I am learning a new language. It’s always hard when finding your way with anything new; you hear more experienced, fluent speakers engaged in virtually impenetrable dialogue that sounds extremely important and marvel at how clever they are. As you learn, you begin to pick out one or two words or phrases that mean something to you and whilst you quietly celebrate your progress, it usually just demonstrates how very much more you have yet to learn. But it will be worth it in the end.
The language I’m learning is a global language in every sense of the word – I’m learning to speak green. I have always felt aligned to the fundamental principles of looking after the planet, looking after each other, and that small acts of kindness towards the environment and those who share it contribute to a better place for everyone. However, when you begin to delve into the subtleties of the hows, whys and wherefores, it can be daunting for a newbie like me to make sure the particular brand of crisps you toss thoughtlessly into your shopping basket doesn’t make you a hypocrite to the cause.
The issue is: I understand that supporting my local independent shops is good. Buying Fairtrade is good. Buying free range eggs is good. By comparison, choosing products is relatively straightforward but when it comes to services, how do I know if my bank is organised ethically? How do I know which eateries pay their frontline staff a fair share of the company profits? How do I know if my electricity provider pays its full tax bill? Media-whipped scandals go some way towards enlightenment but for the vast majority of decision making, it can be hard to divine the good guys from the bad guys (and alas nothing in life is ever quite as simple as that anyway.) Furthermore, in the past I hadn’t even considered the ethical side when it comes to services. There is a clear Fairtrade logo for individual products but how do I know if the energy powering my laptop has been delivered ethically?
Wouldn’t it be great for those of us who want to make ethical choices if service providers had to declare their green status? A kite mark for ethics, perhaps. It would go some way to helping a novice flex his new linguistic muscles; “that company pays its fair share of tax but needs to cap the salary of its Chief Execs”; “I always use this electricity provider because it actively seeks to pay its full tax quota in spite of cheaper options available.”
Such ideas are not implemented overnight and in typical Catch-22 style, it can’t be embraced as a way forward unless enough people make the case for it; but people won’t make the case for it unless people first embrace it as a way forward. In the meantime, small acts of pooling what we do know about service providers are a step in the right direction; a website of collated knowledge, a database of companies, some kind of rudimentary “score” that can be used as a compass by which we determine who is most deserving of our patronage. Those who seek to expand their business then begin to consider the ethical arguments when it comes to choosing what and how they do things and therein lies progress… This doesn’t happen overnight, either, and pooling what we already know is only the first step on the road to empowered decision making. But it will be worth it in the end.