Be NICE

Sign in a shop

I’m maintaining a list of my to do’s on Trello to aide my self-organisation. Every day I flick through the cards and move some of them along. Every now and again I will prioritise the cards putting the most important things at the top of the list.

What scares me about this process is how administration of life seems to take priority. There isn’t a lot of fun at the top.

I thought to get some inspiration and find a few fun things I wanted. I took a stroll down Oxford Street.

I found the experience hollow. I found it scary. I found it crowded. Everyone was pandering after the same things. Fashion was currently new items made to look retro from the 90s and 70s.

I’m guilty of humans wants too, and my many excesses. But my perspective has changed.

Bittersweet opportunity

I worked at a famous doughnut factory yesterday. I started throwing the waste from its shops into a food compactor. I counted three big skips of sugary doughnuts. I couldn’t get over the waste. None of it was going to landfill. All of it was going to be reused. But it was still unwanted and unpurchased product; waste.

I was also competing with hoverflies, bees and wasps. I got stung twice. I couldn’t get to sleep as I still felt them hovering around me when I went to bed. I’m not sure what the workplace thought of me yelling in fear as I emptied the food trollies, bins and packaging into the skip.

Each individual doughnut is handled with care, attention, and by hand. The dough, the icing, the filling, the packaging, the labels, the fold in each box is done by hand. When I started the packing of boxes at the end of the day, it felt really bittersweet knowing that some of this product would go in the skip tomorrow.

I came across the companies doughnut stand when I was out and about. I couldn’t find myself to eat one. But I did stare at the packets and thought, yes I packed the second row. And my big finger probably smudged the chocolate icing on some of those doughnuts.

Do people care?

This experience made me think. Every brick, window, piece of food, item of clothing, toy, bric-a-brac has been handled by a human at some point in its life.

And all I could see in the crowds was human want.

When I look at the city as a whole I see the human process of creating it; from the architect, city planner, builder, engineer, electrician, plumber, the people who processed the raw materials, the inspector, realtor, to the people who decorate the insides; everything is placed there through human touch and process.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently. Our purchases can change the entire process of making something; from the cotton field, to factory, it’s shipping, distribution to the shop and finally to wearing it.

But truly establishing what is ethically, morally, environmentally, financially, emotively best is a much harder trade-off than it should be.

I bought some leather shoes for work. I won’t tell you the thought processes I have over whether leather or plastic is better. I disagree with animal product. I disagree with the fact that if I get a plastic shoe, I will wear it into the ground. From there it could go to landfill or incinerator. Probably creating toxic fumes in the process.

The supply chain of those shoes probably has child and human slavery in it. No matter what I buy, the complexity of global commodity markets often mean, that at some point child or human slavery was involved in the making of it. And across everything I buy; a slave has worked for me; producing the sum of it. And it is unavoidable.

From all the studies I have seen, the claims; no one can categorically say that it is “perfect”. At best, any claim is: we’ve done our best at x, y or Z. Claims that this organisation is against animal cruelty or animal testing are pretty thin, given that anything will at some point been tested on a human or animal at some point; by someone. Even vanilla has been tested on animals.

Human guilt

And it is with that, that each purchase I make has some form of guilt.

I don’t really know if the humans involved in the making of this purchase all have the same values as I do. If each human was motivated by greed or love. Who was paid what, if that was fair, how sustainable the organisation is. And even if I should buy something that is new or virgin.

Most importantly I don’t know the buyers who buy the product and control many of the decisions about the quality, provenance, benefits, impact of the product through their price controls.

Back to that doughnut production line. At some point someone created a new business case for a conveyer belt. I could understand why; the faster workers work, the more productive they become. Which lowers cost and increases profit.

Sadly as a worker I couldn’t keep up with the engineered process. And each person on the line was working at a different speed. We are all human; and we are all different.

And when I begin to see the product beyond its presentation, design, marketing, sale process. I see something that is human. And I feel for that product. How do I really know that it is making a difference to someone? How do I really know that everyone involved in the making of that product has been respected, loved, paid and treated fairly? How do I really know that greed or love made the product what it is?

I can’t. And so I struggle to pick anything. Because really the entire process of making any product is too complex to understand in the moment of beginning to like the look of it.