Ethical Consumerism – Getting More and Living Better

In an age where convenience, speed, and low prices are always available, it can be easy to put ethical consumerism on the backburner. But sometimes those little conveniences have detrimental impacts.

Ethical consumerism involves purchasing items that have a supply chain which positively impacts the environment and workers that make it up. Examples include companies that use sustainable resources, pay workers well, and benefit the communities in which they are a part.

What makes consumerism ethical or unethical and in what ways can we as consumers contribute to more ethical consumer practices?

What is Ethical Consumerism?

Ethical consumerism is a form of activism where consumers “vote with their dollar.” In other words, consumers make an effort to only spend money at stores with ethical and sustainable bought, ethically-made products where their workers are treated fairly.

Ethical consumerism is the practice of making buying choices based on ethical morals and values. Those who practice ethical consumerism may consider factors such as:

  1. Human rights
  2. Fair trade
  3. Animal cruelty
  4. Environmental impact
  5. Society as a whole
Shopping mall -  Ethical Consumerism - Gone Minimal
Shopping mall

What Does Ethical Mean?

Being Ethical means following morals and adhering to what is considered right and wrong. Ethics might vary by person, though in general different societies and social communities have a group of ethics that develop which represent the character of the people that live there.

What Are Ethics?

Ethics are a set of moral principles that act in accordance to a group of people, culture, or job. We can see different ethical principles by looking at different cultures, different ways of life, and evolving ethics throughout different times in history.

What Is an Example of Ethical Behavior?

Ethical behavior can be doing the right thing even if no one else is there to witness it. The definition of right and wrong can sometimes change depending on the situation and some events are more complicated than a simple right or wrong can issue. One example of ethical behavior is being honest when you can, not cheating in any way, and caring for others.

What Is an Example of an Ethical Issue?

An ethical issue is being presented with the choice of doing something ethical or unethical. A simple example might be that when you paid for your groceries the cashier gave you too much change back. You can either keep the change for yourself which would be unethical, or you can correct their mistake and give them the extra change back, the ethical decision.

How Do You Identify Ethical Issues?

First step is always being able to recognize that there is an issue. In the case of a cashier accidentally giving you too much change from your purchase, you first have to recognize that the amount of money they were supposed to give you is different from the amount they did.

Then you think of who is involved in this issue and how your decisions will affect them. You can make a decision about how to handle the issue. The first step, however, is always recognizing how there might be an issue. 

What Happens Without Ethics?

Ethics help us navigate between right and wrong, so without ethics, there is no sense of right and wrong. People would likely act in their own best interest without thinking of the effect their actions have on others, or the world at large. 

Why Is Being Ethical Difficult?

The difference between right and wrong isn’t always clear, and therefore being ethical can be difficult. We can understand generally that stealing is wrong, but what if there is a specific situation where it’s not so clear? If someone is starving and steals food from someone who has more than they could feasibly eat themselves, is it still wrong? There are a lot of factors that contribute to why something is right, wrong, good, or evil which makes being ethical…complicated. 

Why Is It That Only Human Beings Can Be Ethical?

It’s not so much that only humans can be ethical. Rather, it is only humans that have the ability to reason with and reflect upon their actions and think of the more complex issues of right and wrong. 

What’s the Difference Between Ethics and Morals?

 Morals relate to guiding principles, they are more general, whereas ethics boil down to individual behaviors, rules and actions.

What is Consumerism?

Consumerism is the economic theory that increasing the consumption of goods and products is beneficial to the economy. Since the economy is made up of people, conceptually, purchasing goods and services helps the community that creates those goods and services.

What Does Consumerism Mean?

Consumerism is the promotion and protection of the interests and habits of consumers, or the people buying goods. These can be in the true interest of the consumer, or, it might be presented as such while more deeply benefitting the organiztion selling the goods and or services to the consumer.

What Is a Good Example of Consumerism?

We can see the effects of consumerism almost anywhere if we know what to look for. Convenient stores become more convenient to the consumer by being open 24/7. Any time something is done to make the consumer buy MORE  and buy FASTER is an example of consumerism

How Does Consumerism Affect Us?

In the last decade or so online shopping became more common, and advertisements are not only EVERYWHERE, but also cater to our interests. Because of this, we as consumers are more likely to impulse-buy without necessarily thinking about whether we really need that product, if it’s from an ethical source, or if it will even last. We buy products we don’t need, or that we throw away only because they’re cheap and available.

What Are the Positive and Negative Effects of Consumerism?

For every positive effect of consumerism, there tends to be a negative consequence. For example, a higher economic output can lead to more jobs, but when the goal is higher profit, it’s often the worker’s wages that suffer. It can promote competition between companies, but this can lead to bigger companies taking business away from small, local companies.

What Is Unethical Consumerism?

Unethical consumerism is any consumerism which negatively impacts the environment, workers, future people, and people in poorer countries. The impacts of unethical consumerism usually reach those most whom have few resources or little available to challenge it; this perpetuates the ability for unethical consumerism to exist.

Can Consumption Ever Be Ethical?

Consumption can be ethical, when done in a sustainable way that benefits the producers of goods, the workers that make them, and the environment they are a part of. As long as the goal is to make the highest profit, it is difficult to see a world in which consumption is ethical. But as individuals we can make changes to our consumer habits that can help. Conscious, sustainable, and environmental consumerism won’t solve the problem of unethical consumerism, but it can make a notable difference.

Recycled and sustainable garments - Ethical Consumerism - Gone Minimal
Recycled and sustainable garments

Exploring the Ethics of Consumerism

What Is Ethical Consumer Behavior?

Ethical consumerism begins with empathy and a lot of research. Thankfully people on the internet have already done most of the research and compiled lists of ethical places to shop. But ethical behavior in consumerism is doing your best to minimize the negative impact your shopping has on the environment, the rights and well-being of workers, and small local businesses.

Why Is Ethical Consumerism Important?

Ethical consumerism aims to make the world a better place. The goal is to use our money consciously and in an informed way so we know where it’s going and can feel good about our purchases. You shouldn’t buy products from companies that underpay or undervalue their workers, nor should you assist big businesses in putting local shops out of business. It’s important because it’s shopping empathetically. 

What Are Examples of Ethical Consumerism?

Ethical consumerism  has many faces but some examples are: buying second hand clothes to reduce the fabric waste in landfills, buying produce from small farms, or that which is locally grown, and buying from businesses that support good causes. 

Is Ethical Consumerism Good?

It’s in the name that ethical consumerism is, at its core, ethical. The aim of ethical consumerism is to buy in ways that either benefit the planet and its people or work to not actively harm either.

Reasons for Ethical Consumerism

There are many reasons to practice ethical consumerism, but all fall under the general theme of making a positive impact on the planet.

Ethical Consumerism Pros and Cons

The pros of ethical consumerism seem infinite. Since our economy follows money, the more that is spent on unethical companies, the less drive there is to participate in ethical business. But as ethical buying gains popularity, so too with ethical business models.

Some of these models include:

  1. Sourcing materials from eco-friendly suppliers
  2. Using eco-friendly materials
  3. Better pay for workers and makers of products
  4. Generally higher quality products, and much more. 
Man reading the business section of a newspaper - Ethical Consumerism - Gone Minimal
Man reading the business section of a newspaper

Two Dilemmas of Ethical Consumerism Are Cost, and Greenwashing.

CostProducts that are ethical to purchase tend to be more expensive which is not accessible to everyone, just those who can afford it. Part of what makes unethical consumption appealing is that it’s fast and cheap.
GreenwashingGreenwashing is when a company tries to appeal to ethical consumers by having one or two lines of sustainable products or still rely on cheap labor to make their products. However when the rest of their stock is not sustainable, does that one line make enough difference?

Sustainability and Ethical Consumerism

A lot of consuming ethically means buying sustainably. Sustainable just means that your personal needs are met, but not at the cost of future generations. Ethical Consumerism includes sustainable shopping in ways such as buying from companies that use environmentally friendly materials, or compostable materials that won’t have a long lasting negative effect on the planet.

Impact of Ethical Consumerism on Businesses

Generally, ethical consumerism has a positive effect on businesses. Shoppers who are looking to buy sustainable and ethical products are willing to spend more money. Additionally, switching to a sustainable business model is better for the planet in the long run. Of course, with more consumers wanting to shop ethically, the pressure is on businesses to both supply sustainable products, and participate in fair treatment of workers. 

Three Ethical Considerations in Consumerism

1. Care

Care in Ethical Consumerism boils down to being aware and being empathetic. Understanding that unethical consumerism doesn’t exist in a vacuum and affects the lives and futures of many people. There are two main components of care in this situation: care for people, and care for the environment.

When buying a product of any kind, food, clothing, furniture, a couple good questions to ask yourself include: how are the workers who make/provide this product treated? Are they paid well enough to survive, are they cared for by the company they work for in terms of insurance, breaks, and sick days? If they have concerns about their job, is it safe or possible for them to bring it up with their bosses?

And for environmental care, good questions include: what is this product made of? Will the materials used in this product harm the environment? Does making the materials used cause harm to local communities either now or in the future? What are safe ways to dispose of or reuse this product?

2. Use

Before even buying a product you want, it is important when being an ethical consumer to consider how the product will be used in your life. Sometimes we see a new sustainable product and buy it right away while what we have at home is still useful. You don’t need those eco-friendly bamboo toothbrushes quite yet if your plastic toothbrush still works. Rushing to buy new sustainable products before using up your unsustainable ones still results in more plastics and harmful materials going into landfills earlier than they need to.

Always ask, do I already have a version of this product I can still use for a while? Can I repair a broken item before replacing it? Where will this item be in 5 years, 10 years, 1,000 years?

3. Welfare

Welfare relates very closely with care, but focuses more on the wellbeing of people involved in a product, business, or production. Keeping welfare into consideration asks, how are those involved in the product I want to buy or the company I want to give money to treated? Making sure workers are treated well and fairly compensated for their work goes hand in hand with ethical consumerism.

Generally, ethical consumerism has a positive effect on businesses.

Helpful Insights:

How to Be an Ethical Consumer

Being an ethical consumer means making sure your purchases are not actively doing any harm to people or the environment or, preferably working to do good. This means researching companies and their products before purchasing anything from them.

How Can We Be Ethical Consumers?

Doing thorough research on a company or a product before purchasing it to ensure that workers are treated fairly, the product doesn’t currently or won’t in the future cause any environmental harm. Finding websites that have compiled lists of ethical brands and products is a shortcut for doing that research, but make sure to do your own research too. 

What Makes Products Ethical?

Responsible supply chains, or sourcing– making sure the product comes from an ethical source makes products ethical. A product whose creators, manufacturers, and sellers are all paid and treated well. All the work that goes into a product is what makes it ethical, every step of that process, which is why research is so important. 

How Do I Buy Ethical?

Always think and research before buying any products. Is it absolutely necessary to have this product right now, or at all? Does this business treat their workers well and have a sustainable supply chain? All questions you should be able to answer before buying anything.

Men and women's fashion - Ethical Consumerism - Gone Minimal
Men and women’s fashion

Ethics of Fashion Consumerism

What Is Consumerism in Fashion?

Consumerism in fashion is a system of values that are driven by the need to define social status through possessions, namely clothing and accessories. 

What Does It Mean to Be Ethically Sourced?

An ethically sourced product is one that has been made or obtained through responsible, sustainable, and environmentally friendly means. 

Where Can I Buy Clothes Ethically?

A good place to start that is easy and cheap is thrift stores. The clothing may not have been originally ethically sourced and made, but by buying second hand you are actively not contributing to unethical practices. There are websites like The Good Trade that have lists of sustainable brands and clothing stores, and they’ve already done all the good research!

Are the Following Brands Ethical?

Are Dollar Stores Ethical?

No, they tend to take space and business away from local stores because their prices are so cheap

Is Nike Ethical?

Nike has made some positive steps to use more environmentally sustainable supply decisions and no longer uses sweatshops to produce their activewear, but their labor conditions could be better.

Is Starbucks an Ethical Company?

Starbucks is making some positive steps, but they have a long way to go before they’re fully ethical.

Is H&M Ethical?

Most fast fashion brands are generally not ethical. H&M is making some positive steps but it’s only a start.

Is Zara Ethical

Zara has taken some steps to becoming a more ethical business such as making a list of their suppliers public. However, with new lines introduced twice a week that sell out quickly their model feeds into the urgency and consumerism of fast fashion that leads to massive waste and exploitation.

Is Primark Ethical?

Primark is a member of a few good initiatives such as the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition which are steps in the right direction. However, since Primark outsources the manufacturing of their clothing they are not in control of their supply chain which often leads to the mistreatment of manufacturing workers. They also, like Zara, set up their business model to drop new clothing lines often that sell out quickly which contributes to fast fashion and fabric waste.

Does Apple Use Child Labor?

Apple has used child labor in the past and they have been slow to cut ties with production companies that are employing children. They are taking steps to help reduce and ultimately eliminate this practice.

Does Adidas Still Use Child Labor?

It seems like Adidas stopped using child labor in the last couple decades. By all accounts they’ve stopped, but still pay below living wages.

Is Verishop Ethical?

Verishop is generally accepted to be an ethical place to shop for sustainable, cruelty-free, organic, and fair trade products. Shop away!

Our dollar has power so when we spend our money thoughtfully and ethically, it can change the general practices of companies. 

Other Resources:

There are a lot of factors that determine if a company is ethical or sustainable, but as consumers our dollar has power so when we spend our money thoughtfully and ethically, it can change the general practices of companies. 

Related Topics:

What Is Conscious Consumerism?

Conscious consumerism is simply making the decision to shop ethically and sustainably whenever it’s possible. Over time, this encourages companies to operate more in this manner, which helps the concept and practics of conscious consumerism to spread.

Does Nike Use Child Labor?

Not anymore, but they often still pay their workers “poverty wages”. Balancing a global supply chain can be challenging, and there is a lot of support and encouragement expected of them to refine their practices and pay more living wages to those that manufacture their items.

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