I like to think that I am an informed consumer who balances budget and quality, trying to get the most “bang for my buck.” Recently, I came across the web site for an organization called Co-op America, that gave me pause. Now, I must start this writing with full disclosure that I am the driver of an SUV, I don’t do a good job of recycling, and it seems that with a family of four, we still have a bag of trash to discard at least every two days.
The point being, I have a long way to go in terms of amending my personal habits to the good of the earth and her inhabitants. My family does understand that God provided us the land from which we live, so we are driven to have respect for it and take the best care of it we possbily can. I have a tendency to think all people are good unless they prove otherwise, but I have made a new commitment to making sure that my money supports those businesses that make the right choices—responsibly producing products that minimize the impact on our planet, and not sacrificing human rights. This would be a difficult task to research on an ongoing basis, but Co-op America makes it easy by maintaining watchdog programs in order to promote ethical consumerism.
To provide an example of some of the things that they promote, I’m recapping an article from Co-op America’s Fall 2003 newsletter, Co-op America Quarterly about ethical consumerism, called 20 Ways to Use Your Money for a Better World. Although the text was written several years ago, its message still rings true.
1) Live Simply
Living sustainably means living lightly on the Earth with simple, joyful elegance. It means reclaiming what’s important to you in your personal life—relationships, meaningful work, a sense of community, and a healthy planet. It means valuing thrift over waste, the spiritual over the material, quality time with friends and family over quantities of expensive possessions.
2) Get What You Need Without Money
Getting what you need without cash can help to enrich your quality of life while helping to steer society to sustainability. Consider the difference between having your neighbor mow your lawn and then watching her children one afternoon as a thank-you, in contrast to leaving a check for a professional who landscapes your yard while you’re at work. There’s a personal connection in the former money-less scenario that’s somewhat lacking in the latter.
3) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
When you’re about to throw something in the trash, consider other alternatives first. Used goods such as bicycles and eyeglasses are collected by charities and can be reused by others. Household items including leftover paint, old carpet, and used ceiling tiles can often be recycled by manufacturers.
4) Buy Green
If America’s 100 million households began to shift just ten percent of their purchasing to green businesses, that would add up to $170 billion a year—enormous social change capital. Working together, we can steer the economy from its destructive path to one that works for people and the planet by simply shifting our purchases to responsible businesses.
5) Buy Fair Trade
Fair trade is a powerful economic strategy that provides an alternative to sweatshops and other forms of worker exploitation. Fair trade helps farmers and artisans around the world earn a fair price for their labor, work toward self-determination, and invest in the long-term sustainability of their environment and communities.
6) Go Organic and Local with Your Food
Organic food is better for your health, tastes better, and protects the environment from toxic chemicals. Emphasizing locally produced organic food can make your purchases even more Earth-friendly by reducing the resources consumed by transportation, cutting down on the waste associated with excessive packaging, and supporting local farmers.
7) Know What Your Purchases are Funding
The most fundamental way to let your consumer dollars work for social and environmental change is to be very critical about which companies you support and which you intentionally avoid. Such a strategy of supporting companies because of their environmentally or socially responsible policies is known as a “buycott.” Together with a boycott strategy of avoiding companies with irresponsible policies, “buycotts” can help you channel your resources to companies that endorse your values, while sending a message to companies with business practices you don’t support.
8) Stop Sweatshops & Child Labor
Make purchases from green and socially responsible businesses that respect workers and the environment. Several organizations put labels on products to show they were not made in sweatshops. When making purchases, look for union or fair trade labels. If you’re buying a hand-woven carpet, look for the RUGMARK label.
9) Be WoodWise
Preserving the world’s forests is vital—forests help curb climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. They provide critical habitat for songbirds and other animal species, as well as breeding areas for medicinal plants. They are home to many of the world’s indigenous peoples, and they are places of beauty and recreation for all to enjoy.
10) Choose Least-Toxic Products
By using nontoxic and less-toxic alternatives to everyday products like paint, household cleaners, and personal care products, we keep our homes and communities cleaner while creating demand for products and services that don’t harm human health or the environment.
11) Commit to Green Energy
Americans consume a lot of energy. With only five percent of the world’s population, we use 25 percent of the world’s energy, and about 90 percent of that comes from fossil fuels and potentially. dangerous nuclear energy, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE).
12) Rethink Your Transportation
To curb global warming and keep our air toxin-free, it’s important that we use our economic power to choose the most environmentally responsible travel options available, such as car-pooling, walking, biking, using public transportation, or buying vehicles that use alternative power source.
13) Improve Your Community
Instead of watching TV, play games with friends and family, organize a book club, host a dinner party, or take long walks. Rediscover your city or town by finding a new restaurant, historical site, or street fair to visit in every corner of your area. Frequent locally owned stores and restaurants to meet others in your community and to keep more of your dollars in the local economy. Organize public activities, such as parades, picnics, street fairs, or film shows.
14) Invest Responsibly
If you invest money, you can shift your investments to support the values you hold most dear—from human rights to environmental sustainability to diversity and equality—while earning returns competitive with conventional investments. All you have to do is become a socially responsible investor.
15) Invest in Communities
If every socially responsible investor put just one percent of his/her savings and investments into community investing, it would triple the amount of capital available to low-income areas that need it most. You can achieve the 1% (or more) in Community goal by simply doing your banking with a community development bank or credit union.
16) Join Shareholder Actions
If you are an investor, take advantage of your shareholder rights. When you receive proxy ballots in the mail, vote them conscientiously and send them back. A little-known fact is that every time you return a blank proxy ballot, your vote is automatically cast with management’s position. If you are unsure of an issue, it is best to simply abstain.
17) Give Generously
If you can afford to do so, give generously to your favorite local and national nonprofits and charities. They’ll make your money go a long way toward amplifying your voice and efforts for a more just and sustainable world. And you’ll make sure they stay strong during this recession and beyond.
18) Foster Peace
Peace is more than just a lovely abstraction; it’s a real goal that each of us can actively work toward in our everyday lives. Fostering peace begins with striving toward a more just world where no one feels exploited and everyone can count on justice, safety, freedom, and having enough—a global society with far less stimulus for violence.
19) Use Your Voice
Using your voice isn’t limited to issues of local concern. People have also been speaking their minds on national and international issues. Make your views heard on issues that are important to you. Oppose legislation that would hurt communities or the environment; speak out as a consumer or shareholder about a company’s social and environmental practices; demand responsibility from corporations; and participate in letter-writing and call-in campaigns for peace, justice, and sustainability.
20) Educate Others
If we are to change our economy to one that is socially just and environmentally sustainable, where people and the planet come first, working together is crucial. Talk to others about social justice and environmental sustainability, and listen with compassion. Share resources with friends, coworkers, family, and fellow members of your house of worship. The more people who get involved with efforts to build a just and sustainable world, the closer we will get to making it a reality.
Due to space limitations, I’ve had to drastically cut the text, so I encourage you to draw your own conclusions from the full text. If you see something there that piques your interest, be sure to tell someone you know—I have! In addition to some common sense advice, I find it refreshing to know that banded together, each one of us can make a difference in this world. How about you?