Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want. ~ Anna Lappé Click To Tweet
The call to protect the planet; to honour the lives of people in poor nations who make clothes for the west; to advocate for communities that don’t have access to things that we take for granted; rings loud and clear. A culture of convenience brought us here, and now consumers are calling for more advocacy for the earth, and all of its inhabitants.
Today, corporations and politics are intertwined, which calls into question the actual value of the democratic vote for many constituents, and where the loyalties of political parties really lie. But even in a world where politicians bow to the will of banks and corporate donations, the consumer—not the constituent—still has the last word.
Ethical consumers make strategic purchases that support companies that are aligned with their moral code and that cause minimal negative impact on workers and wildlife. In generations past, Ethical Consumerism was called a myth, where consumers consider themselves ethical shoppers when they are surveyed, but they don’t walk the walk at the checkout line according to purchasing research.
However, study after study shows Millennials are more likely than any other generation to demonstrate loyalty to a brand that advocates for an ethical cause. And when a corporation employs hazardous or unjust practices, these conscious consumers—now called “Aspirationals”—take to social media to disparage the brand. The old adage is true: whoever has the gold makes the rules. But what they never said is that that person is you.
Here are 5 ways that you can use your lifestyle to vote for a better future.
1) Make Informed Purchases
The first brick in the foundation of ethical consumerism is making strategic purchases. From the use of child labour to destruction of rainforests, there are a myriad of reasons for a consumer to take their business elsewhere. When sales drop (and stay low) companies rebrand in order to regain favourable public opinion. Look no further than the organics market to see what strong consumer demand can produce. The rise of organic products as well as the evolving regulations around what can be called organic, and what must be labeled GMO are direct results of strong consumer demand.
So, quite simply, do not purchase goods that you don’t believe in. That might mean only purchasing ethically raised meats that are free of antibiotics and hormones, or not eating animal products at all. Buy produce from farmers’ markets instead of grocery stores, and buy less at a time to reduce waste. The textiles industry is laden with hazardous business practices, from the treatment of employees to how the fabric is produced. With a little research, consumers can line at least a portion of their closet with clothing from ethical shops.
2) Informed Investments (or Divestments)
When you buy stocks or invest in mutual funds, you are giving businesses capital to fund their growth. Make strategic investments to support only businesses that are building the kind of world you want—and sell your shares in those that you don’t believe in. If you’re an environmentalist, you might choose to invest in renewable energy and divest in oil companies, or those that decimate natural habitats to create their products. Bernie Sanders is doing it: he returned a donation from the former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceutical, Martin Shkreli, who very publicly raised the price of an AIDS drug by 5,000%.
When it comes to charitable donations, the same principle rings true. Most charities do need to take profit in order to operate, but you might be shocked at how little of each dollar actually reaches the cause in some cases. The Canadian magazine, MoneySense, publishes the Charity 100, which ranks the top 100 Canadian charities to donate to. After digging a little deeper into a seemingly selfless organization, you may see you’re just funding a corporate salary.
3) DIY Lifestyle
Millennials, although the most socially conscious of shoppers, are also the first wave of consumers who have been advertised to since birth and as a result, are conditioned to consume. It’s easier to replace than to repair, so that’s what we do. It’s time to change the story.
In the 80s, DIY was a punk form of protest against ‘The Man’. Unable to find jobs or get signed to major record labels, Punks decided to make their own clothes, music, and even their own media, resulting in their own empire that enjoyed two decades of prosperity.
DIY culture allows consumers to build a customized experience, and to hold on to their hard-earned money—because frankly, there’s a lot of things that consumers don’t need to buy. It takes extra labour to produce self-made products, but it gives the consumer ultimate control to customize their own goods. Homemade beauty products and cleaners can cut out the need for almost all chemicals or preservatives. Repair or repurpose items and upcycle clothing instead of trashing them, in turn granting your belongings — that you paid cold hard cash for — a longer life. Growing your own produce is like printing your own money, and you can grow it organically, if you please, without paying the corporate ticket price.
Last winter, Leo DiCaprio used his Oscar speech to talk about the urgent need for us to start taking global warming seriously, and to support global leaders who will make changes. His message reached millions, if not billions of viewers in just one act of advocacy. But, we are not all Leo DiCaprio on the Oscars stage, and we don’t all have his level of influence. But, we can all partake in a collective voice, which over our history has been just as powerful.
With social media and the internet of things being so ingrained in our society, consumers are more socially aware and have more power than ever to advocate for their interests—and Millennials have proved they are not afraid to use their power for good. If you are concerned that you’re just one person and that McDonalds won’t miss your $15, consider the fact that the fast-food chain has been overhauling its image for over a decade now to keep pace with health-conscious consumers and is soon to start closing locations around the world. Global giants like Nike and Wal-Mart have bowed to consumer pressure and SeaWorld is experiencing it now.
Boycotts have a rich history of success, but are most influential when they are organized. Professional boycotts aim to hit ‘em where it hurts on two fronts: the bottom line, and the brand image. Your participation level depends on your calling to the cause and can be as low as signing a petition.
Sustainable change is born out of public interest, as well as public voice. Consumers have enormous influence over business practices and the the only supporter that cannot be bought off is the consumer. You have the gold. And you choose who to support. Choose wisely.