Sunday, April 30, 2006

I came across an interesting article at about how in the US (urban, coastal US at least) there is a groundswell of shopping options for the environmentally conscious consumer.

The baby boomer impression of a dirty hippy wearing a sack is clearly irrelevant when a multitude of outlets are pushing their version of green and cool. From organic cotton tees to organic fair trade teas, "green" is everywhere.

So much so that green consumerism has become a means for the aware among us to display to the world that we care. It is of course a trend that is pervasive in our consumer economy - we like to show others what we stand for, or, "we are what we wear". I am however reminded of the Family Guy episode where Peter feels the need to compensate for his small appendage by buying a large red sports car.

If a big red sports car says "fatuous crotch infatuation", then its not dificult to say
"I care, and it's cool to care". A little bit of thought put into buying your next pair of shoes (or your long black, or book), will allow you to wade through the marketing jungle with confidence.

Of course "a little bit of thought" needs to happen every time you vote with your wallet - and that's where ShoppingFix will be able to help. By providing you with a tool to show you care almost every time you consume...

Sunday, April 23, 2006

So yesterday was Earth Day. After rousing the old Friday tradition of sipping handles of my favourite drop at my favourite bar (yes, local beer (well, from up the coast anyhow), and from the tap), Earth Day greeted me with a particularly un-earthy feeling behind the eyes.

In effect I lied. My incapacitated state meant that I didn't visit any of the local attractions listed in the
Earth Day entry below. I did manage a stroll to town through Tanera Park (aka the dog-mine-slalom) and take a peek at what was happening at the Community Gardens. So not a wholly un-earthy day. What I also did was make some more ground on no.8 below - "sharpen up"...

Energy efficiency, and light bulb choice in particular. I got home to find a bulb had blown. As usual my flatmates' fear of heights (I assume) prevented her from replacing it. An ecobulb has been sitting on my desk since picking it up at the recent climate change conference. So steady the head, deep breath, up on the chair, and what do you know? It only takes one ShoppingFix advocate to install an energy efficient light bulb.

By my count we now have five in at our place. Which translates roughly to $500 in future savings relative to the horribly inefficient incandescent bulb. I'm loathe to promote one brand over another (unless of course I share the ensuing commercial benefit) so for the sake of accuracy, the trusty folk at the Consumer Institute conclude that the Phillips number is nearly as good as ecobulb.

Having done my bit for the moment, I couldn't help but wonder what specific energy efficiency measures our prominent politicians had taken. I'd like to know that an example is being set locally. A few weeks back an energy efficient bulb was fitted at the most famous front door in Britain. Downing St is steadily becoming more energy efficient. What about our leaders' haunts?

Friday, April 21, 2006


Tomorrow, Saturday, is Earth Day. So I thought it best to list a few earthly Wellie-town attractions. I'll visit one of them for sure - so should you.

1. Otari-Wiltons Bush
I fully recommend a dusk visit where you'll be blown away by so many chubby kereru (wood pigeon).

2. Karori Wildlife Sanctuary
Apparently since the Sanctuary has established bird life in west Wellington has become more diverse and plentiful. I live just around the corner in Northland and tui are abound! There's even several ruru (morepork) who have nightly conversation near home.

3. Kapiti Island
You'll have to get organised fast for this. Only possible by booking at DoC or a local boat operator.

4. The south coast
The stronger the southerly the better - I think a northerly is forecast tomorrow, so there will be some sheltered spots. The south coast is raw Wellington...

5. Makara Beach
I was out there a few weekends ago and you could lean into the northerly almost to 45deg. Full-on! If its a calm day its a perfect spot for skimming pebbles.

6. The Zoo
If you can get past the "caged animal" connotations of the zoo and appreciate it for the species protection benefits, then this may be for you.

7. Botanic Gardens
If you're in town take the cable car up there. If your Earth Day antics are true, your preference should probably be Otari-Wiltons Bush. Otari is native and regenerative where the gardens are a good example of "botanic colonisation" (but pretty all the same).

8. Sharpen up
Mandatory. Tomorrow is a good day to consider your earth impact as a consumer. If tomorrow is your supermarket day - buy organic. If you're shopping ask what went into what you're buying - if the shop staff can't tell you then walk away. Take a used shopping bag from home! If you must, drink local beer off the tap or from a crate!

9. Beach Party
The Greens are organising this. It seems a little abstract and not particularly earthy but raising awareness is a good thing. "beach party in Manners or Cuba mall 11-1 Gareth 04 381 4640"...

The only Kiwi listing on the earth day website is a lifestyle challenge offered by WWF. So other than the Greens event (no.9 above) you need to show some initiative to connect with Earth Day. Hey, you could just hug a tree if its your thing...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

I stumbled across this video today. It takes a look at the small but brilliantly positive steps people are taking in Santa Cruz Ca. This has got me thinking some more about the potential of local solutions to global issues. Of course ShoppingFix is a fine example, but there are so many everyday examples of people choosing a conscious consumer path...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Last week I read news of the release of another Green Room compilation with glee and a little smirk. The press release is a friendly prod in the ribs to the conservative right who have saturated us with their desire for an easily harnessed homogeneous world of "mainstream New Zealanders" (or "middle America", "middle Australia", etc). Its great to see local product speak to the "real Aotearoa" through exploration of whanau - and broadening the commonly held pakeha notion of whanau to kinship between all peoples. In short it is a nod to social sustainability.

This post does have a little of the flavour of an earlier "you're all individuals" call. But what I am getting at is the need for a consciousness in our day to day lives. Rather than react to the same old lame old rallying cries (such as Bush's "go out and shop" response to 9/11), why not think about the fundamental relationships that exist all around us. Not only whanau and kinship, but our place in nature, our role as global citizens, and the fact that all our relationships dictate our future.

If we see ourselves in society as
mere consumers - as the conservative right would have it - we are powerless, merely a demographic. We do have power as consumers. Not power contained in the pretty little things we purchase, but power in our act of support for the providers of those pretty little things. In the act of shopping we endorse individual methods of business. By shopping we are reinforcing a network of relationships. We therefore have the responsibility and power to endorse relationships that are positive. Relationships that are conscious.

So, the next time a politician says that mainstream is a mindset, think of what relationships are being endorsed. In relating to a demographic (no matter how vague) rather than to us as individuals the assumption is that all our relationships are the same, and therefore less-important. Inherent in the comments of a
notable Kiwi politician is an economists familiarity with imaginary communities - where actions are packaged so as to be quantifiable.

Individual decisions incorporate quality judgments that economists find difficult to place. It just happens to be that in this space lies the power to build relationships on values that matter - whanau, kinship, nature, and our functioning as communities. This is the space where a sustainable alternative to a mainstream, mass-market, normalised consumer society is rooted. The current Green Room CD is just the surface of this potential...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Local news this week strengthens what I had to say in an earlier piece about the importance of small business in sustainable communities (it was actually about the negative impact of large format retail, but every story has a positive spin!). We need to take a good hard look at what we support as consumers. And yes, that's what ShoppingFix will be all about!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Don't mind the image - it made me laugh. You cant beat a balanced diet...

Last week, as part of their "series of thought-provoking environmental opinion pieces", the BBC suggested that the act of recycling merely provides us with an excuse to consume. Don't get me wrong; they're not saying that recycling is bad. They are just saying that by performing one good deed, we subconsciously "buy the right" to forget about the implications of subsequent consumption.

The BBC criticism is a minor tweak in the old "end of pipe" or "the horse has bolted" critique of most current solutions to environmental problems. In short we are looking at the issue of waste from the wrong perspective. Recycling should not be the focus, sustainable shopping should be. I'll never get sick of being right: this is exactly where ShoppingFix comes in. Making effective choice as consumers sends the right market message. Government is typically averse to regulating
business to achieve social outcomes, so Business practices will only change if consumers provide the economic incentive. ShoppingFix will help this process by facilitating consumer support of responsible businesses.

Sustainable shopping must include the realisation that a large portion of consumption happens away from home. We eat out, we are entertained at clubs and stadia, we go to work. So the fact that you put your recycling bin out on the curb once a week is just part of the solution.

Also important is consideration of the market for recycled material. My earlier entry on the plight of glass recycling in NZ speaks volumes for the dominant "out-of-sight out-of-mind" consumer mentality. It also highlights our problem of economies of scale. As a result we need to be smarter than the average consumer society. The Packaging Accord has achieved some meaningful results, but it has highlights the limits of voluntary industry action.

Being smarter means being more aware. The local resources are out there but tend to be passive and limited in reach. Keep reading here and keep your eye on ShoppingFix. We'll be offering an opportunity to
actively participate in local sustainability. We'll not only offer a smart solution to some of our most pressing consumer problems, you'll be able to adopt it in your day to day shopping life.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Last month Cornell University released research results that if we gave just a little thought to the hypothesis, we would soon grasp its simplicity: if given the opportunity to interact with nature from a young age, a greater care for the environment is evident as an adult.

The researchers refer to it as "wild nature play" - its not rocket science. Its much the same as saying that you'll be better at maths if you are given number exercises as a kid. The distinction of course is that numbers are all around us every day. Because we are largely an urban population nature is NOT around us every day. Our consumer society is driven by media rather than nature, so we consume what we're told rather than what we "feel". The perfect example is bottled water - why apply a supply chain process to what you can get from your tap?

When shopping we generally go for convenience, "value", and looks. Generally we give no consideration to the impact of our purchase on nature; on the environment. And of course that's where ShoppingFix comes in. By using ShoppingFix outlets you can be sure that the environment IS considered. Again, its not rocket science. Its simply a instilling some natural accountability into our consumer society.

This rant has been a long time coming. I'm constantly lamenting our TV culture where
reality is packaged by media companies rather than left to be individually determined in accord with our natural being. In short we have become dumb - and its in the interest of the profit driven sector of our community for us to remain dumb. We can believe packaged reality because we don't see natural reality. We create buffers from nature, we harness nature, we create concrete environments, we get boob jobs. Seldom do we see ourselves as part of nature.

This rant is of course influenced by one of
my favourite books - Walden by Henry David Thoreau; by Noam Chomsky (of Manufacturing Consent fame); and by my having attended a David Suzuki film night recently at the Film Archive. Its also influenced by our collective responsibility as global citizens to Aotearoa/New Zealand. As Kiwis we are unique. Our land is unique. We are more connected to our land than any other "developed" nation is to theirs because our primary sector provides more than 50% of our GDP. More than twice as much as any other OECD nation. As a country we need to get real, we need to get smart, we need to get sustainable. Our very being depends on it.