My Sustainability Priorities

Social Issues, Style

The other day, I was watching a video by a vlogger called Verena on her channel My Green Closet in which she mentions the need to prioritize certain aspects of sustainability when you make a purchase. She also mentions how priorities differ between people. That got me thinking about my own priorities.

Of course, I go through a mental list of things that are most important to me everytime I buy something. However, I also realized that I have barely mentioned and discussed it here. So I figured that it’s about time that I dedicate a post to my priorities.

Since sustainability is a term that encompasses many different elements, I think it’s important for everyone to have their own priorities, depending on their personal beliefs and values. Your priorities might also change depending on the category of products that you purchase. Mine happen to be geared towards fashion buys, but I do think I also apply most of them to other products.

1. Fairly-produced

Growing up in Indonesia, a country where standards of fair wages are rarely strictly adhered to, I witnessed plenty of situations in which workers were not treated fairly. I won’t pretend to know how it feels to be treated as such in any way, since I was born into a fairly well-off middle-class family, but I’ve met many people who struggled to make ends meet because they weren’t paid fairly.

To be honest, I did not think much about it, until one day last year, when I saw a video about the exploitation of palm oil workers in Indonesia. It made me feel ashamed that I didn’t know about it, or perhaps subconsciously chose to ignore a problem that was right in front of my eyes. That was one of the things that initially motivated me to live more sustainably.

At the moment, I reside in Holland, a country that generally does a pretty good job at upholding standards of fair wages. Still, I refuse to do nothing, knowing that so many people in developing countries are literally living as modern-day slaves. I have the privilege to enjoy relative comfort, but I don’t want that to blind me to other people’s realities.

That’s why the most important consideration in purchasing a product to me is whether or not it is produced in an ethical and fair way. A major part of this is, of course, choosing Fair Trade products. But what defines fair trade, you might wonder. The World Fair Trade Organization, or WFTO, defines it as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.” It is realized through the act of “offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.”

In other words, as a principle, such trading prioritizes disadvantaged, impoverished workers by ensuring that they work in better conditions and are treated fairly. Ideally, such a measure can improve greater justice as well, since it provides a model in which employers and employees can respect each other and in which employees aren’t taken advantage of in any way.

Purchasing fairly-made products, however, is not strictly restricted to searching for the WTFO symbol. If you live in a country that enforces standards of fair wages, you can choose to buy from independent sellers who produce locally and use materials from trusted sources. The key is asking them how their products are made, which is also great for opening up dialogs about fair practices.

2. Organic

This one is harder to define. The term organic has different meanings, depending on how it’s used. This piece on Ecocult explains different organic labels and what they mean very clearly. Keep in mind, however, that the terms might be used differently in your country.

Generally speaking, however, organic ingredients are produced with the environment and living beings in mind. It means avoiding harmful artificial chemicals that are used in industrial farming and using more natural substances in their place.

Many people choose organic products because they are generally, though not always, healthier for the consumers. However, that’s not the only important thing about organic products. Industrial farming techniques which use artificial chemicals are more often than not dangerous for the farmers and workers as well. Exposure to pesticides, for example, increase the risk of many diseases, from mild allergies to severe disabilities, not just for the consumers, but also producers working with the substance.

Moreover, as previously mentioned, organic methods prioritize the environment and not just people. It means that it’s also more ecofriendly and sustainable than regular farming, which is typically geared towards profits instead of wellbeing.

3. Independent

As I mentioned, buying from independent sellers that you trust has many benefits. First of all, you are supporting artisans who are practicing their arts without the support of commercial retailers. In many cases, you also help to preserve the cultures where the arts come from. Moreover, I believe that when you purchase from an independent, contemporary brands, you help to initiate the move from the profit-based fast fashion towards more meaningful ways of consuming things.

Secondly, products from independent artisans and designers are more unique. So you probably won’t find yourself wearing the same thing as 20 other people when walking down the street. In fact, the majority of my favorite clothes and jewelry pieces are from independent, small-scale brands.

4. Waste minimization

Finally, I think it’s important to care about the amount of waste produced in the process of making the products that you buy. It generally depends on the material. Plastic, for example, is very harmful for the environment. In fact, every piece of plastic produced in the history of mankind hasn’t decomposed. The thought alone is really scary, isn’t it?

There are more sustainable alternatives, of course, but I think most conscious consumers would agree that the best way to combat the issue is using existing materials. Therefore, as much as it is possible, I choose products made of recycled or upcycled materials. It also doesn’t hurt to fix torn clothes instead of throwing them away to avoid producing more waste yourself.

What are your priorities when it comes to ethical, fair fashion and sustainability? Don’t forget to leave a comment and let me know what you think.