Becoming an ethical consumer can be difficult. Many shoppers want to make better choices, but simply don’t know how. In this article, we’re going to break down how one can make a steady transition into a more ethical lifestyle.

What is Ethical Consumerism?

Ethical consumerism is about being conscious of your shopping choices. In today’s world, a large portion of the products we know and love cause some sort of harm. The ethical consumer aims to reduce or eliminate these products from their shopping list. There’s several reasons one might choose to boycott a product, including: 

  • Sustainability/Environmentalism
  • Animal cruelty
  • Child labor
  • Human rights
  • Political stance
  • Harmful ingredients

The goal of ethical consumerism is to essentially cast a vote with your dollar, just as if you were casting a ballot in the voting booth. By continuously purchasing these products, we enable these companies to engage in unethical practices. By putting pressure on their bottom line and taking our business elsewhere, we’re saying that we refuse to tolerate businesses that harm society and the environment. 

Taking Steps to Be an Ethical Shopper

The dive into ethical consumerism doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a learning process that takes time and effort. Use this article as a guide to get you started. 

Do Your Research

Do research on your favorite brands. Look at who they’re owned by, and how those products affect people and the environment. Products that are big offenders will often already be flagged by the media. There are also several apps that can help you find useful info on your favorite brands. Some apps even come with barcode scanner that tells you the ethics of a particular product.

Buy Local

Most of our products come from large, multinational corporations that don’t have much to contribute to our communities. Buying locally sourced products drives ethical consumerism in several dimensions. Buying local stimulates the economy, creating jobs and keeping wealth in the community. Locally sourced products also offer a greater sense of transparency and accountability, as unethical practices done by a local business are more easily verified. 

Choose Sustainable Products

Mass consumerism is a major driving force behind climate change. Products that contain single-use plastics are some of the worst offenders. These products take an extraordinary amount of energy to manufacture, only to be tossed after one use. Oftentimes, they end up in our rivers and oceans. But it’s just about plastic. Many items require large amounts of resources, and other products pollute simply by virtue of their manufacturing process. 

Buying sustainable products helps reduce your environmental impact while increasing demand for eco-friendly products. Sustainability in consumerism is often based around food. Agriculture is behind most of the world’s deforestation. Buying organic, sustainable, and locally sourced produce reduces the demand for conventionally grown foods. Sustainable produce requires less land, water, and pesticides, and is generally healthier than conventionally-grown foods.

Buy Fair Trade

While many enjoy buying cheap products, their low price comes at a steep cost. Companies often have to cut corners to be competitive. Those corners are often the wages and well being of their workers. When these companies source their labor and raw materials from underdeveloped countries, the result is a serious violation of human rights. Workers are forced to work long hours for little pay, and in some cases, they don’t get paid at all. And since the companies aren’t directly involved in the acquisition of these materials, they are able to feign ignorance.

Fair Trade International is one of many organizations that champions equity for workers in underdeveloped countries. Buying fair trade products ensures that the people who harvest and acquire the raw materials for the product are compensated fairly. Brands that are fair trade undergo ethical audits by third parites to verify fairness in the supply chain, promoting transparency and accountability.

Watch Out for Animal Cruelty

Many food and beauty products rely on animal cruelty. Beauty products use animals to test their products to ensure their safety for humans. The meat industry thrives on animal cruelty as a way to cut expenses, as providing humane conditions for animals adds significant costs. 

Although prevalent, it is possible to avoid products that treat animals inhumanely. Many beauty products will have a “Cruelty Free” label, which indicates the lack of animal testing. But finding cruelty-free meat can be tough. You may have to resort to farmer’s markets to find ethical meat products. They’re often labeled as being “free-range” for poultry or “pasture-raised” for beef and pork. Because USDA definitions may not be enough for some advocates, many prefer to simply follow a plant-based diet and avoid meat altogether.

Don’t Buy More Than You Need

A big part of mass consumerism is the volume of products we buy. Oftentimes, we simply buy too much, leaving behind rotting produce and unused items. Food is especially an issue, as around a third of all available food in the US is tossed in the trash

Avoiding products you don’t need not only saves you money, but it also saves energy and resources, and reduces waste overall. 

Divest From Unethical Businesses

Over the past decade, becoming an investor has become easier for the general public. While this has allowed people outside of Wall Street to build wealth, its has also given unethical companies a new avenue to raise capital. 

If you own assets in an unethical company, it could be wise to divest. Selling shares en masse can cause stock prices to drop, dealing a blow to a company’s market value. When coupled with bad PR, this can force companies to reevaluate their unethical practices. 

Spread the Word!

Ethical consumerism is powerless if practiced on an individual basis. Getting the word out about your lifestyle choices and the practices of unethical companies can help these ideas gain momentum. Companies won’t budge unless they suffer a real impact, whether it be their brand image or their bottom line. Keep your peers updated about the latest boycotts, and share info about brands that sell ethical versions of your favorite products. 

Intersectionality is Important

Even if you base your shopping habits around a single cause, its important to remember that most issues are intersectional. Fair trade products tend to be more sustainable, and eco-friendly companies are less likely to engage in animal cruelty and commit human rights violations. By engaging in ethical consumerism, you make a positive impact in unintended ways.

Key Takeaways

Ethical consumerism takes dedication and long-term commitment. It also requires some research and social networking to be successful. No matter what specific issue inspired you to become a conscious consumer, the same rules apply.

  • Knowledge is power: Do research to find out if your favorite brands engage in shady practices. You should also search for ethical replacements for those products.
  • Buy Local: Helping to stimulate the local economy helps your community grow, as opposed to buying from large companies. Locally owned businesses are also more likely to be held accountable for unethical practices.
  • Make Informed Decisions: Whether you base you shopping habits on sustainability, human rights, animal cruelty, or any other causes, make sure to shop accordingly and remain consistent. Oftentimes, these issues are interconnected. Shopping sustainably may also mean supporting fair trade.
  • Spread the Word: While ethical consumerism is a powerful concept, it’s useless when done alone. Getting the word out about corporate abuses and new ethical brands will helps spur your peers into ethical consumerism, which changes the dynamics of supply and demand.
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