Trying to live a more ethical, sustainable lifestyle can get pretty frustrating. It sometimes feels like for every problem you identify, and find a workaround for, you’ll realise there are five other parts of your life where something isn’t right.
You cut out single-use plastics like straws and carrier bags, but then you start to notice just how much of your food comes wrapped in plastic. You stop buying chocolate and coffee unless it’s Fairtrade, but then become hyper-aware of the carbon footprint of anything grown abroad.
The good news is that there are some areas where switching from mean to green takes pretty much no effort at all, allowing you to sit back and feel smug in your righteousness. A few days ago, I was asked if I’d mind sharing some insight on how to live greener when it comes to the boring stuff – so to follow on from my post featuring 11 tips for living greener on Earth Day, here’s a closer look at everyday ethical choices like energy, broadband and grocery shopping.
Green energy companies
An obvious place to start is home energy. Thrilling, I know. But important! I’ve flip-flopped between energy companies for the last few years trying to find an option that’s simultaneously planet-friendly and affordable, and am pleased to report that I’ve finally succeeded.
My top picks in this category are Octopus Energy and Bulb.
Octopus and Bulb offer a few different tariffs, which guarantee 100% renewable electricity and carbon neutral gas. The latter is partially produced from sustainable sources, and partially offset by supporting carbon reduction projects worldwide. They’re also both just generally great companies, offering highly-rated customer service and easy switching back and forth.
Both of these offer cheaper tariffs than the ‘big 6’ / less green and ethical energy companies, which leaves me genuinely baffled as to why more people haven’t switched. Our main reason for picking Octopus over Bulb was because we have smart meters which at the time of switching Bulb couldn’t support, but both companies are now smart meter-friendly.
I try and steer clear of being mean about rubbish companies on my blog because I like it to be a positive place, but I feel compelled to warn you all off of Ovo. Aside from the fact that only one of their tariffs is 100% green (and it costs more than all their other ones), we had shockingly bad service with Ovo that drove me fully round the bend. Screw Ovo, vote Octopus. (Or Bulb.)
The search for ethical broadband
Had it ever occurred to you that your broadband might not be ethical? Nah, me neither. In all honesty, I don’t think I’d ever really thought about my broadband that much until quite recently – other than to search online for literally the cheapest deal I could possibly find and just go with whatever that was.
You can compare broadband on simplyswitch.com and other similar sites to get prices on the latest offers, but to figure out which of your options is the most ethical, you’ll need to cast your eyes to the Good Shopping Guide or Ethical Consumer.
Their ratings aren’t about how much rubbish a company makes or whether they’re feeding their staff battery-farmed eggs (although I’m sure there’s a story in that somewhere). Rather, they look at whether the broadband provider is part of a co-operative, whether they are tax dodgers and whether they treat their employees fairly.
The high scorers here are companies like Green ISP Broadband, who top the charts for their attitudes to people and the environment as well as company ethos, and still somehow only charge £14.99 a month for home broadband.
TalkTalk are highly rated on Good Shopping Guide, but I absolutely hate TalkTalk and their customer service is appalling so let’s not go too far into that. (Two negativity bombs in one post, sorry everyone!)
Post Office Broadband and Zen Internet are other cheap and decent options, but shop around to see what suits you. (If, like me, you’d never heard of Zen before, you might be interested to know that they’ve won Best Broadband Provider from PC Pro magazine for the last 14 years, and are listed by the Times as one of the best companies to work for due to their dedication to investing in staff development and wellbeing.)
Shopping more sustainably
It would be so lovely if we could all afford to shop at local markets instead of multinational grocery superstores. It really would. And let me start this section by saying that if you have the option of doing your weekly shop at the local greengrocer and bakery, naturally this can be the most sustainable way to sustain yourself. Items will often be plastic-free, locally grown and will make it to you without the airmiles involved in supermarket fruit and veg.
Unfortunately, the little guys generally can’t compete with the big guys on cost. Corporations like Tesco and Asda have bulk-buying power that allows them to undercut mom and pop shops, and for people living on shoestring budgets it can feel impossible to shop elsewhere.
When it comes to doing your everyday food shopping, it’s all about being as ethical and sustainable as you can be on the budget that you have available. I’m sure many people would love to say that they only buy British-grown, plastic-free organic veg, for example. But when you see that a trio of plastic-wrapped peppers from the other side of the world come in at one third of the price of a single item of local produce, it’s hard to prioritise the planet over your own need to get by.
Check out my previous post on Fairtrade fortnight and UK supermarkets for an overview of the tops and bottoms of UK supermarket shopping, but as a general route to feeling better about the contents of your basket, aim to shop at places that prioritise Fairtrade goods and don’t still stock cruelty-laden products like battery-farmed eggs if you can.
In the same way as a lot of sustainable living is about compromise – e.g you can’t get rid of all plastic, so you just cut down wherever you can – making your broadband, energy and internet more ethical isn’t about being perfect. It’s just about trying to do the best you can with the money you have, and becoming more aware of where your money goes and what your suppliers are funding.
Do you have any favourite companies or great tips on improving the ethics of the everyday? Please don’t hesitate to let me know!