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Does Shopping Ethically Really Make a Difference?
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?
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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