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Does Shopping Ethically Really Make a Difference?

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DoneGood

By Cullen Schwarz

Ethical shopping is a somewhat new phenomenon. We're far more familiar with the "tried and tested" methods of doing good, like donating our money or time.


But while Americans generously donated $390 billion to charities in 2017, that number pales in comparison to the $130 trillion we spent on buying stuff in the same year.

How much of that went to huge companies that don't support your values-or worse, use their revenue to actively work against them?

Conscious consumers prefer to spend money with transparent companies that support the same causes they do.

And it really does make a difference.

Before we get to the impact, let's take a look at the who, what, when, where, and why of ethical consumerism.

Who is the conscious consumer?

Conscious consumers come from all walks of life and are represented across most age groups and economic brackets.

The simplest definition of a conscious consumer is someone who buys from brands that align with their personal values whenever possible or practical.

Of course, that broad definition leaves room for a lot of nuance.

Statistics show that the sustainable shopping sector is growing all the time, meaning more and more people are joining the ranks of conscious consumers.

These shoppers spend a combined $300 billion per year on ethical products, a figure which is growing by 10% year-over-year. That seems on track to keep increasing since 73% of millennials surveyed said that they're willing to pay more for sustainably-made goods.

One common belief that all ethical shoppers share is that it is possible to effect change by voting for your values with your dollars. And they're right!

What do conscious consumers buy?

The particular products that an ethical consumer buys vary greatly depending on the individual. They may be interested in environmentally sustainable products, cruelty-free ones, fair trade, organic, items made in the USA, or any combination of those and other factors!

Just as important as what a sustainable shopper does buy is what they don't buy. Experienced ethical consumers make it a point to avoid buying products from brands that harm the environment, test products on animals, fail to treat their workers fairly, or engage in other unsavory practices.

There is also substantial overlap between conscious consumers and minimalists. Many sustainable shoppers choose to lessen their impact- environmental or otherwise- by buying only what they truly need when they need it.

These are all valid ways to practice ethical consumerism and are most powerful when combined.

Because ethical consumerism is heavily contingent on the shopper's own personal values, there's no "right" way to do it!

When do conscious consumers shop this way?

In a perfect world, we would all buy ethical products 100% of the time.

But in reality, that's not always the case. Sometimes an ethical alternative can't be obtained on time, or at the right price, and sometimes it may not even exist at all!

Conscious consumers do the best that they can to shop with their values, but they understand that one impulsive Amazon purchase isn't reason enough to throw in the towel.

The great thing about ethical consumerism is that the more demand we create for ethically made products from great companies, the more supply there will be. So, shopping sustainably not only supports your values in the short term, but it paves the way for more similar options down the road!

Hopefully, one day, ethical options will be the default rather than the exception.

In the meantime, all we can do is what we can do. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and if you feel discouraged, remember this quote from Helen Keller:

"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."

Where does the conscious consumer shop?

Well, we've built an entire website dedicated to answering this question!

But, in a nutshell, experienced ethical buyers shop with companies that share their values and put their money with their mouth is.

Ethical brands operate with sufficient transparency that their customers can clearly see how their purchases aid the causes that they care about.

As ethical consumerism catches on as a trend, more and more brands are wanting to hop on the bandwagon. That's great when these brands are really putting in the work to make their products and supply chains sustainable.

However, there are also bound to be some brands who want the glory without putting in the work. They make superficial changes to their marketing and engage in greenwashing to fool customers into thinking they're making ethical purchasing decisions when they're really not.

Even though the internet is a great resource for finding out what's the truth of a company's values and what's just hype, it can be exhausting to do extensive research each and every time you want to buy something.

That's why DoneGood exists. To help you sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to ethical shopping. All of our DoneGood approved brands are thoroughly vetted to ensure that they have substance and not just style, so you can shop with confidence.

Why do conscious consumers change their shopping habits?

Ethical consumers change their shopping habits because they believe that voting for their values with their money is important, and can influence change.

They want to make sure that all the money they spend is having a positive impact on the world, not just their charitable donations.

For a lot of conscious consumers, their introduction the ethical consumerism actually starts as a boycott of certain companies or brands they know to be harmful.

Finding out negative things about one company usually leads them to examine their shopping habits as a whole, and they may find that a lot more brands aren't worth supporting!

Once you've eliminated these bad brands from your shopping "diet," the next logical step is to fill in the gaps with ethical brands that share your values. Once you see how many amazing brands there are out there doing amazing work, you may never want to stop!

The Impact of Sustainable Shopping

Here it is, the big moment.

We've put in our dues sourcing the best products from brands who care about making the world a better place.

We've gone without that cute new dress from an unknown company and willingly paid more for everyday essentials made in a more sustainable way.

What do we have to show for all that?

Has it made a difference?

Yes!

Voting with your dollar works.

Child labor rates dropped by one third between 2000 and 2012, and they've continued this downward trend since then.

According to the 2019 Ethical Fashion Report from Baptist World Aid Australia, 24% more fashion companies have committed to paying their workers a living wage, and 61% are investing in using sustainable fabrics.

56% of us have stopped buying from brands we consider to be unethical.

Executives are frantically piling into conference rooms to discuss their "corporate social responsibility."

Because that's what attracts conscious consumers, who are a large and growing portion of the general public.

The economic landscape is changing before our very eyes.

Companies are changing and even our culture is changing, all because of conscious consumers who have banded together in their commitment to shop according to their values.

The market will always be beholden to the demands of the consumers. If we, as ethical consumers, consistently demand ethical, sustainably made goods and refuse to settle for less, then that's exactly what we'll get. We've seen the proof already. Companies are bending over backwards to appeal to the conscious consumer, and they know there's only one way to earn their business.

The impact of ethical consumerism is huge, and it's only going to get bigger.

Won't you join us?


Cullen Schwarz is head of Good Thoughts, DoneGood.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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