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26 February 2016

The ethical experiment

The ethical experiment

Never let it be said that the idea team doesn't practise what it preaches. While we put this edition together, we decided it wasn't enough to just write about consuming ethically – we needed to put our money where our mouths are and challenge ourselves. The four experiments we chose are extreme – at least, they felt it to us – but were chosen to highlight the wider issues involved. We aren't expecting you all to adopt all four into your everyday lives, but if it gets you thinking about you own lifestyle, your relationship with money and how you can make your spending more ethical, then our week of experimentation was worthwhile. Are you going to give any a go? We'd love to hear from you. Let us know by tweeting @idea_mag with the hashtag #ethicaledition.

CHALLENGE ONE: Amaris Cole wears one outfit for one week

Today around 30 million people are trapped in a life of slavery. Many of the clothes we buy on the high street were made in sweatshops, including those in my wardrobe. Something needs to change. 

I love fashion and buying new clothes, but nothing can be worth the forced labour of people working in awful conditions to make me a new top. In a bid to train myself into buying less and wearing what I already own more, I wore the same outfit for seven days in a row. 

The night before the challenge began, I looked deep into the abyss of my wardrobe for something that would work for days in the office, lunch meetings, coffee with friends and a birthday party. I settled on black trousers and a white shirt with a bow, topped off with a grey jumper. 

Laugh if you must, but I was worried this challenge would stretch me emotionally as well as logistically – how can you keep one outfit clean for a week? Answer: lots of late nights waiting for the washing machine to finish and early mornings with the ironing board.

Despite colleagues' doubts, I made it. I actually gave my appearance less thought than usual as the week went on. Anna Wintour, Mark Zuckerburg and Kate Moss swear by a 'uniform', with some claiming it boosts productivity. Perhaps they're on to something.

While my experiment may be an extreme, I learnt about the #30wears campaign on social media. It encourages people to think before they buy; first, ask yourself if you need it. If the answer is yes, go and buy it. If it's no, ask yourself if you will wear this item 30 times or more. If the answer is no, put it down - however much you want it. But, if this is going to be something that you cherish and wear a reasonable number of times, then you can buy it. I'm sure to many of you this will seem common sense, but in an age of fast fashion and getting whatever we want, this could be a really useful way for some shoppers to change their behaviour.

I'm in no rush to repeat this challenge, but I learnt a lot and will be changing the way I shop. In an ideal world, I would only buy clothes produced ethically. I'm planning to try to do this where possible, but to also implement the #30wears idea. My eyes really have been opened to huge injustices of the fashion industry, and I'm going to try to do more to right these wrongs through my consumer choices. 

Will you join me?

Hours saved choosing outfits: 2
Times I missed my wardrobe: 5

Read Amaris' diary during her seven-day challenge here.

CHALLENGE TWO: Jo Wright spends seven days shopping locally

My challenge was to avoid retail chains and not to shop online, which provoked giggles from my colleagues at the Alliance. I've got a bit of a reputation for online shopping, with various packages being delivered to our office and landing on my desk several times a week. Would I be able to resist?

On Monday, I must admit it was difficult to bypass my usual daily visit to either Marks & Spencer's or Waitrose for my breakfast of a green juice and some sort of muesli or yoghurt – and sometimes a sneaky pastry. I realised just how much of a habit had formed. I could easily, with a little forward planning, purchase these things at the weekend and prepare for the week ahead, such as the protein bar I'd packed. That evening we had leftovers so I didn't have to worry about buying dinner.

Tuesday morning was fine, but then I realised I hadn't brought lunch with me. The sandwich man at our office did his usual round, so I thought, that has to be buying locally, surely?

My husband and I went straight to our local food market after work and stocked up on things to cook for the rest of the week. There was an array of fresh fruit and vegetables, a bakery and a butcher. Basically everything you could want and very reasonably priced. I could see us ditching Asda and doing our regular shop here.

By Wednesday, the marketing emails were calling out to me! I was having to resist the 'we're having a sale!' emails that were flooding my inbox. (Yes, I know, I could unsubscribe). It got to the point where I had to email the retailer of jewellery I loved, checking when the sale will end. Thankfully I had until the end of the month…

Thursday and the protein bars started giving me jaw ache. I also had a toothpaste emergency and had to succumb to Superdrug. First fail.

I did ok again until Saturday. We had a guest staying with us and wanted to make a delicious ground nut chicken stew. We had just been for a long walk in the forest and our route back took us past Asda… It called our name! Thankfully friends invited us for lunch on Sunday and we had leftovers for dinner.

I think what was highlighted to me the most was that forward planning can save money. Preparing lunch and breakfast and buying the ingredients from the local independent food market was surprisingly easy. It felt good to support a local business and also get to see some of my friends from church that shop there too. Buying online is a different story. It's a temptation that I don't think will stop, but this week taught me that slowing down and thinking about whether I really need it helps me to think about my choices more. I can stop myself, and that's good to know.

Bargains I missed out on online: 5
Times I missed online shopping: 15

CHALLENGE THREE: Danny Webster goes for a week without his wallet 

The challenge set me to examine just how far consumerism was engrained into my lifestyle. For seven days nothing would leave my wallet.

I did my shopping before the week began, and I had a travel card that would get me around London – and I realised part way through the week my electricity bill had been debited from my account, but that was it.

Some parts of the challenge were straightforward, I couldn't pick up my lunch from a nearby shop, or a coffee on the way into work. Other aspects were annoying, but doable – the couple of days when I wasn't going home before going on to something after work meant I had to prepare food for the evening and bring that with me, as well as my lunch.

During the week there was plenty I went without. From the coffees and snacks I would normally pick up, to foregoing the haircut I had planned to get. There were tickets to a concert I wanted to buy, which I delayed getting until the following week – so I only delayed that piece of spending.

And then there were the technicalities that by the slimmest of margins meant I managed to keep to the challenge. There was a friend's birthday party, where someone – unprompted – bought me a drink (and I explained I wouldn't be able to reciprocate). Where the judges – if this challenge had judges – might deem me to have crossed the line was in the train ticket paid for by a friend on Saturday, which I paid him back for the following Tuesday. Technically I didn't spend any money within the week – but I benefited from money spent on my behalf.

Four things I learnt during the week:
1. Life consistently bombards you with opportunities to spend money, and not spending money can sometimes leave you feeling like the odd one out.
2. Planning and organisation can remove the need for most casual expenditure, and there are plenty of ways I can do that for much longer than a week.
3. The choice not to spend money was the most significant part of the challenge, not spending it was relatively straightforward.
4. In limiting my spending, I also limited my generosity; I couldn't buy my friend a drink on his birthday.

Beers, coffee and chocolate I couldn't buy: 14
Times I missed money: 21


CHALLENGE FOUR: Chine McDonald cooks a meat-free menu

For most of my life, I've thought that vegetarianism was just for animal lovers who squirm at the idea of tucking into one of our four-legged friends. And for many, this is exactly the driving force behind their decision not to be carnivorous.

Some Christian vegetarians live by the words in Proverbs 12:10: "The righteous man has regard for the life of his beast." And the Christian Vegetarian Association even exists to "show the world that plant-based diets represent good, responsible Christian stewardship for all God's creation".

It's not until my husband Mark and I took up the ethical challenge of going completely meat-free for a week that I  realised that while caring for animals is a great reason to be vegetarian, vegetarianism is also great for humans too. 

When we think about global warming, climate change and carbon emissions, our first thought might be to point to the significant damage done by the transport system. But, shockingly, the global livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships put together.

I come from a Nigerian family, where a meal just isn't complete without meat. Everything else is just a side dish. So I embarked on the challenge thinking it might be more difficult than I would have anticipated. But in fact, it was much more manageable than I thought. As a keen home chef, I was forced to be creative, to think about possible meat substitutes to go into some of our favourite dishes. I uncovered some gems, including Jamie Oliver's "proper veg lasagna" – despite it taking nearly three hours to make – and Nigella's butternut squash and halloumi burgers. Post-challenge and we're willing to cut down drastically on our meat consumption. Because we realised that being vegetarian doesn't have to be hard. 

Hours spent cooking: 10
Times I missed meat: 3

Watch Chine's video diary about her vegetarian challenge video here.  

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