Moving away from Lush products – Lush responsible for building on Greenbelt land in Poole, Dorset

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There are many reasons to move away from Lush products, most commonly you will read about their continued use of Sodium Laurel Sulphate (SLS), glitter and other unnecessary ingredients in their products. I have another (little known) reason to add to the list! So read on, dear readers….

Lush is an easily accessible place to start going zero waste, since they are available online and on the high street. I’d been a little bit annoyed about Lush’s fairly regular price hikes of late – their shampoo and conditioner bars can go about £1-£2 per year. At least they have since I started using them. That’s a significant increase to bear, especially when you have very long and thick hair, like me! It’s also been annoying to buy their metal containers, only for them to change the shape of their products yet again.

Most recently, they changed the formulation of one of their soap bars- yet didn’t feel the need to advertise the fact. It literally burnt the skin on my face! I did get a full refund, but all of this combined with the fact that around here – Lush are responsible for building their factories on greenbelt land.

I live in the same town where Lush creates all their products and where they were founded. I was proud to support a local company, but the more you get to learn about them – the more you learn that they hardly employ any local people. The majority of their workforce are Eastern European and they bring them over to work here, claiming that they are better workers or more reliable. However, local people who have worked for them will tell you it’s more down to their poor working conditions. Their founder – Mr Constantine, demanded recently that Poole Council (now BCP Council) allow him to build another factory locally, or he would move virtually the whole operation to Eastern Europe. Let’s put this into context – Lush makes up around 50% of the Nuffield Industrial Estate in Poole – a significant loss if they were to go!

So, not only are they getting their new factory on former green belt land within the Borough, part of the deal was that also a number of homes were built on this farmland too. Thus resulting in even more concreting over, loss of wildlife habitats on our precious heathland, increased traffic on our roads and so on. You can read more about all of this, should it interest you in the Poole Local Plan. All of this is to say, that was the nail in the coffin of my support of this local company. They proclaim so loudly to support the environment, sea birds habitats and so on – but for all their so-called ethics, it seems they will very much pick and choose to suit themselves. Apparently the quality of life of local people, local air quality, local wildlife – they are just not their concern, but their profits are. So, I am taking my business elsewhere.

I’m pleased to say that a quick internet search turned up a Yorkshire Company called Friendly Soap. They have a certification from the Ethical Consumer Organisation. Their prices are beyond reasonable – less than a third of what Lush charges and their P&P was lower too. No SLS, no triclosan, no plastic, no parabens and cruelty free. A wonderful smelling package bursting with the scent of rosemary, lavender, orange and lime has just landed on my doorstep. I look forward to reporting back 🙂

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More Musings on the Story of Stuff – Branding & Marketing

As I said yesterday, I’m currently reading this book:

Today, in the chapter on distribution I struck upon something horrifying. I guess I sort of knew this already, but seeing it in black and white is even more shocking. I’m sure we all know that most companies out there don’t actually make the stuff they sell, but they buy it in and have unknown manufacturers make it for them. We’ve seen this so much in the clothing industry where brands like H&M and Primark have clothes made up in India and take no responsibility for the working practices of those in their supply chain. This is all part of these companies plans to cut costs, basically by abdicating responsibility.

This efficiency driven, cost-cutting is pervasive. Companies don’t make the stuff they sell, they simply brand it. Apple don’t make computers, but they sure as heck have created a brand that people crave. H&M don’t make clothes, Nike doesn’t make trainers. They all simply buy the garments and items from producers, or the parts to assemble them and often not even from the same factory, but from multiple producers. It’s quite possible that one factory churns out the exact same product for multiple retailers.

So really, let’s face it – it’s often not the item we are buying, but we’ve been sold on the brand. The founder of Nike even admitted that the company once saw themselves as production oriented, but that they now understand their most important function is to market the product. So guess where they put all their money? Advertising. And often this advertising isn’t even for a specific product, it’s all about the image they want to associate with their brand. Nike aren’t selling your trainers, they are selling you a fashion statement that in this climate will probably be outdated in a mere 2 weeks!

Biomimicry

I’m currently reading this book: The Story of Stuff. How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health – and a Vision for Change by Annie Leonard.

I’m ashamed to say that I picked it up in a charity shop about 4 years ago, started to read it, stopped and then it went back on the shelf for years! Let’s just say it’s quite heavy going and American-centric, but there are a lot of relevant points to anyone, living anywhere in the world.

Today, I was interested to learn of the concept of ‘biomimicry‘. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that term used and described in this particular way before. But I wanted to make a note of it for future reference. Biomimicry is apparently a trend in modern design, in which designs are influenced by nature.

There is even an organisation called the Biomimicry Institute which has noticed that “nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with. Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers. They have found what works, what is appropriate, and most important, what lasts here on earth. This is the real news of biomimicry: After 3.8 billion years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

Biomimicry experts have identified the following list of core principles in how nature functions:

  1. runs on sunlight and uses only the energy it needs
  2. uses a water-based chemistry
  3. fits form to function
  4. recycles everything
  5. rewards cooperation
  6. banks on diversity
  7. demands local expertise
  8. curbs excesses from within
  9. taps the power of limits

So, the art and science of biomimicry takes these principles and figures out how to make human technologies, infrastructure, and products that adhere to them as well.

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Some examples given in the book, are that the peacock’s brilliant feathers are not created through pigment, but through shape. They have many layers that allow light to bounce off them in different ways, which translate as colour to the naked eye. I had to Google this a bit further, it’s known as ‘structural colouration’ and was first discovered by Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton (2 English scientists). It describes microscopically structured surfaces, fine enough to interfere with invisible light (sometimes in combination with pigments). So, peacock feathers are actually pigmented brown, as you can see when you turn them over. But it’s their microscopic structure that makes them reflect blue, green and turquoise light and they are often iridescent. Butterflies also use this ‘technique’. Perhaps this could avoid the need for toxic dyes to be created, if we could harness a similar technique?

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Mother of pearl is created in cold, salt water – a substance twice as strong as ceramic. Perhaps we could eliminate the use of fossil fuels, in heating kilns to make ceramics? Maybe we could learn to extract metals from cold water?

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The threads that hold a mussel shell to a rock naturally dissolve after 2 years. Perhaps we could study this and learn to create compostable packaging? (I think this one is starting to occur, approx 10 years after the book was written).

I’m not a product designer, but I did once study art. I think it’s fascinating to look at the natural world more closely, even if I was just doing it for beauty’s sake. I would have no idea how to create the intricacies of a leaf, for example, with veins running through it to carry water and nutrients, or cells that contained chlorophyll and knew how to grow, and goodness else knows whatever else goes on in there! But I bet there are scientists who could begin to work on these dilemmas. Perhaps artists could work with scientists to create truly beautiful, functional designs that remained harmless to us and our planet?

It seems to me that there is more to being a designer than just knowing about technology, or engineering, or science. Everything in the natural world seems to hold some innate beauty within it too. I can’t help but come back to the Christian ideas of intelligent design or things being created by someone far cleverer than us. Perhaps the plants and animals haven’t found out what works by trial and error over time? Perhaps they were designed that way from the outset? By someone who already knew the delicate balance of the earth’s chemistry and systems? It’s an interesting thought isn’t it?

The Rough Guide To Ethical Living

Today I want to recommend to you a book I discovered recently in a charity shop; The Rough Guide to Ethical Living. This book covers climate change, sweatshops, fair-trade, ethical investment, organic food, finances and more. Pretty much every issue you could face in life.

You know, life can sometimes seem like a moral minefield – particularly when you start to pay attention to ethics, zero waste, fair trade or green principles. It’s so hard to know which products or companies we should support and those we would be better avoiding. Also, there are so many claims out there today, despite advertising standards some can be dubious. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by it all.

If you would like some help to decide which ethical claims can you can trust then the Rough Guide to Ethical Living cuts through the ‘greenwash’ to answer your questions. This guide literally looks at all the problems and ethical options. It’s a relatively compact tome, but it covers all the main issues. Where there is more information available, it points you to relevant, trustworthy websites where you can find out more.

It’s particularly aimed at UK readers and recommends websites, books and magazines. It also includes tips on reducing your carbon footprint at home and on the road. I would consider this book to be an essential handbook for responsible consumers and it’s very easy to read. It’s definitely one that I plan to keep on my bookshelf for reference.

According to the blurb, there are a couple of other Rough Guides out there; The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping and The Rough Guide to Climate Change. I’m going to add these to my reading list!

Remembering Priorities

It’s important to have time to reflect on life. This unexpectedly occurred for me, this evening- whilst reading Waitrose Weekend- 4th September 2014 edition. There were numerous articles within the paper which rang bells for me. Most notably, a series on Organic farming.

Did you know that the Soil Association was formed way back in 1946? I had no idea it was that early, just as the tide was turning in favour of more intensive farming methods. It was founded by a group of doctors, scientist and farmers who were concerned about these changes. That point also struck me because I had just assumed it was farmers who had formed the group. The fact that doctors and scientists were also concerned adds weight to the argument in favour of organic methods, for me. Not that I’m belittling farmers in anyway, they are all their own disciplines with their own merits. What struck me is that all those different professions recognised the same truth. Even in 1946, when presumably they had less knowledge of the implications- they foresaw a negative impact. Still others, like chefs are proponents of buying the best quality ingredients you can for reasons of taste. And yet others will tell you to buy local, not only to support your local economy but also to reduce food miles and therefore, your carbon footprint.

Reading the articles made me remember back to when I studied Food and Nutrition, over 16 years ago. I was struck by the information I learned from books and my teachers around organic vs. non-organic farming methods. On top of that, over recent years- having watched programmes by the like of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall- I thought I would always go for the organic and free-range options. At my core, I still want that- I just got caught up in trying to save money, the realities of a budget and rising food costs.

However, pursuit of money is an empty thing in itself. Surely it should be guided by ethics and principles? I read too many other blogs, where that’s all their about- making/ saving money by whatever means possible- regardless of the provenance of the food they are eating or the working conditions of the person who made their knife which was sold to them for 99 pence.

Still, there are other minimalists who are using the cash and time they have freed up to pursue better and more noble ambitions. Like the things we have just been pondering; buying organic, locally produced food. So upon reflection, it’s time for me to start moving towards making those changes too. Maybe it means eating less crisps, chocolate and fizzy pop in order to afford great quality, locally produced, organic food? Maybe it means you stop having ready-meals? Maybe it just means you are going to allocate a greater portion of your budget to food and forgo some leisure activities or unnecessary luxuries?

These are just my short-term thoughts. Longer term, I hope that our minimalist lifestyle enables us to support children in developing countries to have the basic necessities for life- like food, water and an education. I hope that it means we can lend or give to friends and family to help them in times of need. Overall, I hope that these small decisions we make in the here and now, will have globally positive implications. Enabling producers to earn a fair wage, enabling the planet’s resources to be saved and only used where necessary, helping people to stay out of debt and enabling people to spend time on the things they need or want to spend time on. Fundamentally I still believe that minimalism has the power to change the world.