Striving for better, not perfect. A talk with #EthicalHour.
Ethical Hour started life as a weekly Twitter chat with a handful of people taking part each week and has since grown to become a powerful community that connects ethical business owners and bloggers around the world. Founder, Sian Conway started the movement after becoming interested in ethical fashion. Having created a blog and set up a Twitter account, she was looking for like-minded people to connect with. ‘I realised there were loads of ethical businesses and bloggers on Twitter, but there was nowhere for them to go to talk about it. I did my research and couldn’t find anything so I thought, ‘I might start something myself.’ Fast forward to the end of 2017 and Ethical Hour is positively thriving, giving advice and providing resources to help young businesses grow.
In the lead up to Black Friday, one of the campaigns that Ethical Hour have been championing is #ShopEthicalInstead. It’s an initiative which encourages customers to spend money with small, independent businesses instead of large corporates. Sian’s stance on Black Friday is pretty firm. “Personally, I can’t stand it. It’s the only shopping day or retail event that has its own death count. It’s something like 10 people have been killed on Black Friday.” And it’s easy to get caught up in it with emails flooding your inbox, social media posts and Black Friday ‘previews’ and ‘pre-sales’. It’s everywhere.
“It’s really easy to think ‘that looks like a great deal’ but it’s just big companies getting rid of old stock and it turns us into the worst version of ourselves.” So Ethical Hour have decided to try and turn the dialogue on its head. It’s not about abstaining from Christmas shopping, or boycotting Black Friday, Sian explains. “The idea is not to focus on the negatives but actually to remember that small companies are there and you can buy from small businesses and shop ethical instead. Just think, do you really need it? And is there an ethical alternative instead?” The Christmas period can be a really pivotal time for small businesses to make a profit that will put them in good stead for the start of the next year. If you can have a positive impact by supporting independent, why not, she reasons.
So, how do you know if it's ethical?
Trying to decide what an ethical product is in the first place can be difficult too. From supply chains and ingredients to packaging and employment practices, Sian explains that it can be a minefield. “The demand for ethical products is going up, but for well established companies with unethical practices, it can be really expensive to change their supply chains, their processes and to become more ethical. Some of them are spending more money on marketing messages to make themselves sound more ethical or eco-friendly when they’re not.”
So how do you go about finding out who to support or who not to support if it’s unclear? “The best thing you can do is ask questions. Do you research, ask Google and ask ethical communities what their thoughts are, and after that, ask the brands themselves. Especially with small businesses, it’s very easy to reach the owner of that business as they’re usually the person who manages the social media. Even for big companies, you can usually get in touch if you push enough. I think a truly ethical business will be willing to talk to you. It might take a while to get a response, but they will be open and transparent.”
Accepting our limitations
And it’s not just about showcasing what they do and what they have done that’s ethical. Sian feels that ethical businesses are open about their limitations too. “They will say, ‘‘this is what we’ve done, this what we’ve still got left to do’” It’s not about being perfect, it’s about striving to make improvements where possible. “There’s so many different issues to consider that it’s almost impossible to be 100% ethical all the time. Ethical living and ethical business is a constant improvement process. You’re never going to be 100% there.”
Finding that balance between doing what you can and being realistic is an important one that Sian’s experienced as both a consumer and as a business owner. As a consumer, she’s been trying to replace the items in her make-up bag. “Animal testing is wrong and I didn’t realise it was even still happening. But when you look more closely, there are other issues too. Those cruelty free brands might come from further afield so they might have more air miles and packaging could be an issue too.”
And she says it’s the same for business owners too, especially if you’re on a budget and deadlines are looming. “Sometimes you have to go online and get overnight delivery. And some of these places might dodge their taxes and not be the most eco friendly, but you do have to be realistic about it and see the bigger picture sometimes. A quote I love is ‘do what you can, with what you have, where you’re at right now.’ I always think, what’s the best decision I can make right now. It would be really easy to feel guilty all the time, and that’s a big challenge of ethical living.”
A step in the right direction
So what should you do if you want to start making ethical changes to your business, but have no idea where to start? “The best thing to do is either pick the issue you’re most passionate about or if that feels overwhelming, pick the most simple thing you can do to start with. It might be as simple as changing the company you use for your printer ink to one that lets you send the cartridges back for recycling. Or it might be dropping old batteries into the recycling depot at the supermarket instead of putting them in the bin.” When you break it down, it doesn't feel so drastic after all. And what about trying to make changes at a larger company, where your voice might not be as easily heard? “The ethical choice isn’t always a priority for everyone, but usually it will have other benefits so try and sell it on those benefits too.” Whether that’s reducing overheads or gaining publicity, try to think of it in terms others can get on board with.
Judgement, or fear of being judged, can sometimes be a barrier for people who want to become more ethical, but it’s not something their friends or colleagues are necessarily behind or understand. No one wants to be labeled a tree hugger. “One of the big things we talk about in Ethical Hour is breaking those stereotypes. Don’t let it go if people are antagonist. I don’t often tell people that a product is ethical unless they compliment it, and then I can say where it was made or where it came from. It’s about bringing people into the conversation.” Getting the tone right, standing your ground and judging when is the right moment, all play a part. And it doesn’t need to be drastic. “We don’t have to change our lives and go and live on a commune to do that, but take a small step if you can.”
Find out more about Ethical Hour on their website, or join the Twitter chat, every Monday from 8pm GMT.