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Economic Alternatives

Ethical Consumption

Many women have chosen to pay close attention to how they spend their dollars. As Robin explains, "When I go to spend money I'm making decisions based on where that money's going to go after. Is it going to be used against me or somebody like me someplace else in the world or is it going to actually contribute to building a world where the things that I value are also treasured?" The following suggestions for ethical consumption are not meant to make people feel guilty about buying things or to feel overwhelmed with yet another task. Ethical consumption is a way to help us feel that we have power as consumers, that we can vote with our dollars. By using this consumer power we can have an impact on the larger economy and help create a world where the economy benefits all people in more equal ways. Here are some suggestions for ethical consumption:

  1. Support local businesses.
    Co-Op groceryBy supporting locally owned businesses we are contributing to our local economy. In contrast, when we buy things at big stores that are owned by people at the other end of the country or the world, our money disappears into a corporation we know little about and which is probably located far from our homes. By keeping our money within our own community we increase the likelihood that it will be used to strengthen our community.

  2. Make a point about asking about the people who made the things you buy.
    Sometimes it's a little tough to ask questions like, "Can you tell me about the working conditions of the people who sewed this shirt?" but it sure gets the attention of retailers and other shoppers! When asked, many of them will admit they have concerns too. Ask to sign a comment card at stores you visit and be sure to ask for follow-up. For example, ask the company to send you a copy of their code of conduct. Also, make a point of telling companies that you'd be willing to pay more for the product if you could be assured that the people were being treated fairly and getting paid a living wage. After all, author Michael Moore has figured out that if the people who make Nike running shoes were to be paid fairly, the shoes would only cost about $3 more!

  3. Consider the environmental costs of producing the product.
    Pesticides and chemicals are used in the production of many of the products that we buy today. Roses and other cut flowers require huge amounts of pesticides to look perfect. Cotton production is also chemical-intensive. When you can, buy organically, both food and clothing. Don't be afraid when you notice blemishes on your fruits and vegetables. It means that less wax and polish were used and hopefully fewer chemicals too.

  4. Think about how you will dispose of the product once you are finished with it.
    Sometimes we buy things that won't last very long or maybe we're not sure if we like them but since they don't cost much we don't think about it. However, buying things that are going to be thrown away soon makes a negative contribution to our environment. In the end it would probably be a better idea for us to buy something that we really want and that we plan to use for years to come. Also, when we buy things made of plastic we can expect that they will be around for thousands of years following our use of them (most plastics are not recycled even if they can be). Many wood and plant products, on the other hand, will eventually break down. Although paper and metal can be recycled, the production of these products contributes negatively to our environment.

  5. Consider buying second-hand.
    Buying second-hand takes a little patience but it can be very entertaining searching through things others have passed on and you'll often find incredible buys. When you are buying second-hand, not only do you get great deals but you also help clean up our society's 'garbage' instead of purchasing more new things that will eventually need to be thrown away. (A lot of extra second-hand clothing in Canada gets shipped to countries in Africa and Asia devastating their local economies and creating a 'need' for western styles.) Many thrift and second-hand stores support community development locally and globally. MCC Thrift Stores support projects in developing countries around the world, Goodwill Stores support local employment projects, and locally-owned independent thrift stores contribute to local community economic development.

  6. Organic Earl Grey tea6. Support fair trade.
    Fair trade is a form of trade that guarantees producers a fair price for their product. Fair trade also educates consumers on the importance of paying a fair price for products and works towards environmental sustainability. Fair trade coffee and tea are becoming more and more available across Canada. Certain stores, such as Ten Thousand Villages, sell only fair trade products. Next time you are shopping for a gift, consider buying fair trade. Sometimes these products cost a little more but if you include a note explaining where the product is from, who made it, and that the gift itself is a gift to the person who made it, then it may be alright for you to give something a little smaller than you would otherwise. To hear the story of one fair trade item see Lori Ann's Pots.

  7. Consider the transportation required.
    Think about how far the product had to travel to reach you. Was it many thousands of kilometres or just a few? What is the impact of this on the environment? Think too about the distance you had to travel to reach the product. Travelling across town to save a couple of dollars uses time and produces pollution. Walking to the neighbourhood store to buy something that may cost a little more gives us an opportunity to talk to our neighbours contribute to our local economy while exercising our bodies.

  8. Buy local products and services.
    Although no region produces everything its residents desire, there are many ways we can become more dependant on local goods and services. We can support our local economies by buying gift items unique to our region, avoiding big box stores, and support local artists, musicians, and authors by buying their work. Eating local produce means supporting food-producers in our region and reducing the need for food to be transported great distances.

  9. Eat slow food.
    Eating at restaurants, especially fast-food outlets, requires substantially more of the earth's energy than eating at home. When you do eat out, support locally-owned restaurants whose owners contribute to your community rather than large chain restaurants whose owners take their profits far away from your community. Eating vegetarian or vegan will also reduce your consumption. Producing 1kg of meat requires 10kg of grain so by eating grains and vegetables directly we can soften our impact on the earth. Eating fewer pre-packaged meals reduces waste and can also save money. Although cooking takes time, sharing meals with friends and family at your own home can be a truly nurturing activity.

  10. Reuse things. Fix things that are broken.
    Instead of throwing something away, take the time to fix it yourself. Or bring it to a local tradesperson to fix for you. The cost may be cheaper than buying a new one and you'll also be helping reduce waste.

  11. Don't get sucked in by advertising.
    The job of advertisers is to try to convince people to buy things they usually don't need. Don't get sucked in. In fashion, create your own style. Compliment people who go against the trends. In this way you'll also be creating a more accepting world for people who can't afford all the latest goods.

  12. Buy less stuff and be willing to pay a bit more for what you do buy.
    Try not to buy things just on a whim, especially if they will take up a lot of room and won't disappear from the earth in the near future. By limiting our purchases we can use the money we save to pay a more appropriate price for what we do buy. When buying something don't just consider the immediate financial cost to yourself. Consider what costs the purchase will have on the producer, the environment, and the community.

  13. Credit Union plaza13. Invest your money locally and ethically.
    When investing your money invest locally. Use your local credit union instead of a large bank. When buying RRSPs and other investments ask questions about what your money will be used for. Many so-called 'ethical' investments are not very convincing but more and more organizations are paying good attention to the kind of economic activity they are supporting. For more information on ethical investing visit Ethical Investment.

  14. 14. Stay cheerful and committed.
    Know that everything you do, no matter how small, is making a difference. Instead of being frustrated about what you can't do, recognize what you can do and do it well.
To find out more
For more information on ethical consumption have a look at the following websites:
  • Ethical Consumer
  • The Simple Living Network
  • Alternatives for Simple Living

    Ecological Footprint
    To calculate the impact your lifestyle has on the earth try Best Foot Forward.

    Special thanks to John at Humboldt's Legacy for reviewing this article.

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