I’m going to start with the caveat: you cannot buy your way to sustainability. Consumerism is one of the major players in our swift and accelerating destruction of the planet. That said, when it comes to essentials, you’re unlikely to walk barefoot year-round in Vancouver. I’ve also included some non-essentials, although that depends on how much you love your iPhone. And making it look cool. That’s a fair quest in itself.
Also, when I say eco-friendly, I mean eco-friendlier, but I digress. So, in no particular order…
1 & 2: Green shoe, red shoe…
Oh-ho yes… eco-friendly shoes. This is for boys and girls. I wasn’t a shoe chick until I discovered Simple and El Naturalista. Simple has your sneakers, sandals, and boots in biodegradable, natural materials, including recycled tire tread! They’re not 100% perfect, but it sure beats plastic and other synthetics. (Cotton shoelaces!) Whether you’re a yoga mom, skater, hippy or hipster, these aren’t your hempy frumpy shoes of Woodstocks past. El Naturalista is higher-end (fancy-shmancy) but exquisite quality, offering a variety of juicy-coloured leathers. (Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my chin.) Before you take me to the cleaners on promoting leather here, I know that not all leather is treated equally, let alone the cows. Just consider where the fake leather (like vinyl) comes from. Spain’s El Naturalista, says their website, “seek out production processes that are eco-friendly and promote traditional craft skills, we utilize natural materials and dyes, we avoid toxic products and materials, and we practice conservation by using substances that are biodegradable and recyclable.” So while you tread lightly, you can also feel better about yourself. Plus they’re hottttt. The box for my shoes throughtfuly included a drawstring reusable bag to carry the box. (Oh my god, 25% off right now… no no, don’t need more shoes. Shush, Erika.)
Your second-best option? Ask for 100% rubber soles — they have a stickier grip to help you distinguish from the fakes, because the symbol is the same. I’ve been told something’s rubber when it’s clearly a composite. Other great shoe materials are cork, wool and organic fabrics. I’ve seen wood, but I don’t know how ergonomic it is. Take care of your leather using natural silicon or wax instead of harmful sprays.
It’s a familiar pattern now: Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon ate locally for a year and wrote a book about it; Jen and Grant went zero-waste for a year, blogged and filmed a documentary about it. If doing either of those things doesn’t seem crazy and transformative enough, Colin Beavan’s family of three did both for a year, and turned off their electricity (for 6 months), self-powered their transportation, went vegetarian and stopped using toilet paper. The project, No Impact Man, is a film, a book and a blog about eliminating one’s personal impact on the environment.
The point of doing something this extreme, he cautioned, was not to suggest that everyone do it, but that everyone can do something. Individual actions, he says, inspire and engage others to act. That’s the power of community, something he says has eroded. It’s also a challenge to us to consider what really is necessary for daily life and what we could do without. As Colin puts it, living with a low impact is about “doing more good than harm.” At the end of their year, Colin’s wife Michelle decided she’d like to keep cycling (something she’d never have considered a year earlier) and not bring back their TV — except on vacation.
I had an interesting time at Metrotown on Friday. Rows upon rows of sequined plastic iPhone cases, “50/50” t-shirts at American Apparel as if 50% polyester were a selling point, fluorescent Nikes, fake culture at Chapters induced by jazz at Starbucks, and dangerous high-heeled shoes left me feeling disconnected and a little cynical. I grew up being called weird, but looking around at this highly materialistic, throw-away, plastic culture truly made me feel weird and unable to understand its fads.
The food services produce disposable dining ware (read: garbage), poor quality food and a shockingly large crowd at McDonald’s. As my friend jokingly suggested sharing a $1.39 recipe-for-bloating, I stood there waffling between despair and a holier-than-thou attitude. I’ve become so distanced from that 12-hour a day, 7-days-a-week consumerist culture that being surrounded by it leaves me shell-shocked.