Ethical Consumerism: What Can We Do?

We live in a world where consumerism is rampant. With low budget retailers and constant competition from the high street, what can we do to be more conscious about what we buy, what we use, and where from, especially in the run up to the biggest consumer period of the year, Christmas?

It would seem that the age-old saying of knowledge is power is apt yet again in this case. I know that the world runs at an insane pace, with jobs, education, friends, family, pets, and whatever life throws at you all taking up an insane amount of time – who has time to research where their things come from, source and who has enough money to buy ethically, and why is it important?

Like you and me, the manufactures have to make a profit in order to run successfully. You take a look on EBay, Amazon, ASOS or any big retailers, you’ll see they’re off run with cheap Chinese knock offs, which probably weren’t manufactured in the most ethical way – but it isn’t just clothes, or consumer items, or even just food – it’s everything on the market. You may have heard the awful case of the Apple factories in China having to put suicide nets outside their windows, or several companies who have had messages of desperation hidden in their goods. All these goods have to be made by someone, either manufactured of processed, and cheap goods come at a price.

It’s understandable that companies have a make a profit, but this is passed down the chain one way or another. If a company charges virtually nothing for their goods, how can they pay their employees? These issues aren’t always far away either – like the voices calling for a ‘living wage’ both in the UK and worldwide, providing employees a wage they can actually live off. Giving those who work on our food, clothes, and other consumer goods is so necessary – we all need to survive.

On top of all that, there’s the carbon footprint of all goods. Everything we manufacture has an affect on the environment, even the manufacture of paper contributes a huge amount to the carbon dioxide in the environment – do we really need everything to be so disposable?

There have recently been great waves of companies claiming corporate social responsibility by offering products that are organic, fair trade, ethically produced, or somehow socially responsible, but few people actually know what they mean – so how can you educate yourself and what can we do in reality? The little steps to making the world a better place start with you.

Piles of books on a wooden floor

  •  Stay up to date – If a company you buy from has been in the news to do with their structures and policies, maybe you should probably think about stopping buying from them. If there’s a company you’re particularly interested in, think about setting up a Google Alert to stay on top of what’s going on.
Hobby Lobby boycott USA

Photo credit: Joe Brusky on flickr

  • Make the most of technology – If animal welfare is up your alley, PETA have a great search engine on their site where you can check whether a retailer is cruelty free in an instant. They also have an app for the tech savvy. Animal guilt free shopping in an instant! If only there was a similar app for conditions for humans. Oh wait, at least as far as clothing is concerned, the aVOID app helps you steer clear of products made using child labour. And there are a ton of other apps that help you become a so-called conscious consumer. Check out a rundown here.
Photo credit: Mister G.C. on Flickr

Photo credit: Mister G.C. on Flickr

  • Source your food – Look around to see where you can buy your goods from! If looking at food, see what you can source locally, from farms nearby or local markets. You’re not only supporting the local economy, it’s most likely it will genuinely taste better as well. It’s not always more expensive as the rumours have it, and if you can’t afford to buy all your food this way, set aside a small amount of money towards buying at least a certain amount of your weekly shop from sustainable sources.
beetrot turnip and radish farmers market

Photo credit: Gemma Billings on Flickr

  • Think before you shop – It’s not just your food. There are lots of initiatives which allow you to buy your clothes which are manufactured in fair conditions – in all areas. There are larger companies such as People Tree, Bibico and American Apparel – so you’re not forced to go obscure. Of course there are lots of smaller places where you’re able to go too – if you want that one off piece – search for handmade things on the net, or even sites like marketplace sites like Etsy. You’ll almost definitely be able to find anything and everything you’d ever want, and you’ll often be supporting local economies.
Second hand clothes and girl in a corn field

Photo credit: Leanne Surfleet

  •  Sell and Swap – Thanks to EBay, and many apps, such as Gone, Vinted and Craigslist which allow for you to sell your belongings, instead of throwing things away, sell them and make a few dollars. It contributes to lowering emissions and waste a huge amount. There are also car boot sales and often places where you can rent market stalls if in-person interaction is more your thing! If you’re lazy like me, there’s also alternatives – arrange a swap of belongings between friends, go to an organized clothes swap, have an open house day where people can take things – it doesn’t have to be difficult!
Jumble Sale with bunting and racks of clothes

Photo credit: Oxfam International on Flickr

  • Use only what is needed – Next time you’re in the supermarket – look at how much unnecessary packaging there is – plastic and paper galore (except at Berlin’s Original Unverpackt, of course). Not all products have it, but some companies are currently introducing lesser packaging options, bear this in mind when shopping. Think whether you need an extra plastic bag – or take your own reusable bags. It’s also in the workplace and at home – do you need to print that extra page or use all that clingfilm?
Plastics recycling waste packaging

Photo credit: mbeo on Flickr

  • Think – Do you really need it? Just because it’s cheap, if you don’t need it, it’s not a good deal. Try and be mindful about your purchases – do you really need what you are about to buy? Asking just this one simple question can help you cut down on waste and save money too. If you’re thinking about buying something like clothes or shoes, maybe take a step back and wait a few days to see if you’re still obsessing about whatever it was you wanted to buy. Often you’ll find out it was just a passing phase, and you will have forgotten all about it two days later.
the thinker, rodin, sculpture, art, culture

Photo credit: Gaby Av in Flickr

In short – find out as much as you can and stay aware. Things are constantly changing and there has been a push for companies to have better policies for their employees, consumer waste, treatment of animals, but the issues that affect what we consume is never-ending – we can no longer pass the buck and we must be more aware of how, what and when – take up the challenge to be more responsible for your consumerism and you’ll find the little things are easier than you think.

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