Tradition decrees that as we enter a new year we make a rash of promises to ourselves, planning friendship and fortune for the coming 12 months. Tradition also decrees that these are broken within the first few months, and then casually forgotten. So you can imagine my surprise, 12 months after setting myself a resolution to not buy a single a book over the course of the year, to find that I haven’t spent a single penny on reading material. I’m not sure if I can now claim a world record for the first human being to complete their New Year’s resolution, or when the requests for TV interviews will arrive.
Whilst at times it has been frustrating (as a bibliophile, book shops are my crack) it has also been enlightening. I’ve taken more books out of the library, read more of my existing library, and borrowed books that have been influential in other peoples lives. Much as I’d love to go into a book shop tomorrow and just go crazy I’ve learnt to be more selective with my purchasing. If I can survive 12 months without buying any new books that would indicate I don’t need to buy every book I want to. I can use the library, or add it to a wish list, adding only the most important and significant books to my personal collection. Going cold turkey for a year has altered my behaviour for the better, and so now I look for the next thing I can change.
Last year, whilst president of my Students’ Union, I heard a talk by Peter Holbrook, chair of Social Enterprise UK. His talk really got me thinking, and has planted a number of seeds in my imagination. Whilst discussing social enterprises – organisations run not for profit, but for the benefit of society, (e.g. a cafe that employs people with learning disabilities and uses the profits to fund evening activities for them) he mentioned that we all have the power to decide where we spend our money. The fact is a simple one, but perhaps groundbreaking in a society where marketing and tax loopholes mean that more and more of our money is going to monopolies who are avoiding tax and who are more focused on making profit than contributing to society, and ultimately whose wealth and power contribute to making the rich richer (and so consequentially the poor poorer).
Let’s look at Amazon. Whilst it removes the need to trawl bookshops whilst looking for a title, and has drastically reduced the cost of purchasing books, booksellers across the country curse the decline of trade, local councils miss out on business tax, and the employees who actually process orders suffer questionable employment practices (find link). And for all of that, they only paid £4.2 million in tax for a turnover of £4.3 billion (that’s only 0.1%). Local shops don’t have the ability to base themselves in Luxemburg or to employ top flight lawyers and accountants to take advantage of legal tax avoidance schemes.
Amazon isn’t alone, as the two images at the end of this blog show…
Now, I’ll happily admit that not everyone will agree with my interpretations of the information. It’s also not easy. On top of tax avoidance I’m concerned at the environmental credentials, the ethical credentials, the conditions of their employers, and a whole host of other concerns. If a company with fantastic environmental credentials invests some of their profits in an arms company does that make them good or bad? Is it possible – indeed, is it right – to compare and contrast different “positive” credentials? For example, I’m more concerned about energy production and wastage than I am about Genetically Modified crops.
Does this make me a bad person? No. I thoroughly believe that it is better to aim for the stars, to take what action we can and to help make the world a better place in any way we can. I’m not aiming for perfection. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong. Sometimes I’ll give in. Sometimes I won’t know what I’m doing, and will have to learn. But hopefully I’ll come out at the end of the year not only having had a positive impact, but having learnt how I can continue this for the rest of my life. As president I used tell students that we aren’t just the future – we are the present. Now is the time to let actions speak louder than words.
So, my New Years resolution is this – during 2015 I will make every effort to spend my money ethically.
The first steps are fairly simple ones – I’ve got rid of my car and will do most of my travelling by train, I’ve switched to a green energy supplier, and I already shop locally and favour ethical products – but there’s lot more I can do. The adventure begins today!
I’ll update on here every now and again – trials, tribulations, successes and failures – do keep an eye out! If you’ve got any hints, tips or advice please do drop me a message.