Chantal Cooke is a passionate environmentalist and co-founder and Managing Director of the award winning Passion for the Planet, the UK’s only radio station focusing on health and environmental issues.
Passion broadcasts to London and the South on DAB Digital Radio and nationwide on the Internet: www.passionfortheplanet.com.
Sometimes when confronted with the enormity of our environmental challenges and the seeming lack of urgency displayed by our leaders, it’s easy to feel we are all doomed and that any contribution we make is pointless.
However, as individuals we can make a difference. We have enormous power – it’s just that we often don’t realise it. For every pro environmental action we take this year we are contributing to the solution.
We’re told that “money is the root of all evil” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”. It’s not surprising then that many people believe that the pursuit of money is unethical and that you cant be both spiritual and rich.
But money can be both ethical and spiritual. Remember money is just paper – its energy is what we ascribe to it. For example, new businesses are springing up all over the UK that call themselves ‘social enterprises‘. Wikipedia defines these as “social mission driven organizations which apply market-based strategies to achieve a social purpose.”
These organisations can be both ‘for profit‘ and ‘not for profit‘, what unites them is their aim to accomplish targets that are social and or environmental. Where the ‘for profit‘ is different is that in addition it also wants to reach certain financial targets beyond simply breaking even. This combination is often called The Triple Bottom Line. The Triple Bottom Line refers to people, planet, profit. The idea is that a company should measure its success not just by its profits, but also by its positive impact on people and the planet.
Although many commercial businesses would consider themselves to have social objectives, they are not really social enterprises. Social enterprises are distinctive because their social or environmental purpose remains central to their operation. Of course as with many of these ideals they sound great, but how do they measure up in reality? Do companies that claim a social purpose really deliver it? And if they do, do they do so ethically?
For example, you may well decide to buy fair-trade chocolate from a social enterprise and feel good about the fact your money is going to the farmers. But, do you know if the cocoa is grown on land that used to be rain forest and has been cleared for farming? Do you know if they use huge quantities of pesticides that damage the land, and maybe even the health of the farmers? Do you know if that chocolate was packed and processed ethically or if it went to a factory with child labour? Unfortunately the answer is generally; no, you don’t know for sure.
However does that make buying fair-trade chocolate bad? No, not in itself. Does it make business and money bad? Again, no, not in themselves. So where does this leave us? For me personally money is not really the issue – there are good and evil ways to make money, and good and evil ways to use money. The issue has to be about me and my use and pursuit of money.
When my business partner and I set up PASSION for the PLANET we wanted to do two things; 1) change the world by inspiring and motivating people to make ethical choices and 2) make money. They were both equally important to us. If we didn’t help change the world then there was little point in the company existing and if we didn’t make money then quite simply, we couldn’t exist! Our buying choices are no different than our business choices. We have huge power as business people and arguably even bigger power as consumers. Although it’s true that realistically I can’t check every step of the process that my bar of chocolate went through and determine, without doubt, that it was ethical all the way from the seed to my tummy, I can check some it. I can use recognised accreditation schemes as a good starting place.
For example the BUAV run stringent checks on products that claim to be ‘not tested on animals‘ and will only allow them to use the bunny and stars logo if they meet all their criteria. Unfortunately unless a product states ‘not tested on animals“ you have to assume that it has been – many cosmetics and most household products are still tested this way. The Soil Association has come in for criticism in the past, but its certification is still one of the best when it comes to organic. Another way to check is to look at organisations like ‘See what you are buying into‘. The companies registered with them self certify themselves by answering a long list of questions that have been developed with a range of partners. The answers are then reviewed by SEE and if necessary further information or evidence is requested. Once a company gets accreditation then their responses to the questions are made available, via the Internet, for everyone to see and scrutinize. You can check what they are saying about themselves and call them to task if you believe it to be untrue. PASSION for the PLANET is the first radio station to complete this ethical accreditation.
Another way is to write to the company and simply ask then the questions you’d like answered. You’ll soon get a sense of whether you think they live up to their claims or not. From there you can decide if you want to continue buying their products.
We may not live in a perfect world and we may have to do a lot on trust, but this doesn’t mean that we have no choice but to blindly buy into whatever is put in front of us. We have the choice to spend a few minutes looking at the label, asking questions, or searching the Internet or perhaps even telephoning the company, to find out if this product or service matches our values.
Its not money or even making money that is unethical – it’s all about how we choose to use it. It’s your money – what choice will you make?