Is ethical living elitist?

Living ethically is a great thing to do. But does it require money? For many students and graduates, making ethical lifestyle choices might seem too costly. Let’s take an honest look and separate myth from reality.

All about the money, money, money?

Buying Fairtrade and ethical products is sometimes more expensive than other goods, because the workers who make the products receive a living wage. Which is great! I think it’s 100% correct that workers abroad should get paid a living wage. But that extra cost is often put onto the consumer over here. For people struggling to make ends meet, living ethically may understandably not be their main concern. For many of us, the choice between a cheap purchase and an ethical one is a difficult one to weigh up.

I think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is helpful here. You’ve got practical needs at the bottom (things like air, water, food, shelter etc) and self-actualisation at the top (the desire to become the most you can be). You need your basic needs met before you can think about wider topics that affect the world and other people around you. If you can’t even afford rent properly or are only just making enough money for food, living ethically is the least of your worries. Does that mean an ethical lifestyle is more of a middle and upper-class way of life? That’s not to say those of us with lower incomes don’t or can’t ever think about living ethically. But it’s clearly more difficult.

Making change

However, a recent report by Waitrose recently released a report covering all major UK supermarket chains. It showed that for the most part, ethical shopping choices haven’t been restricted by income. More and more people are reducing their meat intake and two-thirds of 18-24-year-olds are more likely to use reliable drinks containers and cut down on plastic use. More people are buying second hand, which stops more unnecessary products being made. In some cases, living ethically can actually be more affordable. Although income and class are important factors, they don’t have to be a barrier to ending poverty.
Although it may seem like a small action, these lifestyle choices are important to the larger narrative. The more people making decisions to live ethically, the bigger the impact in society. And living ethically isn’t just about the purchases we make, it’s also also about using our voice to speak against injustice locally and internationally. Like any lifestyle, living ethical has its expenses and we need to be aware of that, but it shouldn’t stop us making a difference because there are things we can all do, some that even save us money!

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