10 things you can do today to shop more ethically
Would you like to shop more ethically?
Are you worried that your favourite brands are actually having a negative impact on the planet, whether that’s by harming other animals, exploiting human workers or contributing to climate change?
Or are you passionate about becoming an ethical consumer and using your voice for change?
In this week’s blog, we’re looking at 10 things you can do today to shop more ethically.
1. Investigate your favourite brands
Do you have brands that you love to buy from? Most of us do.
Research even suggests that we’re heavily influenced by intergenerational brand loyalty, i.e. we’re more likely to buy brands that our parents were passionate about when we were growing up.
So when was the last time that you thought about the ethical practices of your favourite brands?
If we take the fashion industry as an example, big brand fashion is intrinsically linked to fast fashion, a $2.5 trillion dollar industry that’s the second biggest polluter on the planet after the oil industry.
Many big-name fashion brands exploit garment workers, use toxic dyes and produce vast amounts of waste. But how often does the average fashion consumer consider this?
Thankfully, there is growing pressure on brands to operate in a more sustainable, ethical way.
However, it isn’t always possible to accurately gauge how much brands are genuinely doing to improve their ethical practice versus “greenwashing” their information, i.e. exaggerating their ethical credentials and glossing over bad behaviour.
Do your research
It’s worth spending some time online to research the ethical credentials of your favourite brands.
Many businesses now have a sustainability statement on their websites; this is a good starting point. How specific is the information?
If you’re left with more questions than answers, there’s a good chance that a brand is overstating its sustainability. If there is plenty of clear, verifiable information, it’s more likely that the brand is walking the walk.
Keep an eye out too for third party certifications (see point 7) as this can provide evidence that a brand’s claims have been independently checked.
Use these resources
The apps and websites below may carry information about the sustainability of your favourite brands:
- Good on You app
- Buycott app
- Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index
- The Good Shopping Guide (mainly for UK shoppers) – ethical ratings for leading brands using a traffic light system
- Leaping Bunny app – discover Leaping Bunny Certified businesses, which are free of animal testing at all stages of product development
- Check out the Sustainable Apparel Coalition – click on a members’ logo to go to their website and find out more about what they’re doing to improve their sustainability
2. Make conscious fashion choices
Do you care about fashion with a conscience?
If so, there are many things you can do today to shop more ethically for your clothes and accessories.
Research your fabrics
For example, check what fabrics your clothes are made from before you buy.
Synthetic materials such as polyester are made from fossil fuels and can shed microfibers that find their way into humans and non-human animals and the wider natural world.
Even materials we might think of as natural, such as cotton, are associated with mass pesticide use, forced labour, and genetic modification. It’s better to look for organic, fair trade or recycled cotton to avoid these issues.
Ethical Consumer has put together a helpful guide to choosing the most ethical fabrics, as well as what to avoid.
Capsule your wardrobe
You can be a more ethical fashion consumer by capsuling your wardrobe. The aim here is to buy fewer but more versatile, longer-lasting items that can be easily mixed and matched to create new looks instead of finding their way into landfills.
As ethical consumers, we need to actively step up and show brands that we care about transparency and will hold them accountable.
In a helpful article from Teen Vogue, a slow fashion writer and advocate, Maggie Zhou, recommends reaching out to brands via their websites or social media pages to ask questions about their ethics and sustainability.
She says a polite DM is a great way to open a conversation and even provides an example: “Hey, I really love the look of your stuff and would love to make a purchase. Before I do, could I please know more about your ethics and sustainability? I couldn’t find where your products are made, where you source your materials, or information about your workers on your website and would love more information.”
3. Ask your favourite brands to do better
If in the course of researching a brand, you discover that their practices are less than ethical, we’d encourage you to take a stand and put your thoughts in writing to the company concerned.
It might feel like yours is just one voice and that it’s impossible to make a difference. But if enough voices come together, they can turn a whisper into a roar.
4. Buy pre-loved
Whatever you’re looking to buy, we’d urge you to choose pre-loved items. These can be found in charity shops, markets and boot sales, but also online through websites such as eBay, Etsy, Vinted, Preloved and many more.
You may be amazed by what a quick Google search discovers.
5. Shop local
Many local independent businesses have a localised supply chain, which ensures that money remains within the surrounding community and supports its development. In turn, this keeps money away from big brands that use tax havens or funnel their money through unethical channels.
Shopping local can create more jobs, more opportunities and encourage people to play a more active role in their community.
Again, due to having a localised supply chain, many independent businesses are able to minimise their carbon footprint. In addition, the fact that you can visit the business on foot or on bike means that you can do your bit to reduce air pollution too.
6. Shop with co-operatives (or join one!)
As well as shopping with local independent businesses, explore whether there are any cooperatives or social enterprises operating in your community.
Where can you buy from them?
How can you support them or get involved?
You can read our upcoming article on community ownership to see why supporting community-run businesses can make such a positive impact.
7. Look for certifications and trusted labels
There are various labels and certifications that support the ethical credentials of a business or product.
Some of these certifications have more weight and validity than others, so you may need to do some research around this if you spot a label you don’t recognise.
Below, you’ll find links to some of the most trusted certification schemes and labels to help you understand what they mean:
- Organic (by the Soil Association)
- Vegan (by the Vegan Society)
- Certified Vegan
- Fairtrade (by the Fairtrade Foundation)
- Cruelty Free (by Cruelty Free International)
- World Fair Trade Organization
- Rainforest Alliance
- Forest Stewardship Council
- Fair Wear Foundation
8. Boycott unethical brands
One of the best ways to push unethical brands to change is by voting with our wallets or, more importantly, the absence of them!
Ethical Consumer publishes a boycott list outlining which companies ethical shoppers should boycott and why.
Are any of your favourite brands on this list? You can commit to not shopping with them again and letting them know why you’re taking your money elsewhere.
9. Reduce, recycle and reuse
We live in a throwaway society where we’re actively encouraged to routinely ditch our cars, technology, and the clothes we wear in favour of the latest trend.
But this constant drive to fill our homes with the next big thing – pushed by many of the big brands because high turnover means high profit – is having catastrophic consequences for all life on the planet.
Before you next go shopping, ask yourself whether you really need to buy something new.
Can an item you already own be repaired?
If you do want to get rid of an item, could it be donated or recycled?
Could you adapt the item in any way to change its look or function but prolong its life?
A growing number of communities are running repair shops and sessions to help us all make do and mend instead of turning barely used items into landfill.
10. Champion ethical brands
When you do find a brand that is ethical and committed to making positive change in the world, you can make a difference by telling other people about it.
In terms of marketing budgets, local independent businesses can’t compete with big brands. They won’t necessarily be able to buy pay-per-click ads or advertise on radio or TV.
However, word of mouth recommendations can be priceless.
If you find an ethical brand, be their ambassador. Shout what they’re doing from the rooftops. Like their social media posts, comment on them, leave Google reviews, buy from them often – every single interaction will help to raise their profile and show unethical companies that the best way to create a buzz is to care for the planet and all life on it.
Do you run or know of a sustainable vegan business that’s committed to helping people shop more ethically? Yes?! Then we’d love to feature this business in the Ethical Globe directory.
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