Ethical Consumerism, Part 4: Mindfulness

Greetings! After 17 months of something pretty close to freedom, I returned to work recently and have had less time for blogging and interacting [insert appropriate emoji to convey my precise emotional response to this. Editor: there isn’t one! System Failure! LOLZ 😛 ]. Being back at work also provides another challenge: how to find time to do things the right way ? In other words, to make reasonably ethical decisions, both in and out of work. So, allow me to ramble a little bit and then I’ll hopefully get back to that point!

Ethical consumerism is mindfulness

Ever since writing the post on the connection between Eckhart Tolle and ethical consumerism, I’ve been thinking about this quote about sin, from his book A New Earth:

Literally translated from the ancient Greek in which the New Testament was written, to sin is to miss the mark, as an archer who misses the target, so to sin means to miss the point of human existence. It means to live unskillfully, blindly, and thus to suffer and cause suffering.

I just did a weekly shop in a wonderful Berkeley store (click the link for the review; 5/5 Green Stars) where I can get everything I need either as unpackaged fruit and veg or in the bulk section. Even though the store is perfectly set up for zero-packaging shopping, the majority of customers put their fruit and veg into little plastic bags; two bell peppers, three apples. In my opinion, that’s an example of living artlessly or mindlessly.

Fruit and vegetables with no bags, on a conveyor belt at a supermarket checkout.
It’s not that hard!

Maybe I sound like a judgmental git [Editor: I was about to say that!]  but I really don’t care how I sound, Editor. Many of the problems that we all face on this increasingly volatile planet come down to a lack of mindfulness.

I feel that I should share this famous speech by David Foster Wallace again, because it’s so relevant:


First he discusses the fact that the value of education is not just knowledge, or even teaching you how to think. It’s much more than that – “it will teach you how to exercise control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to.” At a key stage in the speech, he talks about the frustrations of being stuck in heavy traffic and a crowded supermarket after work. And that this could likely become the routine for many after they graduate. His point:  

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is going to come in. – David Foster Wallace.

Ethical consumerism is all about the details

There are many levels to the famous line, “life is what happens to us while we are making other plans,” but one way that I see it is that we miss a lot of chances to improve our (planetary) situation by not focusing on details along the way. We may have good and lofty goals, but we need to pay attention to the path that we take towards them.

To take a random example, I’ve been to many science conferences that are focused on sustainability and environmental issues, but often found that there was little thought given to sustainability of the actual real-world details of the meeting itself. (Let’s talk about climate change while we sip water shipped from a remote Pacific island!)  This is starting to change. Mira (aka, Sociolinguini) reported on a conference in Manchester (and another one in Hamburg) where it was “wonderful to witness a trend in conferences aligning behaviour to ethos.

The consciousness of activism begins in the details carefully planned by welcoming organisers … Coffee, tea and drinks are served in mugs and glasses (no paper and plastic!), accompanied by soya milk and vegan snacks.

She also mentions that the best way to encourage these trends to take off is by acts of “little activism,” such as making a simple suggestion to organizers (even if it’s just your regular office meeting).

So… being back at work, I plan at some point to do a few posts looking at the social and environmental impact of working life. My work involves science, so there may be a few posts that are more relevant to people who work in a lab. But I’ll try to make it interesting for everyone – and after all who doesn’t love to hear about beakers and geeks?

And to address the point of having less time while back at work, I think I’ll do some posts that go through the process of writing a Green Stars Review to show that it doesn’t take that long. It’s a worthwhile activity, not least because it’s a form of mindfulness, the act of choosing that David Foster Wallace had emphasized so vehemently.

8 thoughts on “Ethical Consumerism, Part 4: Mindfulness

  1. When organizers who are trying to affect change don’t illustrate the real-world ways that change can happen, it sends a subliminal message that what they preach isn’t quite achievable. It’ll be great to see the ways that companies and organizers use their brains and resourcefulness to exemplify the possibilities out their for change. I’m wishing you a smooth transition back to work.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s so true, Lyz. I think they are thinking “I have bigger fish to fry right now than to worry about plastic and coffee beans and plant-based diets. I’m changing the world!!” So there’s also a very ego-based message that small stuff doesn’t matter.
      Thank You!

      Liked by 2 people

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