Be ethical, live better

5 ways to practice responsible consumerism and add value to your gifts this Christmas

The Christmas season is a wonderful occasion to have fun and celebrate with family and friends. But, undoubtedly, these festivities bring with them a commercial maelstrom that begins with the Black Friday and ends with Epiphany. The different commitments lead us to shop more and, most likely, less wisely.

So, for a few years now Christmas also forces us to reflect on our consumers habits. From institutions promoting concrete actions, like the government’s information campaign that, under the slogan ‘Think, then shop’, aims to promote ethical consumerism while reminding shoppers of their rights and responsibilities.

Another good example of this reflexive trend is the first Responsible Consumption, Social and Solidarity Economy Fair, organised by Barcelona City Council that will take place between the 19th of December and the 4th of January in the Plaza de Catalunya. The objective of this exhibition is to promote the existence of products, services and business activities and entities that foster responsible and local consumerism, making possible a truly social and solidarity economy. And, in this vein, this year Barcelona is also welcoming the Renew your toys campaignthat promotes a toy exchange to extend the life of our children’s toys and at the same time reduce waste.

On a private level, some businesses committed to a more ethical consumption are also offering proposals that can give us ideas. Along this line, the foundation Ship2B, has prepared a catalogue of possible gifts that offers a little guidance in giving presents with an added value.

From our philosophy as an ethical business, we promote individual behaviour that helps society to adopt new means of responsible consumerism, beginning with identifying the things that we can avoid or do better. Let’s consider some common mistakes and how to avoid them:

  1. Avoid ‘buying for buyings sake’

This is the typical season for big meals and it’s often that there are leftovers and sadly they end up in the rubbish bin. The same applies to gifts: sometimes we value quantity over quality, when it’s clear that buying things that aren’t necessary further consolidates a model of inequality.

In order to avoid compulsive buys, we should think calmly about what we really need: making a list, anticipating buying these products and not falling for special offers, are a few tips that can help.

  1. Think about the presents origin

When we have to buy a gift, seldom do we consider sustainability as a criteria. As a result, we make purchases with no regard to the working conditions of the manufacturer.

As an alternative, we can prioritise our gifts taking into consideration where, and how they are produced. A safe bet is to buy fair trade, this guarantees that its products do not exploit workers, the environment, or child labour.

  1. Watch out: The further away, the larger environmental footprint

Buying online is become more and more common. In fact, according to the consultant Deloitte, in Spain 25% of the total destined for Christmas shopping this year we be spent onlinewhich is a 10% increase on that of last year.

If we want to make responsible purchases, as well as thinking about who produces what we are buying, we should also consider the journey each product makes in order to reach us. Many products are accompanied by a large “carbon footprint”, their delivery leaves an environmental cost that doesn’t show up on the bill yet harms the planet.

  1. Less bags and packaging 

These coming days we will visit more shops, where we will be given many bags. In a previous article we talked about Zero Waste and Christmas, is a good opportunity to practise it. A few simple gestures like declining a bag, using the same bag for products from different shops, or bringing with you a reusable shopping bag, help to limit the large amount of waste being generated.

  1. Immaterial gifts… Why not?

We buy lots of things, but sometimes, there are immaterial gifts that can offer unforgettable experiences. We should revise our values and consider that perhaps giving our time and sharing experiences, could be the best gift. There are many options, like a cultural activity, a theatre show, going to the countryside or a workshop, for example.

This Christmas, according to Deloitte’s study, for the first time Spain has overtaken the UK in the planned spending for celebrations, now topping the rankings of the European countries surveyed.  “This year we will spend on average 633 euros on Christmas shopping, which is an increase of 3.3% on the actual costs incurred in 2016” say the consultants.

At Withfor, we invite you to take a few minutes to think about each purchase, because we can find that responsible consumerism is much more gratifying.  As we have seen, a range of alternatives do exist, we just have to take the into account and highlight the importance of their high social and environmental returns, the result of much more responsible consumerism.

Be ethical, live better Reflections

Magda Cebrián: “Recycling has already been proven to be insufficient, we must go further”

To delve deeper into its philosophy, we spoke to Magda Cebrián and Martí Morató, founders of the GoZeroWaste App, an application that helps us to find shops with zero waste practices and also to suggest challenges in order to acquire habits that help our planet.

– On average we generate 1.2 kg of rubbish a day, are we the throwaway generation?

– Yes, that is where we are coming from, and a very important change is necessary both on an individual and a corporate level. We must advance towards the model of a circular economy, imitating nature, and its processes until we reach the point at which the concept of waste no longer exists because everything is considered a resource. There are three Rs that we have been hearing about for a long time: reduce, reuse, and recycle, but for decades the emphasis has been on recycling, when really this is at the end of the chain. What we should prioritise is reuse and reduce, in order to extend the life of the resources to the maximum. Recycling has already been proven to be insufficient, we must go further.

– How can we manage to raise public awareness? It appears that we haven’t even been able to recycle properly

– Recycling effectively is very difficult, it’s confusing. Businesses put thousands of products on the market, made with thousands of different types of packaging and you, the end user, has to know where everything goes. We maintain that the consumer has a responsibility, but the initial responsibility lies with the business, that when designing a product should give thought to its entire cycle. If instead of using thirty types of packaging we only had ten, we would know perfectly well how to recycle them.

– Is it more expensive to do it this way?

– For people who try to consume without generating waste, the first thing they find is that it costs more, but as with everything, it’s a learning process. At first it will cost you more, but with time you will know where to buy different things and realise that buying in bulk works out better because you can make savings for large quantities… but its more than that. The Zero Waste movement also proposes buying less, but of higher quality.

– Tell us a little bit about the Go Zero Waste application

– A little over a year ago we tried to carry out an exercise: to do a weekly shop and go home without any plastic. We found that for fruit, vegetables, meat, fish… In short, fresh food, it was relatively easy because we could use our own Tupperware or bags. However, the same wasn’t the case with other products, like detergent in bulk and natural cosmetics… So, we thought, how could we make things easier for people who want to shop like this? And we created the GoZeroWasteApp application.

The application has a part that shows you a map where you can find, by area or by product, the establishments that have what you are looking for… Alongside this the application has a section of challenges, because there are habits that are also very important, like always bringing a bottle of water with you or a reusable bag… simple acts.

– Has it been well received?

– Yes, we are happy because people who want to practice Zero Waste say that the App has helped them, and we are about to release a second version that improves on some aspects. But our real challenge is to reach consumers at a large scale.  We want the people who go to large shopping centres and don’t know what Zero Waste is to be able to make this change.

– There is a social and emotional background to this movement. We are a materialistic society. The movement goes against this way of living

– We live in a materialistic society, based on production. Really, moving in another direction is a big challenge but we are finding that models based on reutilisation can also be profitable.  For example, most cleaning products are 80% water that is mixed with chemicals. Imagine if the business could sell a small pot of just the concentrated chemical and you could use it to make the cleaning product yourself. This is beneficial for the consumer but also for the business that can reduce costs of packaging, storage, and transport. These are the types of solutions that we must come up with, develop and promote.

– What role should the administration adopt regarding this change in the consumer model?

– They have a key role, and furthermore it’s in their interest. Western countries keep waste that can be recycled and revalorized; those that don’t, send it to developing countries or countries who buy it from them. Well, last year China stopped accepting this low value plastics. Now Europe can’t get rid of this waste and the additional associated costs that go with it, so we need to find an alternative

– How do you see the future?

– I’m an optimist, but I also think that we are running late. For some time now, the scientific community and the UN have warned us that the effects of climate change may become irreversible, that there will many conflicts caused by the fight for resources and sadly that the poorest countries will be the first to be affected.

But I also see that the new generations are beginning to act; with them comes an important decision-making power capable of driving change. Consumer power will force businesses to create new products and sustainable means of consumption, it’s a wheel.

– What will be the next steps for the movement?

I think that Zero Waste will become another layer of sustainable consumption. We already have recycling, local shopping, the consumption of ecological products… different areas of responsible consumption that have become established as a part of our lives thanks to better information. Opening people’s eyes raises awareness and makes society react. We must act immediately.

It is the position of the consumers that Magda mentions that puts pressure on businesses and will continue to do so until they end up adopting increased sustainability and waste reduction as an integral part of their company policies. That is why, at Withfor, we continue to promote alternatives in order to encourage from a business position the creation of positive value for society, in an honest responsible way not just for our clients, but also for communities and the environment.