Like a lot of Calgary engineering students, Erin Bird could have worked in the oil and gas industry. Instead, she went to change the world at a local level where she now volunteers her time to help consumers make more ethical buying choices.
Bird has always been someone who cared for the environment and her personal impact on the world. In high school she joined the Ecology club and would always encourage people to recycle. Then, when she attended the University of Calgary, she promoted and volunteered with the Red Cross and other humanitarian efforts.
“I had always had, in the back of my mind this interest in a more sustainable environmental world,” said Bird.
Studying to become an engineer, Bird worked summers at an oil and gas company where she was eventually offered a permanent position, but she turned it down out of her strong convictions to promote the environment.
Bird ended up in municipal government as the city’s leader of corporate capital project strategies. When she noticed making change at a local level could create a ripple effect globally, she began volunteering as a spokesperson for Fair Trade Calgary, a non-for-profit organization focusing on educating and bringing fair trade products to Calgarians.
Bird became a spokesperson for the group’s events and now oversees a lot of what Fair Trade Calgary does. This year, Bird was involved with overseeing their events focused on promoting the ethical sourcing, production and purchasing of clothes.
She is also a part of the upcoming Human Rights Forum introducing the talk on Food Dignity. This free event is a five-day precursor to GlobalFest, starting August 7th at the John Dutton theatre in the Calgary Public Library.
As part of the Fair Trade organization, Bird is drawing attention to industries affected by lack of ethics, respect and awareness for workers and the environment.
“With Alberta being a very rich province, people have money and they can spend money, and they can choose to spend money wisely. A lot of us just don’t take the time to actually research and find out where our money's going and what it’s supporting,” said Bird.
Much of what Fair Trade Calgary does revolves around education and advocacy. It provides information about what fair trade is and educates people about why it's important.
The group noticed that people feel disconnected from their daily purchases and many consumers don't really think about where they come from.
Bird, however, sees the tipping point among Calgary’s newer generation of entrepreneurs, diversity and attitudes to create movements throughout the city.
When asked how Calgarians can make a positive daily impact in their buying decisions, Bird says when you educate yourself about the company you are purchasing from, you can see whether or not their practices are ethical.
However, this is not always an easy thing to do. At times the company will not have the information on their website, and you may have to call, email or visit the location. This may take extra time out of your day, but it can make a huge difference.
“Persevere and get other people to ask as well. Because when companies see that the consumers that are buying their products are asking those questions, then they will see that they need to respond to the consumer in order to keep their sales going,” said Bird.
Though not all purchases can be fair trade approved, making little changes can go a long ways.
Bird herself says that it’s a slow progression and has noticed this in her own life. She's gradually trying to buy less, use less and be mindful of the choices that she's making.
“Am I perfect? No, because unfortunately convenience sometimes wins out. And that's why I don't want people to get discouraged if you’re not able to always do the research behind every single thing,” said Bird
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
- By Vanessa Iula