Voting with our wallets is only part of the solution

Voting with our wallets: why the approach has limits

Switch to solar energy. Refuse products packaged with excessive plastic packaging. Buy from companies that produce ethically and sustainably.

As consumers we’re constantly told to vote with our wallets to stir our planet from the brink of collapse toward a more sustainable future.

There’s no denying that how and what we buy can have a big impact. And we’re starting to see some changes in the marketplace. Big brands such as Adidas have introduced product lines made from ocean plastics. Fast food chains are offering meat-free burger alternatives on their menus (even though clumsily).

What’s more, there are the countless small business owners and regenerative farmers who are doing things differently. They are working hard to provide consumers with sustainable alternatives to the standard wares on supermarket shelves and retail racks.

And in principal, I agree that we should make purchases that are aligned with our values. But I also believe that the concept of voting with our wallets has some big limitations. We can’t rely on market mechanisms alone to fix the climate crisis.

Ideas

From drab to fab: this marketplace shows that ethical and sustainable fashion can be fun

Making ethical and sustainable fashion choices can be a minefield. 

There is the issue of the fabrics themselves. Which chemicals are used to process and dye them? Will the material they are made from flush microplastics into our oceans whenever we wash them? What happens to the garment at the end of its life? 

And then there are the conditions under which the clothes are sewn. Is the factory providing a safe working environment? Are the employees being paid a living wage? 

The team behind ethical and sustainable fashion marketplace, Thread Harvest.
The Thread Harvest team celebrating their Good Design Award.

The good news is that awareness around many of these issues in the fast fashion industry is growing. And there are many new labels popping up online who vouch for more sustainable and ethical practices. But that doesn’t necessarily make things easier for consumers.

Many of these brands are selling online only. These small independent designers often have limited market reach, meaning they can be harder to find. But even if fashion labels claim to be eco-friendly and treat their workers fairly, it can often still take a fair amount of research from the buyer to ensure that these claims are in fact true and not just an effort to make a quick buck from a growing trend. 

Enter Thread Harvest. The Australian Certified B Corporation is an online marketplace for ethical and sustainable fashion. I recently had the chance to catch up with its Managing Director, Davyn de Bruyn, to chat about the company’s approach and the challenges of bootstrapping a business while juggling a full-time job and family life at the same time.

A curated hub for sustainable fashion

“We’re on mission to make it a lot easier for people to buy ethical and sustainable fashion,” says Davyn. “And we want to break with some of the most common and persistent stereotypes in this category.”

Entrepreneurs

Aussie start-up convinces Michelin star chefs with their plant-based meat alternative

The rich flavours of a bolognese sauce. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of slow-cooked meat. There are some dishes that are irresistibly delicious and comforting. So much so that they are making it difficult for many people to adopt a more plant-based diet. Even if they are otherwise convinced that it’s a better choice. 

It’s a conundrum that is all too familiar to Sunshine Coast entrepreneur Michal Fox. After becoming vegetarian four and a half years ago for ethical, health and environmental reasons, he sometimes still found himself craving his favourite dishes that were difficult to recreate without meat. 

And the former CEO of now closed shoe retailer Shoes of Prey kept hearing similar stories in his network. People wanted to reduce their meat consumption, but were struggling with the practicalities. 

The brains behind Fable's plant-based meat creations: Jim Fuller, Michael Fox and Chris McLoghlin (LTR).
Jim Fuller, Michael Fox and Chris McLoghlin (LTR) are the team behind Fable’s plant-based meat creations.

 “I’m a terrible activist, but have some entrepreneurial experience” says Michael. So, after a six months sabbatical during which he kept diving deeper in the complex issues of industrial animal agriculture, he decided to use his skills to help people reduce their meat consumption and launched Fable Food Co.

The plant-based meat company is promising to make it easier for people to create meat-free versions of their favorite recipes without having to compromise on flavour or texture. 

A plant-based meat that harnesses the natural goodness of mushrooms

“When I started to explore the plant-based meat category, two things became really important to me. Firstly, I didn’t want to create another burger or minced beef alternative. There were already quite a few very good products in the market,” explains the self-taught food entrepreneur. “And secondly, I wanted to use only natural ingredients that required minimal processing.” 

Entrepreneurs

Returnr wants to make single-use packaging a thing of the past

The lunchtime trip to the local cafe or takeaway shop is a ritual for many professionals of all collar colors. A nice diversion in the middle of the day. Even if it’s only for a few minutes and the lunch is actually eaten at the desk or on the road.

But our daily habits come at a price – both literally (Australians spend $8.3 billion per year on buying lunch) and metaphorically in terms of the impact our routines have on the environment. The majority of take-out plastic containers are in use for less than 30 minutes before they end up in landfill where they’ll continue to live forever

The good news is that reducing single-use packaging might soon be a lot easier – thanks to initiatives like Melbourne-foobased co-op startup Returnr

A closed-loop reusable container network

“The idea behind Returnr is to completely get rid of single-use packaging,” says Founder and CEO, Jamie Forsyth, about the company’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)

To achieve this Jamie is building a closed-loop network of cafes, restaurants, take-away stores, businesses and individuals that uncouples packaging and containers from the idea of ownership.

Jamie Forsyth is looking to reduce single-use packaging
Jamie Forsyth is the Founder & CEO of Returnr. Image credit: Returnr

“One of the problems with owning a reusable container is that it’s so easy to forget at home or it hasn’t yet been cleaned to be able to use them again,” says Jamie. “This friction completely disappears if ownership is taken out of the equation.”

Entrepreneurs
Buy in bulk: how to start living a more sustainable lifestyle

How to start living a more sustainable lifestyle

There is no question that we’re on the brink of an environmental crisis. Scientists have been warning us about the consequences of global warming caused by human activity for decades. In Australia, we now feel the negative impact of global warming on an almost daily basis.

The bushfire crisis has continued for months, and an area of over 10.7 million hectares have been destroyed. Australia is home to over 1800 at-risk plant and animal species, and an estimate of over 1 billion animals have perished.

The world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef has suffered from two major back-to-back coral bleaching events. If water temperatures continue to rise, we might lose large part of the reef forever, destroying a delicate ecosystem and with it the livelihood of thousands of people that depend on it.

At the same time, governments and many multinational companies continue with business as usual. Large scale fossil fuel project such as the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland and a deep water oil drilling project in the Great Australian Bight still forge ahead.

Seeing all these events unfold can lead to a feeling of helplessness. Many of the decisions that have led us to this point can seem out of your control and too complicated to solve as an individual.

But you can make a difference through the choices you make every single day. This article provides you with tips on how to start living a more sustainable lifestyle.

What sustainability means

In very simple terms, sustainability means to meet our own needs without compromising the needs of generations to come.

When you choose to live a sustainable lifestyle, it means that you intentionally avoid things that deplete natural resources, to maintain ecological balance. You leave enough for the environment to replenish itself and avoid products that cause harm to the environment or cannot break down at all.

The 5 R’s of living a more sustainable lifestyle

There are hundreds of small steps you can take to start living a more sustainable lifestyle. The tips below give you some ideas on the habits you can adopt to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Sustainability tips