Welcome to a new series of posts which I like to call my ‘ethical shopping’ series! This series will include tips on how to become a more ethical consumer, as well as listing particular products, brands, and shops that are better for people and planet. In this introductory post, I will lay out some general methods for finding and making more ethical shopping choices.
I used to subscribe to the idea that “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism so I just shouldn’t bother trying since it’s impossible to make a purchase that is 100% pure and ethical”. However, I have since realised that this is a very pessimistic and unhelpful view, and that it is possible to make choices that are *more* ethical and sustainable than others. Just because it can never be perfect doesn’t mean we just shouldn’t try. Ditching the all-or-nothing attitude is a huge first step towards living a more ethical life.
So what constitutes an ethical choice? The four main factors that I like to consider are social conscience, treatment of workers, environmental impact, and treatment of animals. The ideal purchase would tick all four boxes, although that’s not always possible. Let’s look at each of these in a little more detail:
Does the company show an awareness of social issues, and more importantly, take action? Do they openly support and lift up marginalised groups? Do they raise awareness? Donate profits? Demonstrate cultural sensitivity in what they sell and what they don’t? Stand up and speak out against injustice? While not every brand needs to be or can be a champion of social justice, it’s worth acknowledging and supporting the ones that are.
Treatment of Workers
There are a lot of people involved in between inventing a product and getting it into your hands. How are all these people in the supply chain treated? I’m talking factory workers, shop employees, suppliers, artists, agricultural workers, delivery drivers, office staff – the list goes on. The more transparent a business is about its relationship with its workers, the better.
We are in the middle of a climate emergency and as such businesses need to be mindful of their impact on our planet. Are materials for their products gathered sustainably? Do they limit the use of unnecessary plastics? Do they offset their carbon emissions? Do their practices work within existing ecosystems, or damage them? There is no Planet B, so we have to look after the one that we’ve got.
Treatment of Animals
There have been a lot of discussions in the past about animal testing, but there are lots of other ways that products can be harmful to animals. It is worth trying to find out if something that uses animal products was harvested fairly – such as buying your eggs from a small local farm that lets the chickens run free, or buying your honey from a local beekeeper rather than a major supermarket brand. If an animal had to be harmed or killed for the product, do you really want it? Additionally, environmental impact can link into this because the destruction of nature inevitably includes the destruction of animal habitats.
If you want to take all these things into account when you shop, the next big question is where to start. How do you find these products, shops, or brands – or find out if ones you already use meet these criteria?
Ethical Consumer is a great place to start. This website offers ratings on just about any UK product or brand that you can think of. Their word isn’t gospel, as it’s ultimately your decision where you spend your money, but it’s a good starting point for researching the ethics of well-known brands. Most of the content on their site is available for free, but some info requires a subscription.
One of my favourite recent finds is Ethical Superstore, an online retailer dedicated to offering ethical, Fairtrade, and eco-friendly goods. I posted about my haul from their site on Instagram. From brands I already use and love, to new ones that I’ve just discovered, this website has loads of great products available (including the only ethical instant coffee I’ve been able to find anywhere!)
Below, I’ve listed some of my top tips for shopping more ethically and sustainably. These are helpful things to consider when you are thinking about purchasing something:
1. Do I really need it? – This is crucial! It is so easy to impulse-buy, and so often if we just take a second to stop and think, we realise we don’t really need or even want the item we’ve just put in our baskets. Now that I’ve started asking myself this question, I end up putting a lot of things back on the shelf.
2. Where possible, shop local – This minimises your carbon footprint, and supports small businesses in your community.
3. Shop second-hand – eBay, Depop, and other online marketplaces are your friends! And let’s not forget our beloved charity shops!
4. Repair, not repurchase – Can the old one be fixed?
5. Can I make my own? – Vegetables, clothing, handicrafts… There are so many things you can produce yourself with a bit of work and forward-planning!
There are lots of different ways to be a more ethical shopper, but these are some of the tips that have helped me the most. If you have any tips or ideas that weren’t mentioned here, drop them in the comments below! Happy shopping 😉