every purchase we make has an impact.
Simply put, every penny we spend is a vote of support for that product or service, and the way it was created. Every company has a guiding philosophy on how they do business. Whether it is just to make the maximum amount of money for the owners, to support the local population, to provide healthy food, or make people’s life easier, that philosophy is reflected in all of their products and services. A responsible consumer will try to understand the underlying values that have created the product or service, and make an informed buying decision.
Certainly, buying less is the best way to reduce your environmental impact, as any environmentalist will tell you. However, we can’t completely stop buying things, and very few have the chance to produce their food or goods independently. With the majority of people living in cities – more than 80% of the population in Spain (Statista, 2020) – the reality is that we have to go shopping for our daily needs. Now, the question is: How can I shop responsibly?
How can I shop responsibly?
Responsible shopping can sound difficult, but it doesn’t need to be. All it really takes is to be curious about what you are spending your money on. Asking and looking for a little bit more information already goes a long way in understanding where the products come from, what they contain and how they were produced.
The first pieces of information are typically found on the product itself. Most products have a label that contains information on the ingredients or materials they’re made of, as well as manufacturing country. Choosing products with more natural materials or ingredients is the first step in becoming a more responsible shopper. Also selecting goods that are made closer to where you live (in your home country) will go a long way in reducing the environmental impact of your purchase. This also reduces the chance that unethical employment practices (like child labor) are used somewhere along the supply chain.
The second piece of information is also typically visible in the product itself. If the product or materials used have been certified, the producers will want to tell you that and make them visible in the product packaging or label. Certification is costly and demanding, and producers that make the effort to obtain certificates for their products already indicate their commitment to responsible business practices.
Third, the place where you buy the product will also indicate whether the product itself is made responsibly or not. If the shop or website is focused on selling the cheapest things, then the products sold are likely to be made in the cheapest possible way. And typically this means higher environmental footprint and lower ethical standards. However, just because something is expensive does not mean it is better for the environment. For instance many luxury brands couldn’t care less about environmentally friendly or ethical production. If that’s the case, how can I know where to shop responsible products?
Where to shop responsible products?
Websites and shops that focus on sustainable and ethical products are the easiest source to find responsible products. Those shops that are truly focused on responsible shopping, will communicate it from the start and let you know their commitment. They choose their providers not simply on price, but mostly according to the values the goods are produced with. They will also share information about the products, their origins and materials/ingredients openly; you don’t need to dig deep to gain that knowledge.
Many shops and chains are selling ‘green’ or ‘bio’ products along with their usual selection. While choosing these products can be slightly better, they are mostly used as ‘greenwashing’ to make the company look better when it is not truly committed to sustainability or ethical business practices. A responsible shopper understands the difference between greenwashing and a true commitment to responsible business.
Why does any of this matter?
The underlying and overarching reason for becoming a responsible shopper is that the way we are consuming goods is also consuming our planet. For already 50 years we have been increasingly using more resources than our planet creates. Climate change is just one of the negative effects that has created. With increasing population and diminishing reserves, we have to act and reverse the trend.
Shopping responsibly is part of the solution. While there are other solutions too, we do need to pay more attention to consumption habits and intentionally try to change them. And the responsibility for that lies with every individual. Governments and international organisations can help in facilitating the change, but in the end it is all of us together that can fix the direction we are headed. The good news is that we don’t need to change the modern way of life drastically. All we need is to start paying a little bit more attention to what we value, what businesses we support, and how all of that affects nature and people.
To wrap up, responsible shopping is not difficult. All it takes is giving a little bit of thought to the products we buy.
There are plenty of responsible options for anything we need, and you can find them easily online or in physical stores. All you need to do is to look for responsible, sustainable or ethical shops and e-commerces.