How to Shop with a Conscience

Check out these 7 tips for using your money to help make the world a better place.

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- Posted on May 27, 2016

How to Shop with a Conscience

Adapted from: Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day. Copyright © 2015 by Jennifer Iacovelli. Published by TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Used by Permission.

What exactly does it mean to shop with a conscience? There are several factors to consider and questions you might ask yourself while shopping online or in a store, including: Where was the product made? Who made the product? Are the workers treated fairly and ethically? What kind of carbon footprint is the product leaving behind? Is the product safe for the environment?

To be fair, you are not always going to be able to find this information and you might not have the time to do the research. But I would still encourage you to make shopping with a conscience a priority--big box stores may be convenient, but they are not always the best places to find products made with the highest ethical standards in mind. Here are some basic rules of thumb for you to use the next time you shop. You can pick one and start from there or simply keep all of them in mind the next time you purchase a product.

1) Shop locally.

Supporting local businesses is good for the economy and helps your local community and neighbors and you can actually get to know the shopkeepers and learn more about the products they sell and the companies they work with. 

2) Look for fair trade products.

Fair trade, in its simplest form, is a movement to provide fair prices to producers of goods in developing countries, with the goal of reducing poverty, treating workers in an ethical way, and promoting environmentally sustainable practices. You've probably seen fair trade coffee in your local grocery store or coffee shop. When you purchase that coffee, you know that the farmers who produced the coffee beans--most likely in a remote part of a developing country--received a fair price for their crop. Purchasing fair trade products can actually change the lives of an entire family. By buying fair trade, we support businesses that provide education for children and offer jobs to women.

3) Find products that give back.

Because of the arduous and sometimes exprensive process involved in becoming fair trade certified, some companies use the same basic principles or build a giving component directly into their products. Gifts that give back often become popular during the holiday season or during months dedicated to raising awareness for certain causes, such as breast cancer awareness month in October, but you can find products that give back year round.

4) Consider the environmental impact.

Research the products and companies from which you typically purchase. If a company doesn't disclose where the products are made, take a moment to contact the company and ask. Another way to resarch the products and companies you buy from is to look up their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs online. If one doesn't exist or is extremely hard to find, that is your first red flag. While a company's CSR program is largely self-regulated, it can tell you how dedicated the company is to being responsible and accountable for social and environmental issues.

5) Create a plan.

It can be overwhelming to think about making many changes all at once. You don't have to throw out everything in your cupboard of cleaning supplies if you are concerned about environmental effects. Rather, as you run out of a product, replace it with a more eco-friendly version. Step by step, these small decisions will become more of a habit over time.

6) Choose a cause.

As you plan, it might be helpful to determine whether your cause is environmental, a focus on social good, or something else. Having a passion for what you are supporting can make you feel even better about your purchase. You might decide to start focusing on finding products that support your local economy before you start looking at purchasing gifts with a more global focus. There is no right or wrong approach. 

7) Share your passion with others.

When giving a gift that supports your cause, be sure to explain to the recipient why this particular gift is so special. Tell them how the gift affects people and communities locally and globally. Encourage your friends and family to shop consciously as well. Teach them how to make better purchasing decisions and share your tools and resources with them. 

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