mean to you?  What is it truly giving you?  Just give it a second thought.

Good timing for this post.  Just found this on my FB feed this morning: headline reads “Fast fashion: Rivers turning blue and 500 000 tonnes in landfill.”  Even donating your clothing is not the answer.  How do you fight fast fashion?  How do you shop for clothing?  Have you found ethical or fair trade brands that support good standards?

highlighting green business: Bulk Barn

If you see a store committing wasteful practices and you feel you have a positive alternative to share with them, it is important to share your voice with that company.  Let them know you, the consumer, will no longer purchase X product because of its wasteful properties.  Several bloggers from our network have shared letters or e-mails they wrote to companies about some of their practices, and some even received positive responses in which the company said they would change their ways or at least consider alternatives.  So not only is it important to highlight the wasteful ones, it is just as important to highlight the ones that are doing green business, or taking positive environmental steps.

Bulk shopping has been difficult in my hometown, as most businesses will not let you bring your own containers due to “cross contamination”, and those businesses that do let you bring your own do not have a very large selection of bulk products.  Bulk Barn is our biggest bulk food provider here, but when I asked in-store last year they just shook their head and said “nope”.  I ended up e-mailing the company and asking why this was not an option, and they responded with the issue of “cross contamination”, also adding that they have heard that question a lot.  Hmm…

However, “cross contamination” magically did not become an issue anymore!  Bulk Barn launched a nationwide pilot program to test-run the alternative of their shoppers bringing their own containers.  And guess what?  Consumers responded so positively to this change, and it was a huge success.  Result?  As of February 24, 2017, Bulk Barn changed their policy on containers!  You can now bring in your own clean, non-chipped, closable containers to fill up on their bulk items.  YAY!

So how does it work?  I bring glass jars for things like peanut butter, honey, and coconut oil, and cotton drawstring bags made by my mother (thanks Mutti) for dry products like rice, beans, or loose leaf tea.  When you get to the store, bring your containers/bags to the till and they will weigh them and put a little sticker on (okay, so not completely zero waste due to the sticker, but a better alternative).  This weight will be removed from the price when you’re all done.  Then go fill up on your goods, and go pay.  Easy peasy.

What green-ness or non-green-ness have you witnessed in stores you visit?  How are companies changing to more environmentally positive practices?

Now if only grocery stores would stop putting produce stickers on every single piece of fruit and veg… grrrr!

World Water Day

When was the last time you truly appreciated water?  Do you have a favourite stream, lake, or ocean shore?  Do you remember what it looks, sounds, and feels like as you are standing there watching the water move?  Its shape, power, and persistence.  Its many forms.  Rain, snow, glacial sheets, wetlands, frost, fog, dew.  Do you realize it is the lifeline of our planet?  When was the last time you felt gratitude for water?

If you live in a developed country with water treatment plants, irrigation systems, etc., you may not experience water gratitude every day because we sometimes take for granted what runs so freely from our taps.  Thirsty?  Grab a glass of water and head over to the tap.  Not near a tap?  Go to any store and buy a bottle of water.  Not near a store?  Chances are that fresh water sources are near enough to you.  There is little effort required for us to obtain fresh, clean, drinkable water.  But is that the same if we look at the global scale?  No.  Hard no.  Here is some visual perspective.

Yesterday was World Water Day, did you know?  The future of access to clean water looks quite dire, so I spent some time with my class discussing water conservation, and what obtaining fresh water looks and feels like in countries around the world.  We read a book called “Water Princess“, which tells the true story of a young girl in Africa and her daily task of gathering water from the nearest well; the nearest well being a four or five hour walk away.  We discussed what this would mean for her life, and how this compares to that of my students’ lives.  What time does she leave with her mother to get water?  Early morning.  When does she return?  Evening.  Does she have time to go to school?  Does she have time to be a child?  What do they use the water for?  Is any drop wasted?  How often must they go to get the water?

We do not always realize how water impacts people and animals around the world.  Yes, the Earth is covered in water.  But only a fraction of that water is safe for us to drink.  But what is happening to our fresh water sources?

What I see as the major problems regarding fresh water, and I am in no way an expert, just an observant environmental educator, is pollution, waste, and that water is not treated as a human right, but rather a commodity.

  1. Pollution: oil spills, tailings ponds, microplastics, sewage both from human sources, as well as livestock lots, etc., illegal dumping of many toxic materials, pipelines cutting through fresh water sources, and the list goes on.
  2. Waste: we do not pay for the amount we use.  The waste I see/read of most: watering lawns for hours on end, pressure washing driveways, vehicles, etc., not fixing leaky taps or replacing old, leaky pipes, as well as the use of water in factories (i.e. thousands of gallons of fresh water are used in the production of items such as paper towels and tissues).
  3. Commodity: corporations buy out fresh water springs all over the world, often in poor villages that depend on the water to drink.  They then claim rights to that spring and charge the villagers an impossible rate to buy the water back; since this is not achievable, they must find other sources far away, or drink unsafe water.  When you buy bottled water, you support these companies, and you tell them it is okay to prevent impoverished people from access to clean water.  Think of Nestle, Coca Cola, Veolia, Suez, and other companies that will continue pumping “their” spring no matter what, whether drought or thirst-stricken villages, if there is $ to be made, they will make it.

So what can we do?  First, you can make a choice.  You can choose to look the other way, or you can choose to act.  You may feel one person cannot do much, but your choice will impact those of others.  Be water aware, and remind yourself that not everyone in the world has the same easy water access as you.  Educate yourself on water conservation, and what you can do with your power as a consumer.  Here is a short list of things you can do daily on my post: ZW Water.

And now some pictures of lovely water:

the moments that are

It is easy to get caught up in the grossness of the world, and especially as someone who strives for zero-waste and is conscious of every piece of garbage that lands in the house bin, I can easily get frustrated and angry at the over-consumption and wasteful habits of others.  Some may call this lifestyle extreme, but I simply think I am doing my job to fulfill my environmental responsibility.  The Earth and its elements are the only reason we are alive and we are destroying it piece by piece.

I see it every day.  Headlines of pipelines, people protesting to protect land and water being attacked, oil spills.  I see it in others’ habits, like using disposable cutlery as a daily use item, or those who do not compost or recycle or do anything for the planet that could compromise convenience.  I see it every where I go, including out in the wilderness where a coffee cup was abandoned in a brush or a granola bar wrapper is caught in a stream.  It is easy to become overwhelmed, throw up your hands, and say what is the point.

But yesterday I was walking along, alone, briskly through the snow, the wind lapping at my face, and my brain consumed with thoughts of life; the tasks behind me, the tasks ahead, the items on the checklist, the carelessness of others.  I am going to get real poetic now because it was as if Mother Earth heard me and my brain and wanted to give me a reality check.  I was so caught up in my thoughts I was not even taking in the landscape, so Mother Earth said, “Slow down, child.  And look.

A hole had formed in the grey mass of clouds above me and shone onto the hill I was walking down.  The winter grass glowed golden, the trees were alive and green, and I stopped immediately, nearly tripping over my own feet.  I looked across the valley and saw a frozen blue lake in the distance, snow powdering the tips of the mountain range, crows flying overhead, and a river that has over time carved itself through the land, meandering this way and that.  The Earth is alive.  And I was missing it.  And then I remembered that this is why I do what I do and why every action you take matters.

I love my home.  And I am alive.

a poem

sweet child, as yours and the life of the world unfold
take great care for the world is much darker than you were told

not all fairytales rainbows and happy ever afters
or unicorns and books that give you all the answers

there are people in this world much unlike you and me
who move for power, breathe for greed unlike anything you can believe to see

but that is them and you are you
no one can take from your heart what is true

your voice will be much bigger, bigger than you can believe
and your voice and her voice and his voice and their voice
will make the difference in what you can achieve

sweet child, you have a choice what path you want to lead
you need not be consumed by the hopelessness they feed

gasp at the rainbow
stare at the raven
watch the pearl drops on the leaves glow

gaze at the mountains
follow the river
draw out the range like you are surrounded

listen for the birds
smile at the wind
smell the Ponderosa
taste the spring

and when the first snow glides early in the morning of your 30th year
stop and smile and remember you are here

For my Birthday

For my birthday I rarely have wishes
I rarely want presents
I rarely need a thing

But this year is different
For I want so many things
That it nearly feels selfish

What I want is something very valuable
Something incredibly vital
Yet inexcusably simple

I want you to care
I want you to change
I want you to accept

Care about your daily impact
Change one small thing
Accept responsibility

I want you to learn
I want you to unite
I want you to be

Learn about alternatives
Unite for the sake of our future
Be part of the solution

I’m only one
But you are too